Creating flexible products

Several years ago, I was looking for a new challenge, and I decided it was a good time to stop hacking my HP-49g and start pointing my goals at new horizons.

Shortly after, I discovered the awesome world of the Web and WordPress, and decided to work hard and learn everything about it.

Still not fully prepared, I decided to launch myself into the business of selling WordPress themes. Initially, I thought it was going to be a smooth ride, but I then realized after a short period of time, that this wasn’t the case.

The majority of my customers were not developers, they were individuals who set up and maintain websites for their own customers, with some knowledge of HTML and CSS, and very basic knowledge of the JavaScript programming language. Since their coding knowledge was not high, my customers expected a high level of customization from the products I created.

Initially, the way I built my themes was not flexible enough to satisfy my customers’ demands, so I had to continually listen to ideas and requests from the customers themselves, and be able to improve the products, by adding new features, or removing/modifying ones that were not necessary.

For example, many of my customers needed a way to translate their themes to their own language. This was a common question in the support forums. Eventually, I released the first version of the Translator feature, built into the theme. The way I envisioned the interface was not optimal, and they made it very clear. After some updates, the interface was smoother and more straightforward. In the end, it was all about to listening to their needs and improving the product through iteration.

We should be able to improve our product in several iterations of itself, in a way that lets us interpret better what our customers want, which eventually leads to understanding them, without the need of conscious reasoning. This leads us to one of our design principles at Automattic:

Intuition is grounded in interpretation through iteration.

A product’s evolution is basically an iteration cycle, lasting for the lifetime of the product itself. It’s constantly improving, adapting, changing.

Photo by Joel Mbugua on Unsplash.

 

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