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The Key to Better Tech Design—Knowing Your Customer

November 14, 2016

When you're seeking to improve or change technology, knowing your audience is critical. By observing your market you can understand their motivations, choices, and behaviors; determine what they valued in past designs; and establish what’s needed in future versions. 

This practice of ethnography—the study of people and culture—allows you to look past the metrics and data and see the person behind the purchase. In technology design, you’re not only trying to understand customer needs and how the technology actually needs to work, but also why certain functionalities and features are essential—and why others aren’t. Ethnography offers such understanding.

While no design can ever satisfy 100% of its users, you’re far more likely to hit a higher benchmark of acceptance if you utilize an ethnographic-based approach. Some tips to do that and to deliver a better user experience:

Explore your customer base. 

Get to know them and their experience with your product or service. Also, delve into who they are and where they’re from. One way to do that is to place yourself in their path so you can listen and observe. Without the peer pressure that a focus group can bring, you’ll see behaviors and hear opinions that are more true to form.

Document consumer interactions. 

When it comes to market research, realize that research specialists and visual designers don’t speak the same language. In order to avert miscommunication of your audience’s thoughts and impressions, researchers and ethnographers should document important snippets of their interactions—preferably with video so that designers can see and hear from the audience they’re actually designing for. 

Combine resources. 

Marry data with interpretation of customers’ feelings toward your product or service to generate more insightful enhancements. People often can’t articulate what they want and like. Through ethnography, however, you can uncover trends that may not be revealed by hard data alone. This blend of information will give you a well-rounded view of your next iteration, and won’t waste resources on developing products or solutions that don’t suit their needs.  

Invest in future technology.

Tech giants like Facebook, Google, IBM, and Amazon have created programs in which AI (artificial intelligence) software can learn how the user directly interacts with the service. An ethnographic study on its own, this AI shift opens the door for technology to be placed within products in order to provide sophisticated insight into the individual user’s usage and needs.