We build digital products. Lots of them. Each product has a desired audience, a group of people whose thought processes and behaviors we need to understand in order to craft an experience that meets their needs and exceeds their expectations. While we’re not always the target audience for the products we build, there does comes a point in the process where we have to remind ourselves that we are users too, and that we need to be mindful of our own expectations when crafting a seamless experience.
User vs. Usability
There’s a significant difference between user research and usability research. User research lays the foundation for the product. We form assumptions based on the problem we’re trying to solve, and we go to the target audience in search of insights that validate and/or question those assumptions. The target users provide us with a perspective and mindset that we do not and cannot possess. They enable us to empathize with their needs to ensure that the product we’re building solves not just a problem, but the right problem.
Usability research is more tactile. It’s the process of optimizing interaction design: When to swipe, when to scroll, how to introduce content. Expectations surrounding what makes for a quality UI experience are universal. This is where it helps to remember that we’re users, too. We don’t need to return to the target audience to address every interaction; we can check against our own experiences and our own expectations.
Don’t overthink it
When we move from ideation to tactical implementation, we have to remember that our experiences are valid, and we need to use them as a point of reference to build an application that users will be happy with. One key to this is reminding ourselves not to overthink: The user isn't an abstract concept or a group of people we can’t relate to. They’re us. We are them, and if we expect something to function in a particular way, that’s probably because it should.
When working on our 7 Minute Workout App with Johnson and Johnson, we went through this process. We sought out users. We interviewed them. We went to them with assumptions based on our research and understanding of the marketplace. They provided feedback, from which we drew the insights we needed to qualify those assumptions. When we built the app, we felt confident in the value it would offer, but we still needed to make sure the experience would be as fluid as possible. We received more user feedback, but we also tested against our own expectations. We used the app. We noted where we felt the interactions weren’t what we’d expect, and we made changes to create a quality user experience.
The reality is that we all use digital products. We know our own pain points and things we wish were done differently—Mobile pop-up ads that are impossible to close. Navigation that isn’t intuitive. Items that we tap when we're supposed to drag—So we have to be mindful of that. Incorporating that perspective into the process only pushes our work further, helping us to produce hassle-free experiences and offer the users solutions that they wanted, but had never experienced before.