Thinking About the User

June 20, 2017

At the beginning of 2016, a few of us at Michigan Labs committed to reading more. As a result, the biweekly lunchtime book club was started. In this post, I want to focus on two of the books we have read, Joy Inc. and Hooked, and how they have changed the way we think about users.

Joy Inc.

In Joy Inc., Richard Sheridan describes a unique position at his company titled “High-Tech Anthropologist”. The role of this position is to gain an understanding of people in their “native environment” in order to better understand how to serve their needs. Once the knowledge is collected it is condensed into a short (paragraph length) description of that user’s lifestyle and how the app fits in. This is called a “persona”.

It is important to note, a persona is not any single person met on the street. Rather, each persona is a distillation of a group of real individuals with similar goals. Sheridan uses a wedding planning website as an example. Such a site would have personas describing the bride, groom, professional wedding planner, and mother of the bride. Each person has a unique set of goals, and a different set of requirements for a wedding planning website.

Product requirements are not defined until a single persona is chosen as the primary user of the app. Sheridan says this is vital because

If you try to build any product or service to make it work for everyone, it won’t work well for anyone in particular, and you will get killed in the market.


In Hooked, Nir Eyal provides a clear process for embedding your product into the routine of your users by leveraging Triggers, Actions, Variable Reward, and Investment. He refers to this cycle as the “Hook Model”.

While reading Hooked, we noticed that Facebook will not provide app content within the body of a notification. Instead, Facebook wants its users to open the app to see the new content. This Trigger results in the Action of launching the Facebook app to discover new content. Once in the app, users are drawn further in by the Variable Reward of discovering pictures of their friend’s new puppy or wedding pictures as they scroll down their feed. This increases app engagement and users begin to internalize the trigger.

The Investment phase of the “Hook Model” is all about getting your users to invest their own content into your product, thereby increasing their perceived value and cost of switching to a competitor. Examples of user investment include saving notes, uploading photos, setting favorites or subscriptions. The investments can be small, but each one further cements an app into a user’s routine.

The User

It is important to think about who your desired user is and how you want your app to fit into their life when you begin building a product. It is easy to fall into the trap of “designing” by creating a list of features that describe what an app should do. Sometimes this works, especially if you fit into the core userbase for your app. However, designing this way runs the risk of missing the needs of people who might benefit most from your app or, worse, building an app for no one.

With a design approach beginning at the user rather than the features, we can plan out how to better enhance our users’ lives. This added value is what keeps a user coming back and buys our app a lasting spot on their phone’s home screen. Moving forward into new projects and new features for current projects my goal is to do just that: to be more intentional about discovering who my user is and how I want to enhance their life.

Then let the features flow from there.

Jeff Kloosterman
Jeff Kloosterman
Development Practice Co-Lead

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