The Case for User Development

seedlingWith Steve Blank’s seminal book Four Steps to Epiphany and the growth the ideas in the lean startup movement championed by Eric Reiss, startups are starting to understand the ideas behind customer development (The process that you use to identify customers and figure out how to market and sell to them.)

Unfortunately, in the new found fervor for customer development, the needs of users have been left out of the limelight, so I’m proposing we should be as focused on “user development” as we are on customer development.

The first step of user development is user discovery. In days gone by we would call this user-centered design, human factors research, user experience design, and a variety of other terms, which have been around in the software and technology industry for more than 20 years. There are a lot of great books written on the topic, which are worth a read. But all the books and terminology aside, the starting place is to decide as an entrepreneur that you’re going to have discipline around product development, customer development, and user development.

In the first phase, separating customer discovery and user discovery, at least in your head, will help you to focus your efforts and ensure that you’re deploying the right tactics with the right goals to solve the unique challenges associated with understanding both users and customers. In another post, I go into the differences between users and customers in some depth.

The goal of user discovery is create products that delight users. Great user-centered design makes products disappear and only the activity and results remain for the user. Apple has become legendary for their incredible user-centered design, but they are not alone in the industry. And not every product and user would be delighted by a product that looks and works like an Apple product.

Just like customer discovery, user discovery is an iterative process. Often users don’t even understand what they want from a product, how they’ll use it, and what it can do for them until they start using it. This is especially the case for ground-breaking new products.

For most products, the heart of the user experience is a core gestalt – a way the product works that is central to the experience and usually only changes incrementally. In Facebook it’s the news feed. In the iPod it’s the dial. Discovering the gestalt breaks open the passion that users have for products. This gestalt is ultimately the experience you’d like in your MVP. If you get it right every other well designed feature is a bonus. No amount of research will tell you the answer to this question, but soaking in the stream of users will put you in a position to have the a-ha moments.

In other posts I’ll write more about the tactics and techniques for user development, especially user discovery, but for now simply recognized that customer development is not enough is a good starting place. At the same time that you are figuring out who will buy your product, you need to be figuring out how to delight the people who will use it.