How we build empathy for our customers at Automattic

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote for the Automattic Product Design blog:

Support Rotation¬†ūüí¨

It starts from our first day on the job. Everyone that joins Automattic spends three weeks doing what’s called a support rotation. We learn about our products by reading support documentation and running through exercises. Once we’ve completed our training, we get to business and start offering support to our customers with our Happiness team. We start by answering inquiries by email and then upgrade to doing live chat.

After we complete our rotation we are released into our new roles with a wealth of knowledge about our company and our customers. That’s not the end though, once a year we return back to the Happiness for a week to offer more customer support. It’s a great way for us to keep in touch with the challenges our customers are facing.

Read the full post

Designing with words

Reading Storytelling for User Experience by Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks got me thinking about different ways of exploring ideas in my design process. It inspired me to try something new on a recent project. I found that both the end result and the journey were very rewarding.

Starting with words

For most projects I start with¬†sketches, flow diagrams, or wireframes. The end result is always some sort of visual output. I have my¬†graphic design¬†background¬†to thank for that. With this project, I changed things up a little and¬†described my¬†user journey¬†in writing rather than illustrating it. The end result was like a story about¬†our customer’s journey through our signup process.

I broke each step into a series of bullets¬†that¬†were short and concise. It was important for me to make them easy to read. My¬†self imposed constraint forced me to keep¬†things at a¬†high level. This made it better for collecting feedback and moving onto the next stage of the project because¬†people didn’t¬†get caught up in small¬†details.

Words are cheap

I¬†don’t even need to think when I¬†type because of how¬†long I’ve been using a¬†computer. It’s like I look at a screen and words appear right out my brain. Working on this project in this way made me¬†realize that I can¬†type quicker than I can sketch. I was able to¬†cover lots of¬†ground in less time and generated more¬†ideas than I normally would.

I worked in waves by¬†documenting¬†my thoughts and then¬†editing them. The ideas got¬†better¬†with each edit¬†and sometimes they’d even spark¬†new ones. I had to be diligent to capture them¬†before they¬†escaped. My¬†keyboard skills came in hand as I copy¬†and pasted¬†new¬†phrases, finished them off, and then got back to the original thought. After a while, the content began to mature. and I started to think about the implementation.

Structure brings Freedom

I remember¬†my visual brain going wild¬†while writing these flows. The descriptions painted such vivid pictures. I couldn’t wait to get to the visual part of the¬†project. Once I did, I found it really easy to get going. Working within the constraints of the written text was very fun for me.¬†With the high level details all figured out, I was able to¬†focus on the details and get creative.

Conclusion

With this experience behind me, I can easily say I’d do it again. Heck, I’d like to see if there are other ways I can incorporate words into my design process.¬†I’m going to continue exploring¬†and writing about¬†it here so check back soon. If you have any suggestions let me know, I’d love to hear about them.

Sales Safari: observing your customers in the wild

I’ve been trying a new ethnographic research technique called Sales Safari. It was developed by cross functional designers Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman. It unfortunately isn‚Äôt very well documented so I decided to write about it after reading how to do it in a book called ¬†‚ÄúDesigning Products People Love‚ÄĚ by Scott Hurff.

The goal of this approach is to create great products by studying what your customers are saying. Insights come from analyzing large quantities of data collected from online public spaces like forums and social networks. I thought it might work well to craft a great signup experience for our customers on the new project I’m working on.

How I ran my Sales Safari

I started by identifying the places where our customers hang out. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Reddit and the WP.com forums where a good places to start. Later, I also reviewed some of our customer’s sites, survey responses, and support requests. I closely read through the conversations while visiting each location. Phrases that stuck out to me were copied and pasted in a spreadsheet. I created a single keyword to summarize the phrase so I could categorize them later. Here’s how Hillman describes what you should be looking for:

‚ÄúYou start collecting jargon, some of their specific detailed language and words they use to describe the problem […] Elements and contributions to their worldview, their deep-seated beliefs that are unshakable. Then also the things that they talk about, they recommend. The things that they buy.‚ÄĚ

As I progressed, I felt like this was a never ending process. There is so much content out there. Each conversation lead to another and sometimes even to a whole new ‚Äúwatering hole‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ a term Amy uses to describe places where people go to share their views. I eventually decided I had enough data to take a peek. As I started grouping the phrases by keyword, the patterns started to become clear right away.

What I learned

After going through this process I definitely feel like I know more about our customers than when we started. This kind of research takes a lot of time and isn’t ever really over. I intend to continue doing it on a regular basis to stay in touch with what our customers are saying and feeling. This new understanding of our customers has both empowered and inspired me to explore different ways we can show people the value of our product early on so we they can stick around with us for longer.

Share your thoughts

Have you tried this approach before? Do you have other ways you like to learn from your customers? Reach out on Twitter and let me know.

Product and marketing: two sides of the same coin

Colin Bentley and Brian Donohue are product managers at Intercom ‚ÄĒ a product first company. They were interviewed on the company’s podcast about their experiences since they joined the company of 30. Today, there are 300 people working at Intercom and their product services over 100,000 active customers.

As a product first company it was normal for them to think if you built a great product, everything else would follow. People were cynical when Intercom started making their first marketing hires.

Over time, the product folks began to see they weren’t very different than the marketers. They realized they both focus on the needs of their customers. While the product managers build features, the marketers position them to their customer‚Äôs so they’re desirable and useful. As an example, Twitter’s tweet button could have been easily labeled submit. Instead, a lot of work¬†went into positioning it as a¬†Tweet button so that Tweeting could become a thing.

Today, Colin and Brian explain how important it is for their team to collaborate. It’s essential for them to fuse both the marketing and product¬†perspectives. This allows them not only to build the most important things for their customers but also gives their product a unique place in the market.

Listen to the full podcast on Intercom’s site.

7 tools to help you get started on your next design project for your product

Getting started on a new project can be intimidating. Thankfully as designers we have these tools to help us get the ol’ juices flowing.

User flows

Experience your product as the people using it would. Take screenshots, write notes, and press every single button you find. Document your journey in steps as you go and take notes.

Stakeholder interviews

Learn from your peers and customers. Find anyone that’s worked on your project before you, speak with your peers, and interview the decision makers on the project. Most importantly, get in touch with the people using your final product.

Competitor analysis

See how your product measures up and find some inspiration along the way. Start by identifying your direct competitors. Then expand search to similar products. Finally look for companies in completely different fields. Make a list of the defining features of your product. As you review each competitor: document the features they have, take notes, and add new features to your list that you find interesting.

Sales safari

Gain a unique perspective about your customer. Find people using your product without influencing them in any way. The best way to do this is to look up things they’ve said in the past by checking your forums, customer support requests, old surveys, and social media accounts. Look out for how they speak, what they think about your product, and what challenges they’re running into.

Inspiration boards

Capture your favourite pieces to inspire you throughout your project. Visit your favourite inspiration sites or use screenshots from your competitor analysis. Save images and arrange them in a way that makes sense to you. Make it really visual and physical. Print it out if you have to and stick it somewhere where you can see it from time to time.

Data analysis

Find out how your product is performing. Get familiar with tools like Google Analytics, mySQL data bases, and what ever reporting software your company uses. Understand your business performance metrics so you can figure out how you can make a real difference both for your customers and your business.

Communication

Keep everyone up to date with your progress. Share your findings as frequently as you can to spur discussion and gather ideas. It easier to get buy in when people are involved in the process. Get people excited by posting your diagrams, notes, and sketches for everyone to see.

Conclusion

What does your design process look like? Is there anything on my list that’s missing? Want to learn more about one of these in more depth. Reach out on Twitter and let me know.