Why I woke up at 4am and drove 300 miles to talk to 10 users on-site

I just got back from an on-site visit in Dallas, TX. It was a hit-the-road-at-4:30am and get back at 9pm kind of day. It can be easy to stay in the office, but I know it’s important to ‘get out of the building’ and learn more about the context in which people actually use our app.

Paying a visit to another business where your app is used is a good reminder that people they use software in the context of a job, a culture, a physical office, real demands from their superiors, of commutes and their lives. Phone calls are great, but they don’t give us those interesting details that bring people and places to life.

It also means that users have a much harder time avoiding me. I can talk to more people, and get answers in the context of the trinkets and talismans that populate their desk. The details make it fun, and make it useful.

What did I learn that I could only learn by being there?

Their internet can be painfully slow. I had no idea until the site visit that this was the case. They were waiting an unacceptable amount of time for pages to load. We could write this off as an unsolvable problem. I’d prefer to tailor our product so that it works even when internet is slow. This removes dependencies on conditions outside of our direct control.

Many people used square screens, with the lowest resolution setting (so they could see larger fonts). This played havoc with the layouts that were designed with much larger screens in mind. Even our nice responsive layouts broke in this resolution setting. Great information to have going forward.

The entire context of their work. I got a great understanding of the workflows that our users know by instinct. We can leverage these patterns if we’re smart – since all of our users will have these reference points, if we give them something they’re familiar with we’ll have a much greater chance that they’ll stick around in our app. A lower learning curve means that transitioning to our app is much less painful.

All in all, the travel will impact future development. We’ll make sure to optimize our app towards overcoming those limitations which might otherwise hinder user adoption.




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