I know I said we should listen to our outraged users.
But I didn’t mean we should ignore all our
happy, contented users as well. Nor do I
suggest that we pay attention to the folks who like some features, but dislike
others. (Ah, they inhabit the zone of mediocre
Instead, we have to listen to them all, then show good taste
in figuring out which of the voices have value to them. Sometimes it’s the screamers that make the
good points about your product (no matter how hard it is to get over the
emotional tumult of their delivery), and sometimes it’s the quiet voices with
the critical commentary.
Let me go all Zen on you for a minute and suggest that what
you–as skilled practitioners of software
/ product / services / education—need to do.
Listen while being still.
My previous post about listening to the screamers was all
about how to set aside your immediate emotional reaction to their delivery and
look for the nuggets of truth and insight within the scream.
The same is true for anyone who’s willing to give you some
feedback. Listen without reacting so you
can hear the valuable bits of what they say. I know this means you have to do a little emotional work on your part,
mostly suppressing your own reaction to their reaction… but you can do it. If Spock can do it, so can you.
I mentioned the value of hearing someone describe my early
software as “white, male, fascist.” It
stung to hear that. That was a great
example of listening to a screamer’s voice.
But just a few weeks ago I was doing a field study, listening
to a user talking about how hard it is to do some kinds of web searches. “I don’t know,” she said, “I think there’s
got to be a way to find this, but how?”
This was a busy Mom with three little kids (one in her arm as we were talking),
a dog and the plumber all wandering through the house. Even though her house was busy, she literally
spoke quietly and calmly.
Of course, I could tell her how to use an advanced
maybe show her the advanced search page. “Ah.. that’s it!
I’ll show her the advanced search!” I think to myself, “get
her onto the road to
being a power user.”
Proudly I showed how with one click she could get to a page
with all kinds of power search features. Tools that I knew would give her exactly the
skills and capabilities she needed to do an instant, precise and potent web
“Oooh.” She said,
upon seeing that page with all the options. It wasn’t a happy
“oooh” either. I looked at her eyes to see what she was
looking at, and I could immediately see that she didn’t know what
to focus on,
her eyes revealed the truth as they swept from side-to-side, looking
something familiar. There are a lot of
features and options on the page, perhaps a few too many.
So I asked a very non-techy question: “Umm…
How do you feel about this?” It’s a low-tech but
high-touch question. It’s
deliberately non-leading and open-ended.
And she proceeded to talk for another minute about how that
particular page was “scary and intimidating.” What do you know.
I’ve never thought about a web page, especially a search
page, as being “scary” — but here she was, telling me that it’s a frightening
thing. Unpacking WHY it gave her that
moment’s pause has been the most illuminating thing I’ve learned this month.
So the flip side of the screaming user is the user that says
“ooh” in a quiet voice. Those voices are
important too. Our job is to hear all
the tones and semitones in what our users are saying, and be still enough in
ourselves to be able to understand what it all means.