Using Human Insights to Design Products that Help Real Humans
"You can't be smarter than the collective intelligence of your customers."
That's a great quote from Steven Gary Blank, from an interview he did with Entrepreneur Magazine a couple years ago. Over the last two years, working with Prosperity Now, on our project to deliver WESST's financial tools curriculum in an on-demand format, we've found that there is so much truth in that statement. For us, customer interviews have given us more insight into our clients and what they need from us than we had even thought possible.
I've been a part of developing many, many projects over the course of my career. The projects pretty much all started off the same way: with incredible enthusiasm and excitement about this new initiative or product, and what people thought it could produce in terms of results. But for me, the enthusiasm was always tempered with a lot of doubt. What if we launch this, and no one likes it or uses it? Is that feature we're spending so much time and money developing really something people want? I know a few people SAID they wanted this to do X, but will they really use it for X? Are we picking the right colors? The right graphics? Does this look appealing to anyone but us? Inevitably, after launch, we would find that guesswork and theorizing had produced some elements that were right, and some elements that were completely off-base. The process always felt, to me, like taking a standardized test with a blindfold on. Sure, you're likely to get some things right, but you'd get a lot more answers right if you took the blindfold off!
Now that I know about design thinking and how to gather insights about clients, thanks to WESST's work with Prosperity Now, I feel like we're definitely working without a blindfold! Every time we put a concept board or prototype in front of a client in a customer interview or user test, we learn more than I had thought was possible. We find out not just how they feel about our project, but how they feel about WESST, what they really need to be successful entrepreneurs and more.
We've now gone through four rounds of concept and prototype testing, and the product we have now is completely different than the one we conceived. And that is a wonderful, amazing thing! We're not lying awake at night, worrying that when we launch our product, we'll be greeted with puzzled looks, forced smiles or comments like, "Well, that's certainly interesting!" We know how clients will react to the product, because they've already reacted to it in prototype form. We've been able to tweak features, solve problems and anticipate obstacles—all because our customers told us what they wanted, what they needed and what they felt was possible from the product. Sure, there's been some guesswork. But with the user testing process, we've been able to test our guesses with real users, in a real-use environment, and then make changes if necessary.
At WESST, we believe in "walking the walk" and following the same advice we give to entrepreneurs. I have become an evangelist for the process of customer discovery, customer interviewing and user testing with my clients who are in a development process because I have seen the results for myself. There is no better cure for doubt and uncertainty than information, and there's no better source of information about client preferences than the clients themselves. Steven Gary Blank is right: you can't be smarter than the collective intelligence of your customers. That's why we're thankful to Prosperity Now for teaching us about human insights research and design, and how to have the courage to ask the tough questions at the right time.
Amy Lahti has nearly 15 years of experience working for large companies and small businesses on projects involving strategic communications, marketing and sales, training and development, and social media. A passionate advocate for effective organizational development, Amy is skilled at identifying the challenges organizations face, and creating customized solutions. Amy is a proud native New Mexican who grew up in Las Cruces and graduated from ENMU in Portales with a B.S. in Communications/Journalism. Amy has an M.S. in Organizational Leadership from Colorado State University's Global Campus, and also holds a Professional of Human Resources (PHR) certification. She loves cooking, reading great nonfiction books, collecting board games, and spending time with her husband and son, and her parents.