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Stop Designing For Yourself

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Your goals are not customer goals.

When using a product or a service, we are essentially hiring it to do a job for us. Knowing what jobs your customers have to get done is key to any company’s success. The Jobs-to-be-done concept has been around for more than 10 years now and I believe it helps to design better products. It transforms our understanding of customer choice in a way that no amount of data ever could, because it gets at the causal driver behind the consumer decision.

We all have many jobs to be done in our lives. Some are little (pass the time while waiting in line); some are big (find a more fulfilling career). Some surface unpredictably (dress for an out-of-town business meeting after the airline lost my suitcase); some regularly (pack a healthful lunch for my daughter to take to school). When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for an alternative. (from Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done”)

“Job” is shorthand for what an individual really seeks to accomplish in a given circumstance.

You would assume that companies are on the market to figure out what their customers are trying to achieve and then they are working to design products and services that help them.

As organizations get more complex, the focus can easily shift away from human centered design. Instead of understanding and empathizing with our users, we are designing for our managers, committees, design guidelines and ourselves — this can be really far off from what people are actually hiring the product for.

Your goal in a company might be to increase conversion rate, increase average purchase, increase sign up rate & etc.

The result of this shift is a user interface that cares more about the company goals than actually helping customer to accomplish their goals.

I’m going to walk you through two simple examples where I believe that companies are rather solving their own problems, than helping customer to get their job done.

For both cases, I have the same goal:
I need to travel from Boston, MA to Manhattan to see a concert at Madison Square Gardens at 6pm.

It is about 4h car ride from or about 1h direct flight plus time to get to and from the airport.

Case Study: Renting a car

Enterprise is a US car rental company having over 6000 branches in the US. They have about 10 locations in Boston and ~5 in Manhattan.

I will attempt to rent a car from Enterprise, pick it up in Boston and then drop it off in Manhattan, somewhere close to Madison Square Gardens.

I can start a reservation by entering my location ZIP and pick-up and drop-off time.

Immediately after, I am forced to select the branch where I want to pick the car up . This is too restricting for me, as I might have 2–3 branches in the same distance and I don’t know yet which one of them has the best car availability and suitable open hours. At the same time, making me to select exact branches and times early, makes it easier for them to check if cars are available.

With that, Enterprise is solving their own problem. They have built the customer facing UI up on the logic that they would use to solve their own problem which is to rent cars out from branches.

Very often I end up with an error message telling me that the selected car is not available in the selected location or I can’t return the car to selected branch…why do they funnel me to dead-end on their booking site?

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Enterprise.com

(Try it out for yourself. Go to enterprise.com and try renting a car from near 02114 zip code and then dropping it off in a different location: 10001, Madison Square Garden’s ZIP.)

Enterprise is just trying to make it easier for themselves to manage their car fleet that is located in different locations. They want you to find your way through the maze and let them know which car and from where you will use. They assume that the job you are trying to get done is “rent a car”, and their website satisfies that very well when you don’t have any other places to go or visit.

As soon as you need to accomplish anything more complex, as most of the things in our life are, they are not supporting it.

Note to Enterprise

If Enterprise would want to help me, they would ask what I am trying to accomplish when I am thinking of renting a car from them and then offer their best solutions.

I had an Enterprise customer service representative on the phone trying out all possible combinations of Boston and Manhattan locations, finally coming to the conclusion that dropping off in Manhattan seems to be impossible…

As it has proven to be impossible to use Enterprise, let’s try flying.

Case study 2: The sky is the limit*

*just kidding. Ease of search is the actual limit.

Another similar example is airlines. Their problem is to sell seats on planes that are flying from airport to airport. They will get their job done if you can book a seat on a plane between airports.

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dilbert.com

How many people are actually only trying to travel from Airport A to Airport B? Every person booking a flight has a longer, more important route they are trying to navigate and moving between airports is just one part of it.

If the airline would like to help me to make the best decision, they would ask:

  • ZIP code where I am starting my journey
  • Destination ZIP code
  • when?

Their problem to sell seats between airports is solved when I pick the airports and search for flights between them. But what if there is more than one airport that I could use depending on the options available? According to Southwest Airlines, I would need to pick one of three airports in NYC independently and try all of them out.

But as a user, I don’t care to which one I fly as long as it is a good deal and I get to Madison Square Garden on time.

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(Try this out yourself. Choose BOS as your departure airport and one of the NYC airports as destination at southwest.com. Lets say that you need to be at Madison Square Garden at 6pm. You have a 33.3% chance of succeeding. How helpful are they?).

Identify jobs customers are trying to get done

According to the Jobs To Be Done concept, the consumer has a job to be done and is seeking to “hire” the best product or service to do it.

For example, most people would say that, on an airline booking site, people are trying to “find the best tickets for flights”, and this is sort of true. But if the airline would examine why people are traveling, they would find that airports are stops in the middle and people are searching for “convenient ways to get from home to their destination (and back)”.

In that case the airline would just ask the customer four things: 1) departure day/time 2) departure location (ie home zip code) 3) destination day/time and 4) destination zip. Then airline could present many options depending from which airport customer departs from and if they are looking to minimize their travel time or they are looking for the cheapest options. It would be helpful to get recommendations also how to get to the airport or where to stay the night.

If you don’t know what jobs your customers are trying to get done with using your product, then for whom is it designed?


I hope this article helps you to better understand your customers and when you might be forcing someone to use a product that solves your problem more than it helps anybody else.

Figure out what jobs users are hiring your product for and how you could help them better to accomplish their goals.

Write a response…

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