Keeping it real

Kathy Sierra has some great things to say in Subvert from Within: a user-focused employee guide. She’s talking about how to get really effective engagement with the users of your product.

These two bits really hit the spot for me:

Speak for real users… not fake abstract “profiles”.

Represent real people not the abstract notion of “users”. Rather than saying “what users really want is…”, refer to your collection of specific user stories and talk about real people. When you bring up users, talk about specific people with real names and experiences. Too many companies use fake “profile” characters as a way to think about real users (e.g. “The typical user is a thirty-five year old sales manager with a four-year degree and two kids who uses a computer for…”). While that’s better than not thinking of users at all, it still puts both a physical and emotional distance between the company and real users. After all, it’s impossible to truly care about pissing off the “fake” 35-year old sales manager (even if you give the profile character a name, like “John”), but almost everyone starts to squirm when they think about a real person becoming upset with them.

When those around you talk about the abstract concept of “users” or “customers”, try to bring up specific real people whenever possible…

Look for first-person language from users about their own experience. Challenge others to solicit first-person, user-as-subject language.

Do everything you can to get user feedback phrased in first-person terms. Rather than feedback that talks about what the user thinks should be in the product, try to solicit feedback that gets the user talking about himself. Users tend to want to tell you what you should add/subtract from the product, but what you need is feedback where the user tells you about himself in relation to the product, even if it’s negative.

Useful: “I tried to use the XYZ feature, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it work.”

Not useful: “The XYZ feature doesn’t work properly.”

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