Do you really know who your users are?


Personas can be a huge asset to the when designing user experiences. They can help target your features and streamline the screens if used correctly. However, most persona’s I’ve seen are pretty generic, thirty-something year old woman, with a average name like Sally or a middle management guy named Bob, each with a few stats about how long they have worked for the company. It’s enough information to start but is that really enough to go on?

Lego People

I was once told the sales people where out in the field and they talked to the end users all the time. The products managers also talked to the customers, and gathered feedback. Management knew exactly who the end user was, and what they wanted.

The persona we were told to design for was particularly technically savvy. They had worked for these companies for a long time and were extremely comfortable with the latest technologies and online common best practices. This was after all, an internal only product.

So, off we would go and take our best guess at creating the user experience.

When is the last time you talked to an actual user?

The first time I was finally able to talk the end user directly, not a manager, not a director, but a person who’s sole job responsibility was to use the software we were creating, it was a huge eye opening experience.

Lets just call her Mabel. She looked like a Mabel. She was in her mid to late 50’s and yes, she had worked there for over 18 years but that doesn’t mean she knew what she was doing. We talked for just a bit about the way she currently does her job and what does she do when she can’t find the answer she needs with the current system. She kind of shrugged and admitted that happened often and she would ask the people around her for help, sometimes.

The best way to demo the new proposed product was to show her an Axure clickable prototype off a Mac. Mabel looked more then a little nervous, I don’t think she’s ever seen a Mac. Even though we encouraged her to click around, that nothing she did could be wrong, she hesitated at every click.

Simply put, Mabel reminded me of my Mom, who I love dearly, but at times has problems connecting to this thing we call “the internet”.

Get Specific!

Was Mabel the edge use case? I wish I had the answer to that. I often wondered how many other employees were much like Mable.

I would suggest to really get to know your users and find out everything you can about them, not just their age and their employment history but what their habits are out side of work and what their passion is. You can even use their actual LinkedIn profile as a starting point.

Given the chance I would have loved to set up a fun yet detailed poll to a large set of employees to find out exactly where their skill set lies and more about how they used the product and others to do their job.

Now What? The 80/20 rule

Products can get pretty complicated fairly quickly. I was always taught to design for 80 percent of your users while being aware of the other 20 percent and their needs.

And of course once you have an idea of what might work for the 80 percent, show it to them! Not a manager, not a director, but the actual people at the ground level using the product daily. Rinse and repeat!

Users Don’t Care About The Back End



When I first started out in designing User Interfaces, way, way back when, I worked in-house for a high-tech B2B software company where all the buttons in the product were graphics. One of my many tedious jobs was to create images for any and all buttons that the product needed, and there were A LOT of buttons!

Numerous times I had an engineer come to me as ask for a new button with a generic label, something like “Request”. I would then step through the process of asking the million dollar questions… “What screens is this on?” “What is user is trying to accomplish?” and “Why do you think the button should have this name?” Inevitably the answer to that last question was always, “because that’s what it does on the back end, I’m making a request to the database”.

The user doesn’t care what the back end does or what technical term you use when coding. The user is simply trying to accomplish a task. The question is, what exactly is that task and how can we make that experience as straight forward and easy as possible.

Don’t Make Me Click.

Now, I could launch into a how to properly name your buttons and if this was say 3 years ago I probably would have. How the label should be a specific action item, think verbs followed by possible noun, and how you need to be consistent throughout the entire product and so on and so forth; however, now a days the interface should do what the user needs with out any buttons. Yes, you heard me, no button!

Okay, so maybe you need some buttons, Facebook has it’s Like button, right? However, when using Twitter and Pintrest you no longer need to click to “view more” it automatically loads when we scroll down. No more expand/collapse sections, just let me quickly scroll down this long page of content. I’m using Evernote right now to type up a draft of this post, there is no save button, it automatically saves it to the cloud as I’m typing, sweet!

I’m sure there are all sorts of things are going on in the back end that I, as an end user, are not aware of, and I love that! I was even thinking there is no confirmation that my Evernote is saved, but I just now saw the little “synchronizing” message that popup in the lower left corner. Yes, the lower, LEFT corner. You know, that place where no one ever puts anything but do look there every now and then.

As a user, I don’t want to make any choices. I do that enough through out my day. I simply want to use a product that makes the right choices for me and lets me get on with my day.