The Biggest Challenge: Getting User Feedback

MenloD2-08“We love Menlo, but there’s no way we’re going to be able to get user feedback the way you do. It just won’t fly back at our company.” We hear this often from Menlo visitors. They learn about our process, get excited, and want to incorporate as much of it as they can when they go back home. But this user feedback thing, that’s the stumbling block.

It’s also the key to creating products that people love to use. Because it’s so important, we spend a significant amount of time interacting with users or potential users through observations, interviews, and design assessments. Usually we go out in the field to get a sense of the environments in which the products will be used. We’ve found there’s really no substitute for frequent, in-depth user feedback.

But the hurdles are considerable. Because Menlo believes so strongly in user research, we make it a prerequisite for engaging us on most design projects. So what can you do when you’re not at Menlo? I’ve worked as a user-experience architect at other companies, and I feel our visitors’ pain when they tell us how hard it is to access users. Here are a few typical hurdles and some of the ways we’ve worked around them, both at and outside of Menlo:

“We can’t take our users’ time. It’s too valuable.” Try connecting with users through something that’s already been scheduled. I went with support staff to customer sites and piggy-backed design assessments and interviews onto scheduled training sessions.

“We don’t know how to find people who will talk to us.” We’ve found a number of solutions to this one, including:

● Asking friends and co-workers for referrals (“Hey, do you know somebody who has a child with asthma? Do you know any emergency physicians?”)

● Contacting related businesses and trade organizations

● Putting ads on Craig’s List

● Enlisting the services of companies that engage professionals to provide feedback. This option isn’t cheap but is especially helpful when you’re trying to find users in highly specialized fields.

“It’s too expensive.” There are case studies that show the opposite—that it’s more expensive when products fail because of lack of user input. But if studies are not convincing enough, here are a few other options to try:

● Utilize internal users. Many companies have in-house employees who do work similar to what their outside users do, or who have similar experience. There is bias among in-house users, who will usually be more knowledgeable about your company and products and therefore provide somewhat skewed results, but when other routes fail, their help can be invaluable.

● Conduct interviews and design assessments remotely, which eliminates travel costs.

● Talk to your support and training staff. Find out what issues come up frequently, what’s hard to train, what questions get asked. If possible, job-shadow them.

What are some of your biggest roadblocks in getting user feedback? Let us know; maybe we can offer additional suggestions for ways around them. It’s not easy to incorporate users into your product design and requirements, but it’s worth every bit of the effort it takes.

About Culture, High-Tech Anthropology(R), Management, Project Management, Quality Assurance, User Experience

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