Get out of your comfort zone.
When I first started my undergraduate degree in Product Design just over three years ago, I was given a piece of advice that stuck with me, ‘Never design for yourself’. At the time of being told this up until embarrassingly recently, I didn’t understand the reasoning behind this; I always wondered why, if I had experienced a problem whilst partaking in a hobby or throughout day-to-day life, I shouldn’t take that forward as a project. Ultimately, there is nothing stopping you, however, you are more likely to miss the bigger picture. This is where understanding the primary user leads to the creation of a far more valuable product.
Understand The Problem Through Empathy
Gaining a clear and detailed knowledge of the user and slowly building up a definitive persona can be achieved through a variety of methods, however, like all research, it starts with secondary sources. Secondary sources give us a detailed overview of the problem area, market sector, and the user. From this point, we then move onto primary, where things get interesting. It’s at this point that designing for a user that isn’t ourselves comes into its own; by not having a preconception of the problem or even prior knowledge of the sector, we are forced into delving deeper with our research and ask questions that may otherwise have been unanswered.
When designing for ourselves, we often skip through the research stage with little additional thought, because, well, we ‘already know the problem’… or so we may think. One individual’s, or even a group’s, idea of a problem is far from an accurate representation of the entire population. On further inspection, it may reveal that the ‘issue’ identified is far from a common problem, and with very little commercial opportunity… and without a market, where’s the need for the product?
Limited Design Scope
As I just mentioned, when designing for ourselves it’s highly probable that we will breeze past the research section… however, it’s likely the development stage will pass by just as fast. The reason for this is simple, the product is developed in our heads during the ‘idea generating’ phase, and, like the stubborn people we are, we, as humans, have an unfortunate tendency to get far too attached to our ‘design babies’. Therefore, we will be relucent to develop the product much further than the original concept. This has further implications: Because the product is for ourselves, the chances of us going to another ‘target user’ is slim; why go and actually talk to someone when we are the target user?
1- Critical Feedback
Well, firstly, we probably aren’t going to be too critical of the product as it’s our own. Therefore the flaws will remain hidden and unexposed leading to a final product that has the potential of being sub-par.
2- User Experience
We know exactly how the product is intended to be used (or at least you would hope we do), so using yourself to test if the product is intuitive isn’t an accurate, or at all helpful, test. Hand the product over to someone without saying a word and see if the product is clear and easy to operate.
3- Potential Development Scope
Testing the product with another target user may lead to the creation of a far superior product. A simple conversation may bring up problem areas that you were previously unaware of… this is extremely valuable information that could bring great benefit to the project.
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone!
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, push your boundaries as both a designer and person, and get out of your comfort zone! Researching and gaining a knowledge of areas that were before unfamiliar to you injects a bit of excitement into the project and stops it from getting stale… plus, it makes making small talk at events a little easier!