For people who want to be a better design practitioner.

#11: Observing users vs. letting users decide

20 NOV 2021

I can see where he's coming from. It's tempting to get the "right" thing during the creative process.

We recently started to explore illustration style for our product in our team—GovTech Edu. The team is growing and, finally, we can start to polish our product a little more. 

I had a discussion with the illustrator. He wanted to test out the illustration style to the users, which means the teachers across Indonesia. 

It's been a few months since we started this illustration project. Things are not easy because I don't want us to slap illustrations to our product randomly. I want it to be intentional and well-thought.

We ran a series of exercises to define our principle and ended up with a lot of questions. Such as, "What does expressive mean for us? When should we be expressive or not? How can we make sure our illustration is straightforward?" By straightforward, we mean the moment people see it, they shouldn't have second-guessing what they're seeing.

In every exercise, I'm pretty happy with the discussion because it generates essential questions. But, the illustrator didn't take it well. Every time we take one step forward, it becomes more ambiguous and uncertain. Instead of deciding on something, we end the meeting with more questions left to be explored.

So, I can understand why he wanted to test the illustration for the users. To grasp more certainty. The idea is good on paper—we go out to the users, get the feel of what users prefer, and decide on the style.

But, can you imagine Pixar Animation doing that? If Pixar makes the decision by committee or a focus group, the movie would probably look very different—in an awful way.

Why? Because if you let someone who doesn't have the full context of the vision make a creative decision, you'll end up not staying true to the vision.

One article about Pixar mentioned, "At the end of the day, [...] Pixar's films are not made by committee or focus group, and the director must make all decisions in remaining true to his or her vision."

I want to share this experience because it's an interesting observation that I've made throughout my career. 


Going to the users to observe, not to let them decide

There's fundamental confusion in the industry about being "user-centered." Many people think they can go to the users and let the users make the decision.

In interface design, for example, inexperienced designers would have a similar idea. They can't decide layout A or B is better. So, they test it. They want the customers to make the decision.

In product discovery, inexperienced product managers would go to the customers and ask what they want. Again, to let the customers decide on what to build.

Here's the thing, we can't let "anyone" steer the ship and make the decision. 

The alternative? You go out and observe.

In interface design, we do usability testing and see if the interface effectively helps users to get their tasks done. We observe which part doesn't work, but we are the ones who need to make the creative decision on how to fix it.

In product discovery, the same idea applies. We go out. We test the product in the market. We observe the traction, see customers' reactions, and gain signals of what people think. But, we can't ask them, "Hey, what do you want? Tell me, and I'll build it for you."



Here's the litmus question for product discovery:

Know someone who would enjoy this email?

Forward this email to them.
Better yet, recommend them to join:
Budi Tanrim
Bell Street
Ottawa, ON K1R 0B9

Add us to your address book

Update your preferences or Unsubscribe