One of the things I’ve come to learn from my new role is that users can, and often will, think quite differently from you. What initially seems like a straightforward set of instructions can lead to confusion, edits, and bugs you’ve never considered before. While many of these things can be avoided with sufficient planning, testing your product and receiving feedback from different users can lead to many changes and improvements in your work.
When you design something, whether it’s a game, UI, video, or animation, you typically know what you’re going for. You understand the motivations behind your decisions, you understand the flow from beginning to end, and you suspect that others will be able to follow your path of logic…. Nope. Of course it makes sense to you when you’re the one who created it, but others will interact with your work in a completely different way. After explaining yourself, sometimes the user will understand and follow your reasoning, and other times they will be completely lost. It’s not that you’ve created a bad product or that your user is an idiot (you really shouldn’t ever assume this right off the bat), it’s that people’s brains work in very different ways. Knowing the path of logic your users follow will help you design a much better product for them. Their thought-process can be extremely valuable both in your current, and future endeavors.
When you understand how other people use or view your product, you’ll make better design decisions going forward. Though users don’t always know what they want, their initial reactions can provide a lot of input into the direction your work should take. If they love something, find out why they love it. If they rarely pay attention to a certain section of it, find out why. You can use this information to devote most of your time to where their focus is, or where most of their time is spent, rather than devoting resources to something that’s ignored for the most part. Throughout this process, you should remember who the primary ‘user’ is for what you’re creating. If you’re creating a spreadsheet for your boss, then his opinion matters more than your coworker’s. If you’re creating art that you intend to sell, and if your goal is to make money, then you should focus on finding the items that make you the most profit and find a way to capitalize on it. If this sounds too commercial and disconnected for your tastes, then perhaps you are the primary user that you should focus on. Once you know your primary user / customer, then you should seek out feedback from them and look for insights into their thinking.
When looking for ways to gather input from your users, you should consider both direct and indirect feedback. Direct feedback is as simple as asking the user what they think about a particular piece of your project. If they tell you they like or dislike something specific, dig deeper into the “why” and try to find out. Indirect feedback can be gathered in a variety of ways, on sometimes your users will never even know about it. If you’re an artist and have your own website, you could look at page counts to identify what’s most popular, at least from a thumbnail view. You could approximate popularity based off the equivalent of a “Like”, “Favorite” or “Share” button. For application developers, look at click counts, time spent viewing certain windows, and number of errors received. Combine all your data and then tailor your future work to create an overall great user experience. It should be noted that this is not something you do at the end of a project, or only do once, you should regularly look for feedback as the project develops.
You should always remember that not all of your users will think exactly alike. Your motivations and the motivations of your users will vary greatly, so your experiences can wind up being very different. These motivations should be explored and tested so that you can develop your project with the greatest possible user experience in mind. Don’t assume that everyone will understand your thought-process, look for the direct and indirect feedback your users can offer. This insight will be valuable both to your immediate project any future projects you work on, so take the time to learn from your users.
If you’d like to learn more about the Game Industry, you can browse through my Index of Game Industry Articles. If you have any questions for me, suggestions for articles I should write, or just want to let me know what you think, you can do so by posting a comment.