User Research

How does your product make users feel?

Most UXRs and product managers will tell you that user empathy is critical to their job.

Empathy, in the product sense, is generally about understanding the mindset and context of the users to understand their pains, which in turn speak to wants and needs.

Then we can develop user stories, task flows, jobs to be done (JTBD), personas, etc. and eventually some of this may lead to a PRD of some sort.

The focus of employing “user empathy” is normally on ensuring that a need gets addressed—rarely does it emphasizes how the resulting product or features make users feel.

And that brings me to the topic du jour…

Brianne Kimmel just published this post / interview with Superhuman founder and CEO Rahul Vohra (who previously founded Rapportive), where she focuses on game design and adding gamification to products.

Focusing on user feelings isn’t a novel concept, but it is surprisingly overlooked. I wanted to pull out and focus on this quote from Rahul in particular:

Most companies worry about what users want or what they need. But we don’t worry about that at all. We obsess about how users feel. We make users feel is just as important as what we make.

Whoa, let’s not get carried away!

Of course, you need to make a product that users truly want/need. But let’s accept this as hyperbole and focus on the second part:

…We obsess about how users feel. How we make users feel is just as important as what we make.

To me, this is one of the most overlooked considerations in product development.

Researchers and PMs spend the majority of our time fixated on user needs. For example, PRDs rarely attribute any space to how a given feature should make users feel.

Yet there is an obvious distinction between satisfying a need and ensuring that someone feels joy or satisfaction in having done so. The two are connected, but the former does not guarantee the latter!

It reminds me of Nir Eyal’s Hook Model:

The Action typically relates to addressing the fundamental user need. But the Reward is what impacts how the user feels.

While each step is important, the feeling is what leaves the user wanting to do it again, which leads to habit, which leads to retention and referral, which leads to product-driven (i.e. sustainable) growth.

I’d argue this is the fundamental reason we’re seeing more emphasis placed on product design and UX in building products, as well as a growing demand CX (customer experience) software.

In short, this was a good reminder to think more about how a user feels and not just what she wants or needs.