There is a whole science behind user feedback. If you’ve ever gone to grad school to learn about product design, you understand how Maoism, Feminism, Neo-Radical-Feminism, Objectivism, Bertolt Brecht and gamification impact user feedback.
But shit is about to get real. We’re out of grad school. Or we never went to grad school. Hell, we barely finished high school. Either way, its time to ship some software now and we just don’t have the time or the resources to conduct exhaustive user interviews. And while it would be nice to “provide our users with a safe, comfortable location and plenty of water,” we only have enough funding to “make sure our users survive the session without dying of starvation or a bladder infection.”
This is a post about quick, dirty, cheap ways to get user feedback. Because we don’t have the money. And our users don’t have the time, either. We’re all busy here!
1. First User Experience: The Street Team Strategy
Remember the early 90s? Remember those seriously committed punk kids working the corner outside the concert with a cardboard box of mixtapes and a cassette player? “Hey man, hey. I got this really great new band, man. I got a mix tape man. You can have one. Take two. Hey brother, take a listen, borrow my headphones.”
Yeah. That punk kid could be you. And that concert could be a hackathon,
Google I/O, the time you crash that VC party, whatever. Walk up to someone.
Start talking. In the real world, aka “The Internets,” that’s how it’s gonna
be. Your user is going to be on Twitter, or Facebook, or StackOverflow, or
their buddy is all “hey dude check this out”, and then they’ll go to your
website. But they’ve got work to get back to and you’ve got 3 minutes. So
thrust your laptop in someone’s face, respect their time (and their personal
space) (also take a shower first), but ask if they can take a look and tell
you what they think. Be the interrupt driver that your user experiences in
the world. Then thank them and peace out to go
write a better
riff re-do that sign-up process. FUE in a Flash!
2. Massively Distributed… User Feedback!
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that only one person - or a group of people - in the organization are responsible for getting user feedback. Watch out for a blog post soon on the 7 Concentric Circles of User Feedback Hell on why this is an AWFUL mistake but let’s focus on the ruthless efficiency part of making sure everyone in your company is involved in talking to users and understanding how they feel, what they want and what SUCKS about what you’re doing.
Let’s say you have six people. Make it a requirement for everyone to talk to 6 users every week. THAT’S 64 USERS/WEEK if you trust basic math skills. Let’s not belabor the point. But get everyone on your team to talk to users, all the time, in their own quick and dirty ways - and maximize the user generated goodness.
3. Release the
Kraken Top Secret Preview Edition!!!
Inside, we all have a sneaking suspicious that we’re The Next Big Thing, or that we’re building it. We read about all those artists who never let anyone see their work until they died. Then we get all precious about our Next Big Idea. WHAT IF THOSE BASTARDS STEAL IT!!!
But let’s be honest._ If someone can steal your customers, your business model or your secret infrastructure sauce from seeing some mock-ups or the top three bullet points on what you’re releasing next month, you’ve got worse problems.
An easy, low-cost, efficient way to get fast user feedback is to openly Tweet, Facebook, or blog initial thoughts around new features, a mock of a new interface, a few choices of how a process could work… you get the point. Give people a quick and dirty way to respond and get super valuable feedback at low cost.
If letting all your junk hang out makes you or your investors nervous, consider assembling an email list of “beta testers” that you can shoot quick “hey guys, what do you think of this?” notes to. This lets you control distribution but achieve similar results - with the caveat that your user feedback might not be as diverse, instant or organic as a more “open” strategy.
4. Feedback Using Zombie Machines!
One thing I’m really interested in around user feedback is this old - but remerging and reimagined - concept of including in-page widgets that let users give really fast, easy, anon feedback on what they have questions about, how they feel, what they wish you would do better, and more. These take really good design and foresight to incorporate well, but Get Satisfaction has a good example of the basic concept - and you can definitely build your own as well.
The idea is providing users a really easy way to send you those fleeting thoughts, dreams and suggestions as they come. I’m not a huge fan of taking the human element out of user feedback, but I hate live chat (which is a ghetto hack hybrid of IM and feedback widgets), and I like how widgets can remove a lot of the barriers to entry of engaging person-to-person while allowing you to capture that super precious “in the moment” feedback - all the stuff a user wishes they could say but doesn’t have time to email you about.
5. Get Religious with the Pizza + Beer on Thursday Afternoons
There are tons of meetups out there. One of my favorite things is user meetups, where you, your team and some of your users (and hey, invite some non-users for fun!) a chance to meet, network, talk about ideas and share new ones. Provide pizza, beer and a bathroom key. Keep it informal. Let your designers go crazy with all the In-Real-Life A/B testing they want. Encourage people to go to your strategy guru and delight her with their wildest hopes and dreams. Let the engineers risk pissing someone off with their plans for the code base, in the flesh.
Be religious about having and keeping these, even if only a few people show up. You’ll get there, but only by being there. Be disciplined and persistent and you will amass more feedback than you imagined, more ideas than you can build, more champions than you deserve, and a really close relationship with your pizza joint.