“A people-centered product doesn’t start with design. It starts with understanding.”

“For people-centered products, it doesn’t make sense to talk about a minimum viable product (MVP). If our businesses are truly people focused, we should be discussing our minimum value add (MVA)”

“UX doesn’t solve people’s problems. It solves the problems people have with your product.”

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Understanding to Solve

Surgeons can cut everything except cause ~ Herbert M. Sheldon

Put your hand up if this sounds familiar. You share a problem with your boyfriend/husband and the first thing he wants to do is solve it (functional), when the only thing you wanted was to be heard (emotional). To be fair, and thinking about stereotypical gender roles¹, men are often raised and/or wired to do just that; fix and solve problems². It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that Tech, which remains a very much “male” dominated industry³, has a mindset of “building to solve” instead of “understanding to solve”. Thank goodness the world is changing.

It is very rare that a company doesn’t already have a “solution” in mind when they approach a problem. Sure, they don’t have all the functional parts or UI worked out yet, but where would you see a company’s “About Us” section saying: “Well we started this company. We had no idea what we were going to build or solve, but we did it anyway.” It is part of the business perspective to identify a “problem worth solving”, followed by agile-research, and build-and-test. Everything happens from the perspective of the “solution”. This is “building to solve”.

In contrast to “building to solve”, “understanding to solve” takes a different perspective on product development and user experience by exploring the thinking and emotions behind a need⁴. 

  • Why do people have certain goals? 
  • What do they hope to achieve when reaching these goals? 
  • What challenges do they have? How do they think about their problems? 

At first, you might think: “but this is too much information”, “how long will this take?”, but you aren’t collecting “everything”. You or your company are bound to have an interest in a certain field or context, and you will be exploring that context for richer understanding.

From a business perspective, you will get a much clearer understanding of how much your product actually resonates with users; not just on a functional level, but also match them on a social and emotional level. When you take an “understanding to solve” perspective, your user research will continuously build richer insights and not just be an archive of “What we have done, but never looked at again”. If you plan to build bespoke experiences, this is the way.


  1. Gender Roles and Young People
  2. “While many studies suggest that women are more empathetic than men, Dr. Brizendine stresses this is not entirely true. The empathy system of the male brain does respond when someone is stressed or expressing a problem. But the “fix-it” region quickly takes over”
  3. Navigating male dominated teams
  4. “Needs” are frequently applied as problems framed from a user’s perspective, instead of delving deeper into the user’s mental models
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Going from persona to person

Over the past year or two, I have found myself wondering about a better life with personas. Are personas giving us enough or can we do more? Real people’s needs, attitudes and behaviours shift or change over time and sure, there will always be new people that fit a persona, but should we be okay with letting people go? That might be okay for an entertainment app, but it probably is not okay if you want to provide long term customer value. 

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By RyAwesome / Ryan Clare from Vancouver, Canada. [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

eCommerce Registration and the Path of Least Resistance

The best interface, is no interface.” These were the pearls of wisdom offered by Alan Cooper back in 2012. Fast-forward six years, and here we are with ecommerce: forced registrations, whimsical delivery times, late/cancelled deliveries, basket analogies, wishlists, broken mobile-web journeys & impersonal recommendations.

If “Customer is King” and we follow User-Centered Design (or any of the other variants of UX), why is it that businesses, marketing and even sometimes UX put obstacles in the way of users reaching their goals?

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Deep Diving into “Why?”

After “What are you trying to achieve?“, my second-favourite and most used question, is “Why?”

Anyone who has ever engaged the inquisitive mind of a four-year old has had the experience of answering the dreaded follow-up question of ‘but why?’. While this line of questioning has lead to many frustrated adults, this line of thinking has inspired the problem-solving approach employed by some of the top companies and leaders in the world.

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The secret benefit of tree testing

“Tree testing is a usability technique for evaluating the findability of topics in a website. It’s also known as ‘reverse card sorting’ or ‘card-based classification’” ~ Optimal Workshop

The test works like this. You take your current navigation structure, which in case of an ecommerce site might be quite wide (product range) and deep (product sub categories) and list them on a tool like Treejack from Optimal Workshop. You then ask users to navigate this menu and indicate where they would expect to find a certain product. For example: “Where would you find Black Shoes for a school boy?” The user then might navigate down your menu structure through “Fashion – Men – Shoes” or they might go through “Kids & Toys – Fashion” or through “School – other”. It all depends on which items you have available in your menu and which words interest their train of thought. This leads to an interesting graph on how many people find your product and which other paths they take. If a big portion of your users can’t find your product, you will need to move it to the category they expect to find it, or maybe not…

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The Path of Least Resistance

In User Experience (UX) we establish users’ needs through research and looking at product usage (where do users struggle with the use of the product – context of use), through the process of user testing. We establish user needs, help the product owner clarify his MVP and expose user problems, so that the product owner, in the end, can create a better product.

One problem with these tools, is that they are reactive. We need to gather data and it is “new” for every product and market. What if we had data that could be used proactively to shape the design, before you get to testing? The first designs tend to copy existing popular products, but we don’t have context of their design decisions and their products aren’t necessarily better.

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