Many tech firms pride themselves on listening to their customers and fine-tuning their product based on customer feedback. Startups in particular are known for relentlessly seeking ways to better match products with customers’ needs. Many other aspects of hacker culture, such as the emphasis on keeping development cycles short and making continuous small improvements to products, follow from this basic belief in customer feedback.
The benefit of focusing on customer feedback is clear: it grounds you in reality. By continuously fitting your product to your market, you avoid the ego associated with wedding yourself to the ultimate product or version release that will save the world. You’re constantly forced to check your premises. You’re boxed into a situation of incremental refinement.
Hackers know the power of incremental refinement; it’s why Netflix and Google are so popular. They didn’t have a grand, visionary idea. They did one thing, and every day they sought to do it a little better. They studied what their customers were doing and sought to make it easier.
Amazon is the best example of this. Before Amazon was the default site for online shopping, it won market share little by little by making it slightly easier and faster to shop there than at a competitor. Wired had a long article about the tricks they worked in to their site over the years. And it worked: a thousand small changes later, Amazon looks pretty good.
What’s the best way to adopt this model? How do you ingrain this attitude into your work from day one? Test usability. Test it often and at all stages of production. Constantly push yourself to make your website, application or service just a little bit more intuitive. The rest will follow.
I work for a company that does usability testing, so don’t listen to me. Listen to this guy:
“It’s worth trying very, very hard to make technology easy to use. Hackers are so used to computers that they have no idea how horrifying software seems to normal people. Stephen Hawking’s editor told him that every equation he included in his book would cut sales in half. When you work on making technology easier to use, you’re riding that curve up instead of down. A 10% improvement in ease of use doesn’t just increase your sales 10%. It’s more likely to double your sales.” -Paul Graham