Leverage User Research to Design a Perfect Product

IAmy is an expert in user researcht’s not easy designing the perfect product for your customers, but having a recipe makes it a little easier. Not only does effective product design involve blending in elements of psychological motivation, but it’s also useful to pepper in some user research to see what your customers actually want, listening to their words and actions.

But user research can cost a lot of money and take time…right? It doesn’t have to! Amy Bucher, a behavioral scientist at Wellness and Prevention, a Johnson and Johnson company, has mastered a method for success.

Amy’s back for a third time teaching class at Intelligent.ly, and this time it’s a double header! Not only will she teach one of our most widely attended class about design psychology, but she’ll also take it a step further and teach a second class a week later about user research tools and tricks.

We asked her for the inside scoop about user research and how it’s applicable to your company. Read on to learn how.

You’ve taught at Intelligent.ly before and are now back for round three. What are you looking forward to in teaching a two-part series of classes?

AB: At both of my previous classes, people asked a lot of questions about how to test their products, so the new second course seemed like a natural choice. I’m excited to have that continuity of conversation from the first course to the second. I’m also really excited to hear how members of the Intelligent.ly community are considering using user tests in their product lifecycle. I think when people have minimal background on these research techniques, they sometimes come up with the most clever ways to implement them, because they haven’t been spoiled by the idea that there’s only one or two “right” ways to answer these questions.

You’ve spoken before about how consumers provide unreliable judgments of their future behavior. What is the most surprising finding you’ve come across in your work where a consumer’s behavior diverges from their opinion?

AB: There’s a huge divide between what people intend to do and what they actually do. I read one interesting explanation of this in Baumeister and Tierney’s Willpower: We make a wrong assumption that our future self will have much more motivation and energy than our current self, so we sign her up for a workout or a volunteer session that turns out to be just as unappealing then as it is now. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that we can overcome this resistance by helping people find a really personal motivation source. We’ve started to encourage people to write a “mission statement” right off the bat when they start participating in our health programs, and we find that the people who do that are way more likely to stick with the program over time. You’ve got to be doing it for your own reasons or you won’t keep it up.

Your second class focuses on user research techniques. What are the main differences between the quantitative and qualitative research methods and what is each good for finding?

AB: I started my career as a total qualitative research snob; if you couldn’t run an inferential statistic on it, it didn’t matter. Fortunately for me I’ve come to see the incredible value of qualitative data. For me, qualitative data is most useful when I am at my least informed. At the very beginning stages of product development, I like to ask potential users what they need and observe their habits as much as possible. Casting a wide net at this stage lets me look for patterns and begin to identify features or concepts that are important. When I have a more solid idea of the product design, I find quantitative testing can be really useful. Which version gets higher ratings or more clicks?

There are other differences between the two beyond this; for example, qualitative research typically doesn’t require a very big sample size, where a lot of quantitative studies require tens if not hundreds of participants. That can also make qualitative research very attractive to start-ups, because the data is relatively inexpensive to obtain.

In what ways can a company immediately implement findings from their user research without having to completely overhaul their product? 

AB: Great question! One way is to focus the research on a specific feature or area that you’ve identified as needing a revamp. An example in my line of work is that we recently tested the branding in our recruitment messages, which is just one small piece of our product, but could make a big difference in our enrollment numbers. Once your product is on the market, I think it’s generally a good idea to do spot tests on specific features (or on specific features you could add to augment the original product), especially if you receive repeated user feedback about a particular aspect.

I also think it’s important to let your users know you hear them. You may run user tests that indicate the need for a big change, but not be able to implement that right away. Consider letting your users know that you have plans to address their feedback in future releases, and if you can, make a few smaller updates that move the product in the right direction. By the way, this tip is straight from self-determination theory: Getting people to feel “relatedness” will help motivate them to use your product.


Become a user research expert by signing up for Amy’s classes.

How to Design a Mobile App for Early Adopters

In today’s increasingly competitive space, mobile apps live and die by whether early adopters engage with them. But adoption doesn’t happen by accident, it is conscientious choices by the product designer that cater early versions to appeal to the gatekeepers of the app world.

Swimming In The iPool

Make it easy for early adopters to take a dip in your application.

Design your application (app) for the first 1% of users, and millions will follow

Everyone wants to get millions of users quickly. The trick to this is designing your app to appeal to the first 1-5% of users who will ultimately pick up your product (or the early adopters).

There are three key traits of early adopters are essential to consider when designing your product in the first phases of its evolution:

1.     Early adopters like to try new stuff

Don’t make it hard to explore your product. Your own user registration and authentication is a must, but provide Facebook login as option. Ask for as little information as far down the workflow as you can.

HINT: Never ask users to confirm email or password twice in an app – it is annoying and will cause drop off.

 2.     Early adopters like to brag

In this case, bragging is a good thing! Think about how you want early adopters to contribute, not just consume. Focus on a fun process for contribution, whether it’s a motivating User Experience (UX) or the gamification of contributions.

HINT: There is a delicate balance between easy contribution and content quality – make the desired action you want your user to take obvious.

3.     Early adopters like to connect and share

Make your app easy to share and inherently viral. This helps early adopters spread the word faster, but be sure to consider how they engage with their network. Sharing needs to be built into your use case, but, if social is not there, don’t force it.

HINT: Do not ask for offline processing unless absolutely necessary – this takes up precious time.

Considering these traits as you begin to build will be key for your app’s success. Remember to keep it simple and fun and your early adopters will help do a lot of the promotional work for you.

Image JD Hancock via Compfight

About Instructor Saad Fazil

Saad is a senior product manager for Nokia’s Location and Commerce group and previously co-founded VentureDive, a technology incubator. He blogs at http://sframblings.com/.  View slides from Saad’s class here.


Self Determination Theory: A Recipe for Perfect Product Design

Crafting the perfect product is just like cooking. It involves lots of ingredients, including the problem it’s solving, its look and feel, and the way the user interacts with it, just to name a few. There has to be just the right amount of each to produce something that captures people’s attention. It may sound difficult, but Amy Bucher, a master chef in design psychology, gives lessons on perfect product design all the time. The result: A recipe card for producing the motivation your customers need to want to buy your product.

Want to learn straight from the source? Stop by Intelligent.ly on August 21 for class with Amy. Sign up below, or read on to find out more about self determination theory.

The secret lies in Self Determination Theory. According to Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, the orginal developers of the theory, Self Determination Theory, or SDT for short, is “An approach to human motivation and personality that uses traditional empirical methods while employing an organismic metatheory that highlights the importance of humans’ evolved inner resources for personality development and behavioral self-regulation.”

We’ll save all the jargon for the psychologists though. In simpler terms, as stated on the official Self Determination Theory website, SDT is “concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways.” The theory is especially useful in the context of product design because it tells  us the ways in which to provide the necessary factors that consumers look for in searching for a product. As Jacqui Miller so eloquently stated in her blog post about Bucher’s class, “Basically, you want to set up a universe for your user, but let them make fluid decisions inside that world.”

Let’s start with the fundamentals of motivation. There are six types:

  • Amotivated: The Individual is not motivated at all.
  • External: The individual finds motivation from an outside source like an employer, a doctor, or a coach.
  • Introjected: The individual knows they should do something.
  • Identified: The individual’s behavior is consistent with his goals.
  • Integrated: The behavior is part of the individual’s identity.
  • Intrinsic: The behavior feels good.

The further we go down the line, the more desirable the type of motivation becomes from a product design perspective. The goal lies in making your consumers intrinsically motivated to buy and use your product. You want them to feel good when using it. So why should we use SDT to help us go about achieving this goal?

First of all, SDT is relatively simple, which can’t be said for many other theories, and it has its roots in lots of other tested theories. Second of all, SDT has been applied to education, video game design, and the health industry. Finally, because psychologists have tested it so thoroughly, it can provide a sense of reliability and correctness about the methods in which you go about designing a product.

Now what does SDT prescribe when creating a product your customers won’t be able to resist? Simple: there are three essential components. To maximize a customer’s motivation it must give the individual feelings of:

  1. Autonomy and involve initiation and self-regulation of one’s own behavior
  2. Competence by providing the ability to interact proficiently and effectively with the environment
  3. Relatedness by providing feelings of closeness and belonging to a social group

To provide autonomy, the product should give minimal external pressure, have a provision of maximum choice, and share an internal frame of reference. The product must make people feel like they have control. Great examples of products that excel at producing autonomy include the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, Pandora, Weight Watchers, and the game of Life.

A sense of competence requires the product to help people feel like they play a role in solving their own problem. It has to provide an optimal level of challenge–it can’t be too easy for the task to be meaningless, and at the same time, it can’t be too hard to be unsolvable. The demands should be developmentally appropriate, and there should be a relevant source of feedback in order for the user to change their behavior appropriately for the better. At the simplest level, the product must provide a sense of ability and a sense of self efficacy. Examples of products that that do a great job at providing a sense of competence include Guitar Hero, for its ample sources of feedback, and the use of profile badges to show one’s leveling up progress in apps.

Human beings are social creatures and have a powerful need to be connected and recognized by others, which is why the third component of motivation requires a sense of relatedness. A product that provides a good sense of this will provide a warm and supportive voice in content creation, create a high level of consumer involvement, and a conveyance of belongingness.
The runaway success of social networks prove to be the greatest example of products that do a good job at projecting relatedness.

These three components alone are not the only things that make an irresistible product. Beautiful design matters too. The product could function optimally and fit all of the above criteria, but it could still be pretty ugly. The product should be aesthetically pleasing and fun to interact with. Only then will your product be perfect.

For more information on design psychology, check out the slideshow on Slideshare, visit the Self Determination Theory website, or read Scott Rigby’s book, Glued to Games.

How to Get People to Eat Their Broccoli (or use your product!)

Amy BucherSo, you’ve just started your own business, you have a product, and you’ve even grown an audience of users. But now you want your users to take action. Maybe you want them to fill out a form, make a purchase. Motivating consumers to do something is no easy task. Users of the same product may share similarities, but for the most part they’re a diverse group of unique individuals. So how do you go about uniting this vague group of consumers into one common action?

Amy Bucher, a Behavioral Scientist, who works with Wellness & Prevention, is ready to let you in on the secret behind how to spur users into action, specifically through the design of a web product. We caught up with her before tonight’s Intelligent.ly class, Design Psychology: Motivate Your User, for the inside scoop on what to expect:

How has your work as a Behavioral Scientist helped you determine motivational techniques for users?
For me, the most powerful lessons have come from research with our end users. There’s nothing more compelling than putting your product in front of your target user and having him tell you how it does and doesn’t meet his needs. At the same time, I’ve learned over and over that people are terribly unreliable judges of their own future behavior. So I put a lot of importance on observational research and understanding how people actually behave when left to their own devices. You have to appeal both to what people think they want, and what they’re really going to use.

The value of theories like Self-determination theory is that they provide an organizational framework to make sense of the behaviors you observe. I’ve also found them helpful in making determinations about what variables to play with in the stimuli we show research participants–we can make some pretty good guesses about what features might be driving user responses, and play with them accordingly.

Can you give us a quick sneak peak at Self Determination Theory?
Sure thing. Self-determination theory is all about motivation, or helping people want to take action. At a high level, the theory predicts that people are more motivated by activities that give them three critical ingredients: autonomy, or a feeling of control; competence, or a feeling of success; and relatedness, or a feeling of social connection. What I love about this theory is that it’s fairly simple and straightforward, and allows a lot of creativity in its application. I also love that it’s not just a theory about getting people to eat their broccoli–it also explains why games are fun.

What is the hardest aspect of attempting to spur users to act within the web?
My work is specific to helping people change health behaviors, so I really want people to take action OFF the web. We can design for clicks and set up incentives systems to get people through an online program, but unless they make the changes in their eating, movement, or self-care, it won’t make the difference we want to see. I see our challenge as designing web tools that support and enhance offline behaviors.

Within the web, I find it most challenging to remember to keep things simple. I loved the advice Christopher O’Donnell gave in his Designing Successful Products session: kill a feature. That hurts to do, but it’s often a good move. It’s so tempting to explain and then explain again to your user why they really should be using your program, but the fact is that if you can’t quickly and clearly demonstrate your value, their next click will be to a different URL.

If you could be an expert in one skill by tomorrow, what would it be?
Professionally, I wish I had learned more coding–I’d love to wake up fluent in Ruby or Javascript.

Personally, I’d also love to wake up fluent in Spanish. I studied it for years and got very close to fluent, but never quite sealed the deal. I’m hoping to regain some of my skills by traveling and having embarrassing conversations with locals.