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Three things you must believe about your users

Three things you must believe about your users

‘Users’ as a collective term isn’t particularly descriptive when referring to humans accessing a service via technology.  We don’t refer to cyclists as cycle–users or motorists as car–users but until we come up with something better for technology, we’re stuck with the term we have. Perhaps we need to keep the term generic because there is so much one can do with technology, from watching a movie to paying a bill, from booking a flight to doom–scrolling on social media.

Because users are as diverse and eclectic as any other grouping of humans, UX professionals are hard–wired to avoid making any assumptions about them and to properly understand their goals, context and behaviour as part of the design process.  However, while users at an individual level are unique, when we consider all users (that is all humans accessing a service via technology) we find that they have some mindset and behaviour characteristics in common.

Digitally mature organisations therefore understand how those humans think and behave and design accordingly.  In other words, there are things which they believe about their users which guide their decision–making.


They believe that their users are beyond impatient.

There is a reason Google penalises websites which take longer than one second to load on a mobile device. There is a reason why have nearly no graphics on their website.  There is a reason why Amazon isn’t the prettiest website you’ve ever seen.  It’s because the product teams behind those sites understand that every nanosecond of time wasted in the user’s experience diminishes it.  They recognise that a user experience cannot be simultaneously slow and good.

In the 1970s the car rental market was growing rapidly in the US and heralded one of the most interesting case studies of marketplace dynamics in modern marketing.  Hertz worked hard to solidify their no 1 position by seeking to dominate routes to market.  As no 2 in the market, Avis famously launched their “we try harder” strap–line to communicate hunger and attentiveness to their customers.  And as often happens in burgeoning markets, lots of new entrants joined.

It was an exciting time in a high–growth market, with all of the runners and riders seeking any advantage they could find over their rivals.  Most of the companies carried out market research to explore what mattered to their customers and how they could serve them better.  Time and again one thing came back as the single most important element of customer experience when hiring a car – the time the customer waited to collect the keys and be on their way.  No amount of other “nice to haves” such as an upgrade to a better model, a complimentary umbrella sitting in the back seat, or a generous rewards program could make up for a long waiting time.

They understood the importance of speed of collection.  Everything else was detail.

Users of digital products have the same thought process: “I will give you my attention if you don’t waste my time”.


They believe that the internet has fundamentally shifted the power–balance between organisation and customer.

Half a century ago, organisations held the balance of power in their relationships with their customers.  A consumer buying a car for instance, knew much less about cars (and ancillary subjects such as insurance, servicing and finance) than the person selling the car.  A traveller booking a hotel knew much less about what the hotel was actually like (location, food, drink) than the hotelier or agent selling the product.  In this environment it was entirely feasible to run a second–rate business and dress it up with first–rate marketing.

The internet has completely levelled that power imbalance.  Using the supercomputer in their pockets, users can find out in real–time and anywhere in the world not just the nice things companies say about themselves but also what customers say about doing business with that company and what competitors have to offer.  What’s more, search engines and social media alike are hardwired to interpret and reward positive user–sentiment.  Ten years ago a hotelier might seek to get to the top of a Google ranking by hiring an SEO consultant.  Today the only way to get a top listing is to have the highest customer ranking.

Customer service shouldn’t be a department; it should be the entire company.


They believe their users’ priorities are utilitarian.

The history of the internet is littered with examples of technology being designed for one purpose and being used for a very different one.  Text messaging was included on early mobile phones almost as an afterthought – certainly the phone companies weren’t expecting it to be particularly popular – yet its use exploded when customers got their hands on it, because it was so useful.  When smartphones followed nearly two decades later, marketers were excited about the opportunity this would bring for location–based promotions, where retailers might invite nearby customers in store with hyper–local marketing.  As it turns out smartphone users more commonly enhance their retail experience by finding out where to park, or find the quickest route to get to the shop, or compare prices in nearby stores.

When you understand that your users are focused on utility and completing tasks it follows that your fundamental job during product design is to remove distractions.

Typically, users want to use a service and get on with their lives.

It is becoming increasingly important for all organisations to understand how digitally mature organisations think, because users’ expectations across industries are not set by competitors within those industries, but rather are set by the world’s most popular digital products.  Your users expect that transacting business digitally with you will be like interacting with Monzo or Google or Amazon.

You can only achieve that when you believe the right things about your users and act on them.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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