Why you Should Build for People, not for Users "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs January 01 2020 True Product management, Product Management Skills, Product Strategy, User Experience, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 1102 Product Management 4.408

Why you Should Build for People, not for Users


In this blog post, I’ll explain why product managers need to solve user problems in a way that offers a great experience and makes them feel as though they’re understood.

At the start of my career as a product manager, I came across a quote from Daniel Pink that has stuck with me over the years:

Believe it or not, many people don’t care how awesome your product is. Instead, they care about how awesome they are when they use your product.

In an over-competitive market where users are becoming more and more sophisticated, it’s not enough to identify a user problem and solve it. We need to do it quickly, gracefully, and offer a great experience. Especially if we want them to come back, ideally with their friends and family.

How to achieve that?

Identify the ‘I Made it!’ Moment

Learn how the user feels when the task/job is finally completed. Proud, satisfied? Happy that it was finally done? Or maybe relieved that the stress is over? Tired because it was an (unnecessary) long process? Identify the elements that led to that feeling; replicate more of the good things and eliminate the not-so-good ones. You can easily do that by setting up in-depth interviews with your users and ask more than “how do you perform this task?”.

Take for example the process of buying a car – my focus at my current job as a product manager for an online marketplace. This is a serious investment: first in terms of money, then safety, the impact on one‘s life quality, and also on the environment. We want to avoid people feeling overwhelmed, lost, stressed, and instead to enjoy looking at cars, exploring their options, and in the end, make a confident decision. One of the most successful things we’ve implemented is a friendly, welcoming first screen, with guiding and personalized elements, such as recommendations, remembering the user’s last search, inspiring them with popular searches on the platform, and displaying at a glance the important notifications for them. All these things bring the user more quickly to the “Aha! That’s my next car” moment without them having to search over and over.

Looking for a car to buy online should be stress-free (Image: Shutterstock)

Kill Dead Ends

In a brilliant talk at Web Summit 2019, Narry Singh (from Accenture Digital) talked about the importance of investing in “brilliant basics”. If your product doesn’t succeed, it’s not always because of the market or strong competitors. He said that you “[…] can’t blame your competitors if X% of your searches return zero results”.

Inspired, I took a deeper look at our searches that return no results. We found that one possible reason is that no car is available on the platform – so we now offer the users the option to save the search and be notified later. In other cases, the user over-filtered so we now guide them to edit or remove some of the filters and re-run the search. After you’ve been working on the same product for many years, you’d be surprised how many basic things you’re overlooking when you re-check your basics.

Make Your Users Feel Like Experts

This can be achieved first by not making them feel stupid. Simplify the entire process and the use of your product. And where that is not possible, add small educational tips – especially if it’s a product or service people use for important matters, like taxes, finances, or making important decisions about their life, family, safety.

Give them the information they need to make an informed and confident decision, even if they could easily find it with a simple Google search. Keep them with you, be the one that helped them.

A few years ago, I worked in the gaming industry. And very often a game’s success depends on the effectiveness of its onboarding tutorial. If a game is too easy, people will be bored and quit. It has to be challenging, but it can’t be difficult to understand, or the outcome will be the same. It’s a fine line, and a great tutorial or hints dropped every time a new element is introduced can really make a difference and help you keep your users going.

Add Gamification Elements

That doesn’t mean making your product be or look like a game. It’s the small bits that count: the feeling of progress and accomplishment. Spice it up with subtle animations and transition. Think of mechanisms to bring back the user, beyond the push notifications and emails.

Incentivise users with time-limited offers (Image: Shutterstock)

For example, games have small incentives for logging in regularly (like a daily reward) or time-limited offers for special occasions such as Black Friday, Christmas or the product anniversary. You’ll increase revenue, but also save money on retargeting users, by implementing efficient retention mechanisms inside the product.

Move From User Centricity to Human Centricity

A big topic at Web Summit last year was going from “user centricity” to “human centricity”. Who are the people using your product? What other products do they use? What does their daily life look like? What’s their lifestyle? What are their life principles, their values? What are their struggles and what do they try to achieve? Answer these questions and integrate the answers in your product vision and strategy.

When I started working in the gaming industry a few years ago, I had a pretty narrow vision of the type of people who play games on Facebook – I’m sure many of you remember all those Farm Ville or Candy Crush saga requests. Then I paid more attention to who the players actually are, and I discovered many were housewives passing the time before their spouse and kids arrived home and needed a moment of distraction for themselves, some “me time” before starting to take care of others; sick people or women with a problematic pregnancy who were stuck in bed all day and had Facebook games as the main source of passing the time; people on low income for whom going out was too expensive. And that made me value more our strategy of making money from displaying ads, as an alternative to monetizing directly from the user through the purchase of in-game currency.

If there’s one thing you take from this article, I would like it to be “don’t build products for users, build solutions for people”. The rest will follow.