Getting inside your customers' heads is crucial to creating great products and services, or to making existing products and services even better. As an interaction designer at Vision Critical, I spend a lot of my time trying to get inside our customers' heads so that we can make our software better and better.
The process I use for designing user interfaces addresses problems that are similar to what our researchers tackle when they are helping extract customer insights. Here are four design practices that we use to drive our products forward with customer insight:
Talk to your customers every single day. I try to talk with our end users every day. If I'm working on mockups for a new feature, I try to get that mockup in front of an end user every day. It's not enough to get periodic feedback: it's staying in daily contact with customers that helps me design interfaces that meet their real-life working needs.
Don't get too attached. When you're developing or improving a product, it's easy to get excited about the particular features that you think are going to be awesome. But often, when I put a new interface in front of some of our customers, the buttons I've focused on never even get clicked! It can be painful, but noticing and admitting what doesn't matter to your customers is as important as giving them what they do want. What's interesting is when customers say "I would never ever do that in a million years," or "I'm never going to use that". Thinning out those unused features is what lets you deliver a great, focused and useable product.
See for yourself. One thing any designer can tell you is that what people say they want in a product or interface isn't always accurate. When you actually test out an interface with a user, their behaviour or interaction with the tool is often completely different from what they've said about how they plan to use it. That's why it's so helpful to get insights not only from asking questions, but from tracking or simulating real-life situations so you can see how people actually use your products or services.
Unrealistic expectations create magic. Especially in the world of technology, customers often have completely unrealistic expectations about what a product or a piece of software can do. That can make it tempting to discount their input and not pay so much attention to how they are saying your software should work. But if you can actually stay open to those unrealistic, crazy suggestions, that can be an incredible source of inspiration: our customers have great ideas, and yours probably do too.
Good design is all about solving problems for the end user. Your customers are your end users: the more you understand what they want, the better you can meet their needs too.