What Every Product Manager Needs To Know About UX

“What Every Product Manager Needs to Know about UX” with Glen Lipka, Vice President of User Experience at Marketo

By Cindy F. Solomon

January 2012 Event

Glen Lipka is the Vice President of User Experience at Marketo where he was the first non-founder employee that ran product management and UX for several years of the company’s development. Prior to Marketo, Glen was a Senior UI Designer at Intuit, Director of User Experience at Adchemy and started his career running a thirty-person web development company in NYC during the Internet bubble. Glen has been a pioneer in websites and web applications for over 15 years, pushing the envelope in interactivity on public facing websites to Rich Internet Applications (RIA) for businesses.  He speaks frequently on all aspects of building great products on the web, including NYU Stern School of Business and Stanford University.

Lipka kicked-off his talk acknowledging that most companies do not have a strong UX department and most products do not have a pleasant user experience.  His definition of user experience, which he repeated several times during the presentation is; “User experience, specifically “design” is just a decision.”  He suggested that who makes the decisions is not necessarily a specific designer, but rather an accumulation of all the decisions that got made by everyone in the company.

There is decision in any design process and who is making these decisions really matters, it might be engineering people, an end-user, a manager or a researcher, etc. but at the end of the day, according to Lipka, the designer is the one who writes the PRD (Product Document Requirements). The UX designer and the Product Manager roles might overlap. At Marketo, UX sits in the middle of engineering in order to iterate with a lot of people.  Design doesn’t stop when the product is handed off to engineering, rather it continues until the product ships.  PMs should be a dedicated position that works actively with marketing to provide comprehensive MRDs (Marketing Requirement Documents) that include the competitive landscape, packaging, go to market strategy and research. Lipka suggested that an ideal structure of the team is flat so that everyone is working as peers together to collaborate with specific responsibilities. The Product Manager must determine “What is the real problem we are trying to solve.”

Key Takeaways from Lipka’s visual presentation:

Get a direct interaction with users, learn from them, (e.g. make up-front calls), understand their problems, what they are trying to achieve, why they didn’t choose your product, etc. but don’t let them define the actual requirements, people are terrible about their own perception… If you ask customers, they will tell you answers to your questions – but they don’t know why they operate in certain ways.  It’s better to observe customers in their natural habitats to see what they do. Let users teach you their job and show you how they use the product in their own world.

Accept the fact that people don’t read – they skim at best. The fewer words in your instructions, the better.  Enable people to use the product and learn directly from hands on experience. Pay attention to important distinctions to remove frictions in the product that frustrate the user from using the product with ease.  Respect the “Halloween principle” where there is an irregular, but repeatable interruption by doorbell. Build in reinforcement of where users left off within the product so they can easily return without requiring additional effort.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” visual PRDs not only explain complex ideas or UI concepts, but also help to convey ergonomic features which are difficult to describe with words yet critical for the user experience (e.g. moving / manipulating objects on a page)

Remove blockers. Address the overall user experience, from product design to support and observe what happens in worse case scenarios when things go wrong and take that information in to the total experience. – i.e. The way to handle things that go wrong is more important than the way to handle things when they go right.Over-invest in support. The reality is that in order to make things better, they might have to get worse first.  Product Managers must be the leaders to enable this process, to have the vision for how much better it will be if the deconstruction process can proceed.

Don’t bend users. Don’t make users bend to our ways of doing things.  There are only so many ways to do something, so give users the options to do it their own way and they will think it is customized to their specific work process.  He used the example of how Marketo changed a flowchart by analyzing a kinetic gesture to make using the product fun – instead of clicking and pointing, they changed it to grabbing and dropping, which was unique amongst competitive products within a business application.

Consistency is better. Don’t always optimize for what’s perfect.  Stay consistent so there is less to learn. He cited examples of scenarios where details were left out in order to ship in time and those details were the ones people loved. Because users don’t have the same perspective as the designers, small improvements are often perceived as better than one big one in their direct experience – they have no idea how much work is required to produce either improvement and they don’t care.

Everyone responds to fun – build fun stuff into your B2B product, user experience and content messaging. Corporate people are desperate to be treated like human beings and if it’s an authentic voice, they will respond to it.  How much more will they use a product that enables their required work to be accomplished in a more enjoyable way?

Cindy F. Solomon is Founder of the Global Product Management Talk on Twitter, host of Tools of the Trade and Product Camp Radio, and creator of the ProdMgmtTalk mobile application. You are welcomed to join the weekly #prodmgmttalk http://www.prodmgmttalk.com