For the past couple months a team of designers has been neck deep in user research and exercises designed to help us absorb and synthesize everything we’ve learned. We started from curiosity: how can we better solve the problems small business owners are facing?

We got the chance to talk with over 30 small business owners to gain a better understanding of how these folks operate. How they think. The goal of all of this was to dive deeper than we ever have, to fully immerse ourselves in their world and understand the problems they face.

Previously when conducting research, the typical process I experienced was to recruit existing WordPress.com users. It makes sense on the surface. We want to learn how to make our product better for our users, so we talk to those people who are familiar with how things work and could be better. But there’s a pitfall hidden in that line of thinking. When you only ever talk to a certain subset of people you miss out on a wider variety of viewpoints.

At Automattic we’ve all been working toward drafting up design principles. Foundational principles that create a shared language and process to make more consistent experiences for customers while keeping in step with developers and Happiness Engineers. One of those principles is about learning and curiosity.

Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.

For this round of research, we recruited small business owners from all walks of life. Some were trying to build a business while grinding out their full-time day job. Others were happy that their full-time job was their business and passion. A number of the people we talked to had heard of WordPress, many had not. A few had used it, many had not. Most either used competitors of nothing at all. Even still, their website was only a small focus of our conversations. Much more time was spent on learning about how they work, what other tools they use, the problems they have outside of a website.

This approach was new and different to me. It felt more like a casual conversation to learn about the people, not the product. People that were vastly different than the typical group I’ve spoken to in the past. I feel like I learned a lot more and gained a broader perspective of the small business owner way of life beyond just how they use WordPress.

Thinking like a small business owner has almost become second nature to me. The small business owner lens is crystal clear where it once was quite out of focus. And I’m excited to run with that and create products that solve some of the problems we learned about by diverging and seeking out difference in the people we talk to.


Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

 

Posted by Dan Hauk

Product designer at Automattic and WordPress.com, husband, father, musician, photographer, and homebrewer.

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