A few years ago, when I started working on mobile apps, the traditional approach was to sit at a cubicle and use the app. As a small extension, I would install the app on my personal phone or corporate device and take it to my neighbors, friends and family, who I thought belonged to potential user groups. In few projects, I had the luxury to on board real users to our usability lab where we could watch them using our app in a controlled environment. While my team and I were able to get new perspectives with each of the above approaches, deep down in my heart, I felt that I was missing something; something very fundamental.
A while later, some of my peers and colleagues inspired me to take mobile apps on a real tour of the real world, while it was in its initial stages. I remember waiting at a bus stop , with the app in hand, making random acquaintances with teenagers and middle-aged people, and asking them to use my app or take a survey with me, in exchange for some flowers and chocolates. The onlookers would wonder how a well-dressed individual like me could do this 'cheap' on-the-road surveys. This was in Q4 2014.
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This experiment helped me see that apps have to be used in uncontrolled, real-time environments if we had to get genuine feedback from users. Of course, random users have huge risks, but a smart user recruitment initiative might mitigate some of these risks.
From thereon, my way of doing things changed dramatically. I started "Getting Out Of the Building (GOOB)" more often. I started observing how people user their apps. A child is playing a game while she swings on a cane swing at home. An old man is looking closely at the app because of poor sight. A teenager is trying to select a green colored dress online, although she cannot seen green color as it is, due to color blindness. A daily commuter is taking online courses on a mobile phone as he carries a laptop bag on his back, lunch bag in his hand, while standing in a crowded, moving, metro train. Now, these might sound like corner cases, until the point that there is a rising majority using apps in this way, which is a fact today.
Follow Me Home
The simple GOOB heuristic was revolutionized by Intuit with their 'Follow Me Home' approach. The founding team at Intuit, during their initial days, strongly believed that the best way to build a great product is to observe users in their real environment. They observed their users use their finance based products like taxation, payroll and others in their homes, offices, and other locations to determine how exactly the products are used. Some users were filing tax returns at the kitchen table while few others were doing payroll in their office. This helped them see that usability labs, in controlled environments doesn't provision users to be their 'natural best' where interruptions are very common. Even today, Intuit stays very close to customers and hooks on to their pain points early on in their product development life cycle. Good for intuit!
People are at their best in their natural habitats.
It is important that people are observed while they are using apps in their natural habitats. We must be aware that we may not get everything right, not at all times. Yet, attempts like 'Follow Me Home' or 'GOOB' can help organizations to understand what user wants, a little better.
The complexity of app usage is only going to increase, which is why app developers have to Get Out Of the Building or Follow Users Home if they want their apps to be acknowledged, adopted and appreciated.
Do you GOOB enough?