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10 Things Product Managers Need To Know About People

Bobby Gill | July 13, 2016

“The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” — Steve Jobs

Whether you’re a product manager, developer, or designer, it’s of paramount importance to have you or your team do the needed user research long before a line of code is written. I assure you that most of your users are actual people who walk the same earth as you.

After reading Susan Weinschenk’s book “100 Things every designers need to know about people,” I felt compelled to lay out 10 things (some hers, some mine) product developers need to know about people if they expect to build lasting product. Some may seem obvious, but either way they should not be overlooked during all aspects of the product cycle.

1. People are lazy

I’m going to start with one that’s crazy simple yet commonly overlooked. PEOPLE ARE INHERENTLY LAZY. They don’t want to fill out a bunch of forms or add new info. They don’t want to give you feedback. When you start designing your product(s), keep this at the forefront of all your UX decisions. Remove barriers to entry. The less steps the better.

2. People recognize pattens

What do you see when you look at the blue dot’s below?

“Chances are you will say you see four sets of 2 dots each. You won’t see them as 8 separate dots. You interpret the white space, or lack of it, as a pattern.” – Susan Weinschenk

People inherently look for patterns to help with recognizing an object. In whatever you’re building have an overall pattern or framework that a user navigates within. I guarantee it’ll help simplify and increase one’s time to make sense of something.

3. People want to be rewarded

This is another fairly straight forward one that’s very important to keep in mind when building products. If a person is investing their time into your product, they want something in return. A person’s happiness is related to achievement of their end goal. But why have one goal that’s a huge time suck when you can have smaller rewards that lead up to the large goals resulting in a more motivated and happier user.

And if you want someone to engage in a certain task or action the most, a variable reward or reinforcement should be your choice. A variable reward is not a literal cash prize (although it could be in the case of a casino) rather it’s something that reinforces the persons’ efforts to continue. And this reward is not a fixed rate, it can change depending on the behavior pattern you want reached.

4. People want choices, but not too many

I’m sure you heard of Barry Schwartz’s book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less”. He also has a great TED talk about the subject. Here’s my opinion on the balancing act of choice:

Humans are built with the desire to control ones destiny. Choices trick people into thinking they have control and freedom. Yet an abundance of choices can leave a person wasting their time, confused and dissatisfied. Have you ever gone to a grocery store and stood in amazement at just how many different variations there are of dressing or pretty much anything? When building your product make sure to allow your user some ability to choose but keep these choices limited and funneled to a common goal or reward. You don’t want a disgruntled user scratching their head for too long.

5. Culture affects how people think

I love this one because I was born and raised in the Caribbean before eventually going to the states for college (Bucknell) and now work (NYC). Because of this, there are often scenarios where I either think or feel differently than others in certain situations. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a tropical climate with beautiful beaches and greenery all around. Now being in the concrete jungle of NYC, I realize I’m more environmentally conscious than a lot of my peers. This dictates a lot of my decisions in everyday life.

When building products, or even just when you go about your everyday life, keep in mind that not everyone had the same upbringing you had. Not everyone has the same set of predefined assumptions, habits or inclinations. As a PM or product designer, try not to think solely from the perspective of you or your peers. Go out into the world; speak with all walks of life; and gather and synthesize what you find before you set out building something.

6. People make mistakes

I feel like I’m speaking to a 3rd grade class → “People make mistakes, kids”. It’s so incredibly true though. Even when you think you created the most fool-proof user experience, something will go wrong; someone will try to do something you overlooked or thought nobody would every do. These things happen, they always do. Which is why you must prepare your product to handle these scenarios. Have a strong error handling strategy. Allow your user to contact you for questions, maybe have an FAQ page. Be explicit in your directions. Do a beta test, try every possible scenario before launching.

7. Habits don’t form overnight

This one ties into #3 from above (“People want to be Rewarded”) given that rewards and a strong engagement strategy can help form new habits. The results range, but all studies prove that a habit cannot be form over night, or even a couple days. A habit can take anywhere between 1–3 months to form depending on the person and level of commitment. So if you think someone is going to download your app and immediately be hooked on using it everyday you’re going to be incredibly disappointed. When aiming for high user engagement keep in mind just how long it takes for a habit to form. Have a structured approach that keeps the user engaged, rewarded and satisfied over a long period of time in order for them to eventually wake up and open your product without even thinking about it.

8. Multitasking is a lie

Don’t let them fool you, people cannot multitask (well). You may think you can, but in actuality there are numerous studies showing that humans cannot multitask. Sure, you’re switching yourself on and off, on and off, to different tasks but you’re still only doing 1 task at a time. And the process of switching in and out between those other tasks is making you waste valuable time.

9. People learn by example

Have you ever read a text-heavy, step-by-step direction and at the end have no idea what’s going on? People process information better in bite-sized chunks coupled with visuals. People learn even better when an example is involved during the learning process. So if you’re trying to instill a new behavior in a user make sure to show them an example in some form. Visuals help, a video is typically best.

10. People want special treatment

This one can also be titled as “Personalize your product”. What I mean is that people want to be treated as individuals, not as just another user whom you’re trying to (eventually) profit from. If a PM or designer can figure out a way to significantly personalize the user experience, up goes their chances at having a highly engaged user base. There’s even simple ways to do this without spending buckets on robust analytics and engagement strategies. For example, reiterating a user’s real name at different points of the experience will make the user feel special and increase the likelihood of the user’s return.

There’s a bunch more I could of jammed in but I realize nowadays people can’t retain information that’s too lengthy and not in bite-sized chunks. Well there ya go, there’s #11.

By Blue Label Labs Designer & Program Manager, Cory Bishop

Bobby Gill
Co-Founder & Chief Architect at BlueLabel | + posts

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