Traveling the world and telling stories

Some say we travel not to see the world, but look inwards instead. By removing the shell that is our comfort zone, we can learn more about ourselves, and test our ability to create new paths in absence of what’s familiar. To go where we’ve never been.

The interesting thing is that developing a product is not that different. It’s easy to plan out hypotheses and draw up solutions, but if you never go outside your comfort zone, if you never try to learn more about your customers, how do you even know you’re on the correct path?

A couple of months ago, the Jetpack Design team set out to learn more about how people are using the new Activity feature. This effort was split into two different phases: the first one consisted of a survey sent out to all costumers that had tried the feature out; the second phase was an one-on-one interview over video with the customers that agreed to spend some more time with us.

Search for and tell stories about people, not just data.

Highlighted above is one of Automattic’s design principles, which was our north star throughout this process. More than collecting statistics from a group of customers, it was vital to connect to real people using the product. Ask questions and get answers, listen to them and tell each of their stories, their background and interests, their motivations and involvement with Jetpack, as well as each of their particular needs.

One of the things we did to be inclusive and reach a diverse group of folks was to make sure our schedule covered a wide span of timezones: an 18-hour window that allowed each to select the most convenient time for them. We interviewed a total of 13 customers aged 26 to 70+, from 8 different countries, including India, the US, Switzerland, China, and Italy. Our costumers ranged from personal bloggers, people running a site for their hobby or passion, some whose site has turned into a business, and even two WordPress agencies building websites for their customers.

But that’s only part of it — it’s hard to relate to just numbers, hard or quantitative data, which is often abstract; it can, however, be decisive in taking a direction. But once you start telling stories about real-world customers, even if they only represent a tiny sample of the larger user base, you humanize that data and create a vehicle to build empathy across an entire product team. Creating an active voice for the customer lets that data out of the shadow and embodies it.

To illustrate that further, the resulting insights were framed according to each individual’s usage: in the final documentation, we built a profile for each customer, complete with a picture, their location and profession, their site(s), as well as a mini-story of how they got started, and what motivates them. This has proved valuable already — it enabled us to refer to a customer scenario and consider a particular use case when developing new functionalities.

Spending one-on-one time with real-world users gathering feedback and telling their stories, will undoubtedly bring fresh perspective to a product. It will make decisions easier, and priorities clearer, knowing you have their best interest in mind. So, dare to look inward and explore unknown paths.

Photo by myself on mutelife*


By Filipe Varela

Designer at @Automattic. Avid photographer and videographer. Likes donuts and cheesecake. Yes, I have a sweet tooth.