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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Who's supposed to use this product, anyway?

I think the very best products in the world today are built for a single user. To be clear, I don't mean that there's just one person who's the target for everything. Instead, for each remarkable product, there is someone behind it who is the "golden user". What's more, this isn't a theoretical construct, but instead is an actual human.

Think of your favorite consumer gizmo. Can you see someone important at that company holding the latest revision as the engineers and project managers gather around to show it off? It either makes their golden user happy, or it gets sent back to be retooled.

Compare that to a product which is just being thrown together to meet some arbitrary bullet points. Just think of what the design meetings must sound like:

"Okay, it needs a 4 megapixel screen..."

"What's a megapixel?"

"I don't know, but it's important. Focus group B says they want more."

"Did I mention it also needs to support Arcnet?"

"Arcnet? What happened there?"

"Oh, we held our focus group at a Datapoint alumni get-together."

"Aren't we making a tablet?"

Let's say they pull it off, and make something with all of the bullet points handled. Since it's not really for anyone in particular, it'll probably flop. At that point, they're basically relying on hope that it'll just happen to catch someone's eye and go from there.

Of course, there is still another scenario. There's a company building products, and they actually have their golden user, but they still manage to turn out worthless products. The catch there is that their golden user has no taste.

If you find that your company has started building a local equivalent of this car, you just might be in that situation.

I would guess that most of the better-known Apple products of the past couple of years were the product of having a famously picky golden user driving things. I also got the impression that their more dubious projects (Ping, MobileMe, iCloud) somehow happened away from that focused environment.

Personally, I've found it easier to work on projects with a clearly-defined (and accessible) end-user. Instead of getting into endless hypotheticals about what your invented user might want, you can just contact the real person and ask her. It's much more rewarding that way.

On that note, if anyone out there has a particularly nasty bug they can't find or need some electronic plumbing performed, do let me know. I do love making custom solutions for actual problems.

In other words, that golden user may just be you.