Be the user

i.e., Don’t build me some wishy-washy bullshit

“How come the Mac group produced Mac and the people at IBM produced the PCjr? We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.” — Steve Jobs, 1985

I know, I know: “You are not the user,” and “The truth is outside the building.” But as I counseled teammates today, if [productivity product X] isn’t addressing your personal, specific, Googler needs, figure out why & fix it. Pick a personal destination that’ll make you happier & more productive at work, then laser-burn your way to it.

That is a critical user journey.

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3 thoughts on “Be the user

  1. I’ve been a developer, architect, executive, chip-speaker, etc., etc. (now mainly a short story writer, sculptor, and composer), since the Altair, and I totally agree with you — design by committee is dangerous enough, and design without personal inspiration is a catastrophe. The best sw I’ve seen is almost always the beloved brainchild of one person, like a great novel. Unlike a typical committee-driven genre movie. You often need help, yes, but somebody has to have the primary coherent creative vision — without that the center cannot hold (and we know what happens after that).

    That said, it’s also true that users will think up things to do that the creator never imagined (maybe that’s why life on Earth is so weird). So the best “I’m doin’ it for me” designer also watches and admires the amazing unexpected tricky things his/her users do with the sw (seeds for new features, or new products). Not paying sufficient attention to (real) users results in such nonsense as a crippled, limited, ugly “start menu” that doesn’t even work, while the marketing dept. claims this is the main New Feature. It’s a furshluginner program launcher, for cryin’ out loud. Kids have been designing those since the first course in BASIC.

    Maybe the central point isn’t so much designing something FOR myself, as it is designing something that brings ultimate fulfillment, partly from loving the design and the creativity going into it, but THAT joy is vastly expanded if the users are screaming with joy.

  2. Bravo. That’s probably why products designed by people that used them (Lightroom comes to mind but you could name any popular shareware product here) were such a hit. And before that, in the days of Turbo Pascal, say, ordinary mortals could code up a solution to some routine work task. Or even today why automating some keystrokes with something like Keyboard Maestro is as rewarding as any new feature in a favorite app.

    But as software development continues to evolve into a priesthood apart from the us in the pews (who think we’re hearing Latin), the things that really annoy us are surprisingly never addressed (appreciated or understood) while some valued tools are mysteriously deprecated into uselessness.

    Become the user.

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