Neil's News

Ignore the User

12 November 2013

One of the cornerstones of good business is to listen to your users. It's a basic skill, whether one is building software or running a hotel. If your users want something, one should try to provide it. However, if your business is entertainment or education, listening to user feedback can kill you.

Give a bunch of people a shoot-em-up game. Such as Quake or Doom. Let them play it for a bit, then ask what could be improved. The feedback will be very clear. They'll want bigger explosions, more powerful weapons, stronger armour, automatic aiming. Implementing any of this feedback will instantly destroy the game. Users play games for the challenge, yet invariably ask for those challenges to be minimised.

Give a bunch of people an educational application. Such as Codecademy or Blockly. Let them use it for a bit, then ask what could be improved. The feedback will be just as clear. They will want easier lessons, hints that show them what to do, less work, simpler challenges. Implementing this feedback eliminates the challenge and eliminates the need to think. Not surprisingly, this results in the elimination of the educational value.

It is very, very hard to stand firm in the face of all your users telling you to dumb down an application. I recently worked on a project where the users were not ignored and their suggestions were implemented. After several rounds of development we started hearing something new coming from our users: "This is boring." Now there's some feedback that should not be ignored.

A more complicated topic is how does one interpret entertainment and education user feedback constructively? Lurking between the lines there is some important data that shouldn't be ignored. But the first step in figuring that out is to acknowledge that most of what one is hearing is counter-productive and dangerous.

Saw this painted on a wall at Facebook HQ. I'm not sure why they are advocating electrocution.

[Connect to the ones you love]

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