We were just touching on this tonight, when my phone went out of range and Siri trilled that she was no longer useful. She used too many words, didn’t tell me the problem was the phone was offline, and in any case was completing a task—looking up a contact—that should have been possible either way.
Siri is a construct, but tonight she seemed like a nervous idiot—overly apologetic and useless at the same time. We anthropomorphize our computers anyway, but if we’re going to design corresponding personas, they should be capable and likeable.
One way to understand this is: there is some central problem or challenge which the business is facing. Your first job is to figure out what that problem is, and, just as importantly, what words the Important Person uses when they think about that problem.
A very important thing: it usually takes a considerable bit of effort to get beyond the proposed solution (e.g. the report), to the actual underlying problem. Laura Klein summarizes this marvelously as “[People] will tell you that they want a toaster in their car, when what they really mean is that they don’t have time to make breakfast in the morning.” She’s talking about user research, but I find the same perspective is incredibly useful when talking to, e.g. CEO’s.
Returning to our example, let’s say that, as you talk to the Important Person, you come to understand that your new business, which sells software via a monthly subscription plan, has a serious problem — too many customers are canceling every month. What’s more, you’ve joined a startup, and, although it has a solid chunk of cash in the bank, the leaders very much want to ramp up how much they spend on sales and marketing. Of course, doing that will burn through their cash, and thus require raising more capital sooner than later. And getting VC’s to invest more money with that high cancel rate is going to be very difficult, if not impossible.
You’ve been hired, at some level, to help solve that problem. Even if the people who have hired you don’t think about it that way.
What this quote is positing: that improving the absolute basics of a product (the keyboard on a computer, the wheels on a car) isn’t particularly useful because consumers are neutral about baseline stuff. This is interesting because it works across variable quality scales (eg, the tires on a Lexus vs a Ford) but also because it brings into new focus those elements of a product which may be essential, but about which consumers are not neutral, like computer monitor quality.
I’m doing some research into art/drawing/design app interfaces and want to see how everybody else sets up Tools in Photoshop, Menus in Illustrator, sidebars in Omnigraffle, top bars in Keynote, and so on. You can reply to this post, @-reply my on Twitter (@timoni) or shoot me an email: email@example.com. Thanks, everybody!
As Rumsfeld said: ‘There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.’