“Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.”
The Dotcom Design team recently completed a series of user interviews in an attempt to better understand small businesses and their needs. We heard from small business owners in a wide range of fields; everything from photography to handmade crafts to coaching clients. These folks came from diverse backgrounds and had different levels of expertise, and over the course of more than thirty interviews, we learned a lot about their fears, hopes, and dreams for their businesses.
When it was time to distill the information we’d collected, I struggled to find common ground within our segment. Some were just starting out and others were well established. Some had full-time jobs that helped to support their business efforts, while others were making enough to support themselves with their businesses alone. Some used mobile devices often, others didn’t trust their phones. It seemed that for every example of a need or problem we found, there was someone else with the exact opposite need or problem.
It felt disingenuous to mold all of these users into a single “small business” narrative. How could we capture the eclectic nature of Jan’s work with custom rituals alongside Carol’s more traditional writing courses? How could we account for people like Tim and Latoya, photographers at polar opposite stages of development in their respective businesses? It seemed impossible.
Eventually I realized it wasn’t about trying to fit the pieces together like a neat-and-tidy puzzle, because people are not neat-and-tidy beings. It was more about the chance to listen, to explore what it means to be a small business owner, and to empathize with our potential customers. The data we collected will inform our direction, but a valuable part of this exercise was the empathy gained through the process itself — in short, the journey was the destination.
Seeking out difference with a curious mind enables us to design for small businesses by grounding us in the stories of people, and helping us to keep empathy at the forefront of our minds throughout the design process.