My friend Andres at Meetup.com coined the term “Malkovich Bias,” which he defines as “the tendency to believe that everyone uses products as you do.”
Every person in the world probably has this to some degree, but people who build products suffer most from it.
Building a product is a very personal process. Even when it’s done as a team, all of the builders’ tastes, biases, and personalities get “baked in” to the product itself. This is most apparent with the product’s cosmetic characteristics - color, font, etc - but is also evident in UI/UX design, and choices that affect the product’s usability.
So to combat this bias, many startups do usability testing. Get strangers in front of the computer, observe how they use your product, make changes accordingly. Sounds like an easy solution, doesn’t it?
STARTING USABILITY TESTING
The first usability test is almost always a disaster. This is because even if you know your product might be deficient, you don’t realize just how personally and emotionally invested you are in it. You’ve built this thing for months and months, and poured your heart and soul into it. So what happens when you show it to someone for the first time?
You get defensive. Because you identify so closely with the product, you mistake criticism of your product as criticism of you the builder. I’ve seen people raise their voices at users trying to defend a design choice they made, or dismiss their comments entirely. In reality, these people were just defending themselves.
You get embarrassed. You start disclaiming left and right, and rationalizing your choices. “Well, I put this logo here because I wanted it to be more prominent.” “Well, this feature is still in development, so that’s why it’s hard to use.”
This is not a fun process. In fact, it’s stressful as hell. You feel out of touch and out of control. Thoughts of moving back in with your parents flash through your mind. What do you do now?
LEARNING TO LET GO
Once you calm down a bit, it’s time to bring in the second user and do a few things differently:
Accept criticism, even encourage it. Remember, you’re trying to get people to find problems, so that you can fix it.
Own up to your product, even if it’s in “alpha.” Tell yourself as far as the test is concerned, this is THE app. This allows you to test much more objectively, and not skew the process by implanting disclaimers in your users’ minds. You don’t ever want them to thing “I see a problem, but I won’t tell them because they’re probably aware of it and working on it.”
Realize there’s no one way to use something. Everyone’s opinion is valid, because you’re building the product for everyone (or everyone within your target niche, but you know what I mean). Resist to the temptation to knee-jerk-dismiss comments as outliers.
THE ZEN MOMENT
When you truly let go of these hangups, something strange and beautiful happens. You sit there listening to people tell you everything that is wrong with your product, but instead of getting discouraged, you feel energized and inspired. You not only hear their critiques, but start to empathize with them.
In essence, you’ve become one with that user’s perspective and way of thinking, and can now see the world through his/her eyes - especially if you made an effort to connected with them personally during the session.
This perspective helps you judge not just the product’s usability, but its desirability. You can start to think like the user, and let go of all your biases. Even in the future, when building different features or even products, your ability to see them from many different perspectives will be invaluable.
Usability testing is not easy. It requires not only a commitment to learn about your users, but an emotional separation from your product. Next time you start a session, check your ego and set your baby free. It will be safe in your users’ hands.