Whether you are building social networks, web applications or simple websites, end-user involvement is critical for success. Wireframes, prototypes and MVPs mean little without strong user feedback. It pains me to review a number of products and services which were built with no end-user input whatsoever.
Benefits of End User Involvement
End-users can shed light into a myriad of issues that designers and developers constantly forget. Figuring out things like font sizes, layouts and content organization all require substantial end user input. Including end users in your development pipeline guarantees better engagement metrics and increased referral rates.
How to Pick the Right End Users for Testing Purposes
Make a list of your key psychographic targets and choose at least three end users of each critical group. Account for gender, racial and geographical diversity. You can recruit these people using the local newspaper, Amazon Mechanical Turk or even Craigslist. Make sure that your end user selection is representative of your expected customer base.
Get Quantitative to Build Several Sets of Test Audiences
Use Quantcast, Google Trends and traffic data to build several sets that are representative of key audiences. For example, try to replicate the audience of your competitors (use compete.com or quantcast.com to find indicators), your national and international audiences and any audience of a particularly important product. As you can see, this work is very labor intensive. Extracting and exploring insights discovered while surveying key audiences can give you significant competitive advantage in many fields.
Try to Ask as Little as Possible From your Audience
While extremely counterintuitive, this piece of advice has worked wonders in my professional practice. Don’t ask customers about the vision of a product, ask them which colors they want to purchase. Don’t ask them about things you can’t change (corporate standards, hard IA compromises, etc) but instead, ask about things that are nice to have. Ask very few questions but drill down on your customers’ answers by asking follow ups and getting in tune with their needs and desires. Don’t focus on gathering data (this will come naturally) but instead try to find new nuggets of information that you didn’t know about your audience.
Prepare Reports and Presentations That Convey the Wisdom of Ongoing Conversations
Instead of endlessly averaging and aggregating data, choose to have conversations with your audience. Query their hearts to identify new opportunities and pinpoint your brand’s shortcomings. This requires a lot of skill, experience with your audience and significant discipline. Make sure update these reports at the very least on a yearly basis and try to update the questions and formats at least twice per year, according to industry developments.