Does anyone remember that episode of The Simpson’s, where Homer (the father) was asked to design a car? He ended up making a car that not only looked hideous but operated poorly. As a result, nobody wanted to buy it and the manufacturer that produced it ultimately went out of business. Of course, what you would expect from a show about a dysfunctional family living in the Twilight zone of America? It was invariably a sad story, but it made for great TV. Still, there’s a moral to this tale.
When Homer was designing his car, he took advice from virtually EVERYBODY he knew and incorporated it into his design. As a result, the final product was a horrible combination of the preferences, requirements and recommendations of various components of a “target-demographic” that lacked definition and specificity. Basically, he tried to make everybody happy.
The lesson here is that when you try to design for everyone, you end up designing for no one.
You can’t build a product or create a service for everyone. You have to know specifically WHAT you are making and WHO you are making it for. Even then, having the best design doesn’t guarantee success. What determines that (among other factors) is how your target group receives it. This leads us to the importance of User-Testing.
User-testing is the act of testing a prototype product or service on a sample group of a company’s overall target demographic
It’s taking a basic version of a product and testing it on a realistic version of your target group. There are various means by which one can conduct these tests, but all are meant to provide a clearer picture of how people feel about your product and how it can be improved and prepared for mass production.
In Diwalas case, we’re down in Kampala again to user test our Beta version with the students and facilitators of Clarke University, before executing a real-life pilot with 50 students over Christmas. Clarke University is one of our collaborating partners with whom we are developing the platform with and for. Our platform and mobile application have undergone a lot of development since we were last here in August, and we were very curious to see how it would be received this time around.
After several rounds of user testing, we have been able to refine the platform's functionalities, fix bugs and unexpected problems with the code and investigate how the platform’s design usability works. As expected, there were plenty of things that we had to fix and rethink along the way. For example, we had to completely re-do our onboarding guide as this proved to be too confusing and time-consuming for our users.
Considering that we’re an Oslo-based firm, I suppose a question that’s on everybody’s mind is “why spend so much time and resources travelling to East Africa to test our platform on Ugandan students when we could just as easily do it in the comfort of our backyard”?
Actually, we did user-test the onboarding guide with a prototype back in Norway with over 20 people right before our trip. But, as helpful as it was, it didn’t give us a real picture of our intended users here in Uganda. As user-testing often reminds us, you might think you designed the best solution, only to discover that it completely failed to do what you had intended for it to do.
Testing in a “real-world” scenario with our user’s own phones gave us some interesting insight into mobile phone usage here in Uganda that we previously hadn’t considered. For example, limited phone memory and very slow internet speed were two concerns that we had to address.
As we mentioned in our previous article (“Fighting Fraud with Trust”), certification fraud is a worldwide problem that affects thousands every year. Diwala wants to challenge this problem — by issuing the first-ever digitally verified certificates backed by blockchain technology in Africa. In order to prepare the Diwala platform to tackle this on a global level, we need to shape and build it to address the most pressing situations in developing countries. If we only made this product in Norway, and tested it on Norwegians — we would never have gained the relevant insights we will need to tackle these issues.
One of the reasons that Uganda was chosen as ground zero for our field tests, is because it has a huge problem with certification fraud and outdated processes — which again leads to lost opportunities for the very young population here. With the country already suffering from underemployment, it does not help the average job-hunter having to wait for 6–12 months to even receive their certificate. Through our platform, Diwala will fight to improve this situation.
Of course, there can be arguments made against user-testing. For example, experts know better, since firms hire experts to predict consumer-responses to a product. However, this is flawed because it’s the consumer that ultimately decides the value and appeal of a product, not the expert.
Also, since designers and developers tend to interact with random individuals in order to test the very basic functionalities before they go to the intended user group, another argument could be that random people might not use it. While random people might not use it, they can still help test the very first versions of your product, just to make sure everything is actually working. They can also provide insight that the intended consumer couldn’t and sometimes something that is meant for one demographic might actually be appealing to another.
Lack of resources is another classic argument against it. While this is understandable, it’s not completely valid. All you would really need to conduct user-tests are a couple of people with a little bit of time.
Now, let’s look at why user-testing is so vital.
As we mentioned earlier, there’s no way you can create a product for all 8 billion people worldwide. You have to identify your market audience before you can proceed. Even when you do, it might not be so clearly defined. User-testing can show you which group (based on age, gender, ethnicity, lifestyle etc.) finds your product appealing and which doesn’t.
In any functional relationship, we need deep caring and respect for each other to make it work. This is also incredibly important when building a product for someone. In order for us to help make our user’s lives easier and achieving their goals, we need to be humble, thoughtful and fact-based, and never ever act on assumptions that we haven’t validated.
Another thing that’s important to consider when designing a product, is to distinguish between the user's needs (features that are genuinely required) from their wants (features that are desired but not vital). When you identify the needs and the wants, it’s easier to know what feature to build first, what features that could help you sell your product better and what would make them use the product more frequently. It’s important to focus the features that give our clients the most value.
Despite how intricate and methodical general production has become, it’s still a game of trial and error at the end of the day. Take any product that you’re currently using (anything from your cell phone to the glass that you’re drinking out of) and I guarantee you that you’re using something that was heavily modified and corrected before it was mass produced. It’s only through user-testing that these flaws & imperfections, no matter how small, can be found and rectified.
Even if you manage to create a unique, one-of-a-kind product on your first try, there’s still no guarantee it will be well-received. User feedback is needed not just to find out what is wrong with a product, but to find out what’s right about it as well. By knowing these details, you can capitalize on the selling points of your product and adjust your goals and strategies accordingly. Also by listening to user-test subjects, a company might pick up on their feedback and add a feature or service that hadn’t been thought of.
However way you cut it, user testing is vital for the success of your product. It’s the only way to know for sure. It’s how you figure out who likes what you have to offer, what needs to change, what needs to stay the same and who should be approached with it.
As designers and developers, we need to remember to never fall in love with our own designs- because this might not necessarily be what the user wants at all. Instead, we need to be humble, understanding and get to know our users in order to find out where your true value proposition lies. We need to fall in love with our users, and let them shape the product.
Stay tuned to find out more about our ongoing pilot and further learnings.