Thursday, November 13, 2008

Look At Your Own Product

I had UX Office Hours at StartPad again today. Two of the people that I talked with today were building very different products, and we had very different discussions about them, but the takeaways were very similar. I promised not to publish details, so what I write today will be a bit vague.

The first person is building a web service for Windows users that is supposed to be an integral part of their workday. He'd built a lot of behind-the-scenes infrastructure plus a Windows application for his users. The good news was that it all worked pretty well. But the bad news was that he had built an interface that is similar to some of the parts of Windows and Office that users find the most confusing.

The other person is building a Facebook application. The good news was that he has a unique value proposition which I think will go over really well with users. But, before new users get to the value proposition itself, he's asking them to refer their friends, then he was giving them lots of messaging about the value before delivering any actual value.

Both developers had made the assumption that what was good for somebody else was good for them. Yes, Windows and Office are very successful, but that doesn't mean that any particular pieces of their interfaces are good, nor does it mean that emulating those pieces is good for another product. Similarly, there are tons of Facebook apps in which the very first thing you do is invite your friends -- send them imaginary chocolates, virtual flowers, or make them a knight in your kingdom. But, that doesn't mean that's the right thing to do for all applications. In both cases, the result of these assumptions was a number of unnecessary obstacles placed in front of potential users. And, as I've said before, every obstacle is a reason for users to go away. Instead of looking at how other products do things, they need to look at their own product -- put themselves in their users' shoes and think about what will drive adoption.

On the positive side, both products had resisted the temptation to broaden their reach. They were both focused on doing one thing really well and I have to say that it's great to see it (one of them had even implemented and then removed a de-focusing feature). As a result, I think both of them will have a relatively easy time modifying their products to better reflect their users.

My next office hours are December 11th, 2:00-6:00PM.