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What’s the unforeseen variable when you design a product?

2 minutes to read

When designing a product, we tend to focus on a single scenario: the journey of one persona, going after their job to be done, ending up in ecstasy. We come up with the best solution for that angle. Personas and journeys gather, patterns emerge and we have a viable vision of success.

Based on our own experience, backed by research, we make assumptions and rely on affordances. We’re aware of cultural inconsistencies, varying levels of experience in a given matter, mental models, concurrent biases and we come up with a solution.

But it’s only by exploring the limits with real users that allows us to improve it. Next to the unique nature of the human, the context shines a bright light. And that’s when we facepalm.


Most of the time we’re assuming our user is fully rested, naturally patient, knows exactly what they’re after and are eager to follow our lead.

But what are the chances that you want to settle a debt via Revolut after a blurry night out with a new colleague? Or use the bank app to confirm a payment, angry that they cut the Internet service? How about authenticating while kneading the dough, paying invoices while holding a crying toddler, or enrolling yet another card to get a ride home during a storm?

Are such contexts so rare? Are these corner cases? They don’t require dedicated personas or alternative journeys to activate “accessibility options”. It’s the same persona, temporarily disabled.

We use services and products when we’re angry, sad, or anxious too. It can happen by the dunes or by the pool, in a crowded and noisy environment, when the battery is at 5% or the connection speed is lagging. Because that’s when we rely on them to deliver.

Consider another layer, when you screen for how things might go wrong: context.

Offer the best experiences, especially when your users can’t present the best version of themselves.


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