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Building For People, Not Users

When building products, the fact of the matter is that a lot is out of your control. A lot of what will impact whether people will be receptive or not is in many ways determined by external factors. Is the person familiar with your product’s interaction model? What mood are they in when they’re onboarding? Are they aware of your USP relative to that of your competitor’s?

And that’s certainly not unique to product development. Just think of your day-to-day and think about how much of your day is impacted by chance and forces outside of your control.

Now the point of this isn’t to advocate a laissez-faire view to just leave everything to chance since there’s only so much you can control. Instead, it’s to frame things in a slightly different angle. An angle that can be to your benefit when working on product in spite of the fact that there are many variables you cannot affect.

In simple terms, how can we leverage this reality to better execute on those factors that we do in fact control?

This is where having a firm grasp on psychology and how the mind operates is so deeply important to building products. Hooked by Nir Eyal or The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg are two fantastic reads as starting points. Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman are two of my other favorites that I count on when thinking about products.

Along this vein of marrying psychology to product development, one fantastic principle is following the path of least resistance. How can we cater to an individual’s psychology and learned behavior to positively impact whichever feature we’re trying to have adopted?

Bill Bernbach, an advertising legend, has a great quote on creating ads, which I think is salient when it comes to building products as well:

“Human nature hasn’t changed for a million years. It won’t change in the next million years. Only the superficial things have changed. It’s fashionable to talk about the changing man.

A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man — what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him.”

The platforms on which we build our products on will change. The input methods will naturally evolve. The gatekeepers of distribution will come and go. However, the psychology of people using products will remain somewhat consistent over time. People will still seek great functionality, reliability, and convenience no matter the latest developments in product capabilities.

Better understanding how people think and operate will continue to have a profound impact on building better products.

Remember — we’re building for people with inherent biases, preferences, and emotions, not faceless users.


Contributing author Brian Park is a Rockstart Mentor as well as a Growth Lead @WeTransfer. For more of his writing, follow him at Medium. This is a republished piece from March 8th.



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