No one is all that bright when it comes to product design.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a lot of smart people at small startups — a bevy of PhDs, a horde of successful entrepreneurs, a gaggle of elite designers. Together, we spent many hours debating how users would react to new ideas, product improvements, and design changes. As often as not, we were pretty far off-base.
At one startup in particular, we spent an inordinate amount of time discussing which of several paths was the ideal one to pursue. We whiteboarded, we whittled down feature sets, we discussed potential pitfalls, and we endlessly, passionately argued over possible outcomes. After two or three weeks of this mind-numbing debate, we finally tried one of the ideas and invested a few weeks engineering and fine tuning. Then, a month after we conceived the idea, we’d run a user study, multivariate test, or just go for it and release the idea into the wild. Sometimes things worked out great and sometimes we fell on our faces.
It eventually became clear that none of the preamble had much impact on whether our release was successful. When we were coming up with ideas, we generally knew that among three options ‘A’ was likely a terrible idea, ‘B’ was pretty good, and ‘C’ was decent too. Instead of rat-holing on which of ‘B’ or ‘C’ was superior we should have just picked ‘B’ by default, prototyped it, and validated it. If ‘B’ failed, fine, move onto ‘C.’ We could have easily built and tested two options in the time we took just to choose a direction.
This advice might sound trite and ‘fail fast’ is starting to become doctrine among product designers. But, remain vigilent. At times we all sucumb to feeling very clever sitting around with our peers pondering optimal outcomes. The next time you’re caught in a room full of smart people doing something dumb (like trying to anticipate what your users will do), tune them out, flip open your laptop, and start prototyping.