Product, design and research people often have a bias toward the interesting. I’m one of the offenders.
Back when I still needed to persuade people that usability testing was a thing people should do (I can stop that now right?), my go-to party trick was to bring along a Rumblers Yogurt Pot to a talk I was giving and ask a volunteer to prepare it for me while I spoke.
I would later ask the volunteer to hand me the pot and (if things had gone as expected), I could then ask “Where is the spoon?”. The answer was - underneath the yogurt at the bottom of the pot, covered in granola and yogurt.
The design of these pots leads to many customers forgetting about the spoon hiding underneath the granola while they are pouring the yogurt in. When time comes for them to think about the spoon, they soon realise it is still at the bottom of the bowl covered in granola and yogurt. Not a great experience.
Should they fix this?
I love talking about this design issue (I’ve been doing so for about 8 years now) because it is an interesting problem. At the point of purchase, the visibility of the spoon is likely quite important. But when you turn the bowl over to prepare it, the spoon disappears. Post-purchase, it causes a problem.
I love hearing people come up with ideas to fix it. But given the likely constraints, I’m not convinced the manufacturers need to focus their attention on it particularly.
I’ve heard from lots of people who have had this happen to them, but none who decided to stop buying the product as a result. In fact, it catches the same people out repeatedly, because it’s a really lovely snack. The product has a big carrot, so while it’s not a great experience, the benefits of fixing it might not be worth the cost in doing so. The manufacturer's time and money might be better spent elsewhere.
This is an interesting problem, it’s actually happening to customers and it may or may not be something worthy of fixing. But I’m drawn to it because of it being an interesting problem rather than an impactful one.
Is your problem even real?
In the previous example I know for a fact that the problem is happening to users of the product. It’s probably happening rather a lot. But the things product people see as problems are sometimes just sub-optimal behaviour in users.
Let’s say for example you were the product lead for a property website. In your user research (which you’re obviously doing right?), you see participants going to Google Maps to find out how long it takes to walk from the property to the nearest train station. Is this a problem with your website or is Google Maps just a better tool for that job?
They are leaving the site! Ahhhhh! Stop them!
In the sessions you saw, participants always came back*, so where is the problem? In user research, it’s tempting to imagine an unseen UX apocalypse for ‘other’ users you can’t see, based on what happens to the people in front of you.
We might see this happening and become fixated on it because it is interesting, yet neglect to pay attention to the real reason those participants lost faith in the website. This could be something more boring to us, so we ignore it in our interpretation of the findings.
Rather than focus on the situations in which the product is failing users, we can instead focus on interesting things it can’t do. It’s a challenge we can accept and are interested in.
Is your problem happening often?
It’s possible to become attracted to solving problems which are rare but interesting. Say you see a few participants in user research typing a school name in to the search box of your property site. But the search can’t cope with that.
You become intrigued by this and get interested in the idea of working on it. There’s a lot to consider and some challenging design problems. It’s going to be great to work on.
To learn more about it, you go through the search logs and notice it doesn’t actually happen often at all. But you do find that lots of people are typing in partial postcodes and your search doesn’t recognise them.
It might sound obvious that the partial postcode search is the more pressing thing to work on, but in practice it doesn’t always play out like this. I believe a bias toward interesting problems is involved.
Organisations have such a focus on their own products and services that internally they can forget how they live side-by-side with other solutions and are often bundled together with them to do a job for a user.
It’s tempting to bias ourselves toward the things we’d like to work on rather than the thing which most needs doing.
I see it in user research as well as design. A researcher who hasn’t done field studies before might suggest it more readily than another researcher who has. There is also disproportionate discussion these days of emotion in UX, compared to boring old utility and usability.
The most interesting things aren’t automatically the most impactful.
*Tip — give research participants lots of freedom if you want to see natural behaviour, otherwise you won’t see them leave your site never mind come back.