How First Use helps you to focus on building a user centric service

I was thinking about the moment you decide to turn a great idea into a business. It’s a tough moment. There are so many things to think about.  The most important is understanding what problem you are trying to solve, or what value you are trying to create. These are essentially user-driven questions, not technology driven. If you have a clear idea about that then you need to figure out what is needed to build your service. There are a lot of details that need attention. Building the right team for the job is probably one of the most essential parameters for success. Technology is important, as is a first draft of a business plan and distribution strategy. You will need to understand the market you are aiming for, and the competitors that are out there already. And last but not least, you are likely to need investments in order to develop and roll out your service.

While you can read management books and find recipes to help you through these different stages there isn’t one way of doing this right. It takes a lot of experience to do the right things instead of doing things right. In my experience there are always a few traps anyone can fall into that could have been avoided if you had been there before. I’ve fallen in all of these one time or another. Let me tell you about a few of my favorites.

The feature focus
This is one of the most difficult processes to manage. Feature focus is often drive by technological enthusiasm and capabilities, but it is also triggered by competition. Let’s say you are going to implement a “new” social network. You might look at all the things competitors have already launched and decide to do that, and more. Although this sounds like a good thing to do I have rarely found it to be a successful strategy. It leads to long and complex development cycles, complex design, complex communication and in the end large investments. Worst of all, it makes the service incomprehensible for its user. It is much better to focus on simplicity first, making sure that the core of you service is simple to use.

Thinking for the user

Often a lot of time and effort is put into design and interaction. These are important processes that in the end aim at making the service easy to use and understand for its users. It is not something to consider lightly. There is a risk with this though. If you start getting into the wrong abstraction level and spend a lot of time tweaking tiny details then the pitfall becomes that you start thinking for your user, instead of letting him the room to decide. You might have created the best design and user interaction, only to find out your users don’t get it. This is one of the most difficult things to get right. You need to balance your own views with a healthy attitude that in most cases you just don’t know. It is better to test things out in the field instead of building your assumptions into brick.

Letting your creativity get in the way of delivery
This looks a lot like the feature focus. I’ve worked with many creative people and the hardest part about it is that there rarely comes an end to their creativity! One great idea is worked out in detail leading to a dozen more great ideas etc. etc. It provides inspiration, energy and the great feeling that we’re on the right track. The downside if this is obviously that if this isn’t managed you end up jumping from one great idea to the next without actually delivering anything. The most important thing to realize that starting a new service is only 20% about creativity. 80% is about delivery.

There are many more pitfalls and I’m very curious about your experiences.

In the end I try to avoid these pitfalls with strong focus on first use. First use is about creating the best possible user experience when you deploy your service for the first time amongst your target users. First use is about answering the question,”Is a user willing to put in the effort to learn about this new technology and incorporate it in his current habits”?  The answer in any case is that willingness is related to either solving a problem or creating another type of value for the user. If this isn’t obvious from the start, then the user is not committed to put in the effort of integrating this technology into his life. Note that this isn’t necessarily related to design or usability or complexity. It helps if your development scores well on those factors. Bottom line however is whether or not the user conceives enough value to put the effort into it.

If you are rigorously focusing on First Use you will find it a bit easier to deal with the Feature Focus, Thinking for you user and letting your creativity get in the way of delivery. It will help you to implement a minimum set of core features. Enough to provide value or provide a solution to a problem. But not so much that the first experience is difficult to understand for the user. It lets you think about the user, but allow room to experiment. Making sure you have the flexibility to adapt.

while this sounds like a easy thing to do I can assure you it isn’t. It is a battle of conflicts every time you launch something new. But it is important to be aware of this and consciously deal with it every step you take in the process of building a new service for the market.

Have I been successful at it this time? That is not up to me to decide. The user will be judging that starting in September. We did our best and now we will have to wait and see what will happen. More on that later 😉

PS. I’ve been swamped with work lately which lowered the frequency of posts a bit. But I will try to keep up as we go along. I haven’t even taken the time to tell you that I recently joined up with my favorite cranky blog writer Steven Hodson. I have a lot of respect for his no-nonsense blogging style over at and decided to contribute to his blog the minute he asked me.You can find the first one here.


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5 Responses to How First Use helps you to focus on building a user centric service

  1. Romain says:

    First use is a thing to think about when thinking about releasing a product (above all a tech service or product) but being able to move fast and meet the needs discovered from the users feedbacks is to me the tipping point.

  2. @Romain exaclty. It’s better to see people use it and then understand what is needed than to ” think for the user” beforehand. You can, but only to a certain point. You need to be flexible and fast once you go out there.

  3. Pingback: Customer engagement improves the First Use Experience « Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior

  4. Pingback: 5 reasons why Friendfeed fails to appeal like Twitter does « Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior

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