A common problem building a company or project is determining what to build. You have an idea of what to build, potential or existing customers have an idea what they want. But which things should you really be building? Maybe it’s something else entirely.

Drastic Changes Are Bad

The article No Project Is More Important Than Its Users caught my attention the other day. Especially this quote:

“If you want to understand the importance of not suddenly changing your users’ experience. I would go and take a look at GNOME 3.0.” – Alan Cox

If you’re a linux user you might already be familiar with the situation: Gnome has been a desktop environment on the Linux desktop for years. It’s had a standard interface that has been around for ages and many people are comfortable with it.

With every project, there are a steady stream of complaints about Gnome. That’s fine, at any level of popularity you’ll have this. The thing the Gnome developers overlooked was that while there were complaints, nobody had been frustrated enough to move to another software package. Ubuntu was still using it and many other distros. The complaints were shallow.

The Gnome developers began working on Gnome 3 (http://www.gnome.org/gnome-3/) which drastically changed the way Gnome worked. The concepts and implementation may be great, but not very many people may know. Annoucing Gnome 3′s changes alientated a lot of users. Instead of getting progressive enhancements to something we were already comfortable with, we got something completely new.

It sounds cool conceptually, but I know how to use Gnome 2. I have my way of doing things and so does everyone else currently using it. I felt alienated and still have never tried Gnome 3. Ubuntu even went as far as developing their own desktop environment in competition.

They knew there was a paradigm shift as the market has went from netbooks, to tablets, and back to ultra thin netbook-like laptops. What they failed to do is move progressively with the market shift.

Users Don’t Want To Be Forced To Use Something New

Facebook’s redesigns have been known to cause issues with the userbase. The first couple rollouts got massive outcries, but then they changed the way they roll out features.

While I haven’t been on Facebook for quite a while, I remember the rollout of a new interface while I was still a user. It was simple. Notify the user there is a new UI that is opt-in.

Why opt-in? Because it instantly makes you the cool kid in your group of friends. You’re unique, you’ve got the new UI and they don’t. It’s as simple as that.

Instead of forcing upon changes, make it enticing. Users won’t be able to upgrade fast enough, and you can deprecate old features later. That gives you plenty of time to fix problems in the new version without disrupting user happiness. They feel special using the new version and respect that it may still have a few bugs instead of complaining about them.

Users Don’t Know What They Want

Yes, simply put, they don’t. But you probably don’t either.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” ― Henry Ford

Listen to user feedback, and don’t change things too fast. If you’re making a whole new version of your product with a different flow, then don’t replace the old version with it. Give it a new name. Henry Ford didn’t call his invention Horse 2.0. Let users know that this is different, don’t pull the rug out from underneath them. They are the reason you exist, so respect them.


Users are important. Listen to them, and iterate with them. Let them have a say in what gets done, but certainly don’t always do what they say. Keep track of the number of users asking for features, and make sure they are in line with the user experience you wish to achieve. Don’t think you know everything, you’re the one behind the curtain.

You can’t possibly have the same experience a new user has. It’s your job to figure out how good of an experience they have. And then make it better.

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