The story of your ‘user’ you hardly know anything about

By Jubin Mehta|6th Sep 2013
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We all talk about how the users should be at the core of your thought process while building a product or a service. What is your user base? What are their inclinations? And a million other questions like these. I was having one such conversation with computational neuroscientist Sai Gaddam who is also the founder of Kernel Insights (makers of Makkhichoose) and what came out was refreshingly different.

How you don’t understand half of your users

Firstly, a user has a huge split in terms of characteristics only with respect to the gender. Talking about the internet, in its early days, the dominant metaphor for the web was the information superhighway, which is not just male but so amusingly sci-fi in hindsight. Now the web is the social network. It is about connection and communication, traits that are more feminine in nature. And it's quite fascinating as to how close these metaphors for our new digital world are to the different make-believe worlds that boys and girls come up with at a young age. Boys are off on imaginary quests conquering different worlds while girls are inviting their dreamt up friends to elaborate fantasy tea parties.


boys_girls

While the social idea is on the rise, we still have a fair distance to go in moving away from male sensibilities and catering to women as well. Reviews and conversations with other buyers are still an afterthought on most ecommerce sites, but communication, not mere information, should be front and center when catering to female shoppers. Men may care about the model and version of the graphic processor running on a smartphone, but women may want to hear about the experience of using the phone and how it's empowered or enabled their lives.

Another big hole in offerings is curation. One reason for Pinterest's massive success is it quite accidentally stumbled into this very female interest. For hundreds of years women have indulged this interest with scrapbooking. Curation allows for context for objects and experiences, which matters to women. And it should matter to ecommerce sites looking to appeal to women. Women, unlike men, do not buy in isolation. A guy may buy a t-shirt without paying attention to how it ties together an ensemble, but women do. And websites should make this central to their experience. (Sai cites an example of a website doing this)

These are just some ways to tap into our differences and create compelling experiences. But that said, you can't force-fit consumers into a shopping experience because of their gender. There are many women with male interests and vice versa. And here's where the web with its wonderful flexibility has a great advantage over a traditional brick-and-mortar store: one can understand the user's preference from her behavior and change the interface accordingly. If a user's clickstream shows that she gravitates towards product specifications and does not really care for reviews and curated ensembles then show her a digital storefront that emphasizes information.

Sai also gave a talk on similar lines which is in this INK talk

What else?

How does ‘what a user buys change with ‘how’ s/he buys?

Navigation changes with product. A user doesn’t shop for books the same way they shop for shoes or bags. Books are often directed buys, we know what we want. Apparel tends to be more exploratory, so the interface one designs should aid this exploration. But this needs to be done in a thoughtful way. Simply dumping 100s of choices on an endlessly scrolling page will just make it all the harder to decide.

How does screen size change behavior?

We move from creation to consumption, and even in consumption it isn't the non-linear consumption we are used to on the desktop where we can click on a link and go to another webpage and then come back. Listing a ton of product details might make sense for a desktop experience, but not for smartphones.

Another huge change is smaller screens are ushering in 100s of millions of new users who have never used computers or even keyboards before. The interfaces we take for granted -- typing in searches, clicking on icons -- will be completely novel to this new generation of users.

These are some of the questions which Sai discusses in his book- “A Billion Wicked Thoughts

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