Copyright by Kim Goodwin

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Chapter 7. Understanding Potential Users and Customers

Understanding Potential Users and Customers

There's a Dilbert comic strip in which the character says, "None of us has designed a nuclear power plant. In phase one we will gather customer requirements." In the next frame, one of Dilbert's colleagues sits with a wide-eyed energy consumer, saying, "So...you want free electricity, without mutating, unless the mutation gives you X-ray vision." Clearly, Scott Adams, Dilbert's creator, has encountered the most common way companies conduct research: by asking their customers what they want.

The problem with this approach is that customers and users are not experts in product design. There is a deeply held belief among some usability and design professionals that users are the only experts. I would argue that users are the only experts in what their problems are, but that they are seldom equipped with the expertise to solve those problems. It's a bit like the doctor-patient relationship: Patients have the best information about their symptoms and can assess whether particular treatment plans fit their lifestyles, but physicians are experts in diagnosing and treating. The right solution involves the knowledge and cooperation of both parties.

When people ask for feature X, it's often their way of identifying that they have a problem with how things work now; the suggested solution is sometimes workable, but a skilled designer can usually ...

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