Stepping Out

Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference. – Automattic Design Principle

Whether we intend to have one or not, we all have our bubbles. It’s the place we naturally gravitate to because we know it’s comfortable and safe. Stepping outside of that bubble requires curiosity and a willingness to get uncomfortable.

Running user interviews where you’re asking someone you’ve just met varying degrees of personal questions is uncomfortable. Running user testing sessions where you’re asking someone you don’t know for feedback on something you’ve spent weeks working on is uncomfortable. That’s why it’s so easy to only share what you’ve made with the people in your bubble. It’s a common trap for startups and one that I’ve made the mistake of falling for in the past.

When the first version of a product I was working on was in a sharable state, everyone on the team eagerly foist the beta app into the hands of our unsuspecting partners, spouses and roommates. We watched them go through the experience we had worked on for weeks and collected their thoughts and feedback. The feedback was practically unanimous. They thought the whole thing took too long get and we were asking too many unnecessary questions. “Make it shorter, make it faster,” they declared.

Thankfully before we acted on that advice we did a round of interviews with people in our target audience. These were the first research sessions I had ever run by myself and to say that I was terrified would be an understatement. But the temporary discomfort I experienced in those interviews was worth it because the feedback from our target customers was the complete opposite of our friends and family. They wanted to know why we weren’t asking more questions and felt like the experience could be longer and more thorough. In hindsight, it of course seems obvious but that’s the danger of bubbles. If you don’t leave them often enough it becomes harder and harder to see outside of.

Recently the design team got curious and pushed ourselves outside of our bubble by doing a foundational research study on small business owners. Prior to that study, designers were often reminded that our customers are very different from the average Automattician. It’s difficult to internalize that difference just from demographic stats and the occasional anecdote. So we spent a week seeking out that difference. We immersed ourselves in interviews with small business owners learning about their goals, challenges, and day to day. It was uncomfortable to have our assumptions about our small business owners challenged but we pushed through that discomfort and as a result we all grew a bit as designers and researchers. Now that we have a better understanding of just how different our small business owner customers are we can embrace those differences and design better experiences for them because of it.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash


By Megs Fulton

Product Designer @ Automattic