Friday, May 25, 2012

Product Management: make your tool obvious to users

Language is important.  It gives meaning to a product.  It helps user understand how to use the product.  It creates mental map of what product is supposed to do.  Once a mental map is created, product has a chance to either affirm that map with by behaving per description, or not.

Perhaps the most important is label.  You have to keep a couple of things in mind when you label features in the product.  First is figuring out key user stories that you are solving and attaching clear action verb labels to those features.  Second is labeling it to give the right semantic meaning to the action.

Key user stories should be obvious to everyone
So... what am I supposed to do?
This may sound trivial.  But it's very important.  Your product is a tool.  It's not a goal in it of itself.  Most of products exist in users' life to solve their problem.  Very rarely a product builds up dedicated followers and hardcore fans.  Even if you do a kick-ass job at building awesome product, number of ordinary users will vastly out number these fans.  And ordinary users don't really give a crap about your product.  It's just how it is.

So when potential users pick up your tool, be mindful of their problem.  Understand why they are looking at your product.  Chances are that they searched Google to find your product to solve a problem that they had in mind in the first place.  Help them solve their problem.  Cater to their need.

One way to do that is to focus on key user stories (also known as minimum viable product).  Name your main button as action verb that helps them do the main user story.  If you are building reporting tool, put in 'create report'.  If you are building search engine, you'd better have 'search'.

Make it super obvious.  Don't waste users' time.  If they had to spend a minute to figure out your tool, you would have lost about half of potential users to your competitors.

Label things to suggest the right semantic meaning

My Dadz Nutz;
unfortunately it has alternate interpretation.
When labeling your feature, you'd better have some mental model of how the feature works.  Explain that mental model to your friends.  It would be best if you can get actual user to talk to you, but if not, grab a friend.  Ask if she can follow your mental model, and if not, listen to how she's describing the feature back to you.  Choose an action verb from her description to name your feature.

Chances are your users are already used to thinking about the problem in certain way.  It could be the work environment, existing products, or industry terms that users are accustomed to.  Make use of them.  Don't create a new model in user's head.  If someone else has done the education, follow their lead.

Unless you are creating a brand new product category, don't invent terms.  Well, even if you do create a new product category, borrow heavily from existing mental model.  It's always better to build on existing concepts to help users' understanding.

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