Blog The Importance of Talking to Users

One of the Oscar nominees in 2018, the movie “the Darkest Hour,” describes the days when Winston Churchill became the prime minister of the United Kingdom in the midst of Germany’s attacks on Europe. You may wonder what does a film about 1940 England have to do with user experience and talking to users.

There was an episode in the film (spoiler alert!), where Churchill, under the heavy burden of decisions he had to make for his country and, consequently, for the world, takes the advice of his king and decides to talk to his people. The decision he was struggling with was whether to yield and make an agreement with conquering Germany or to stand up and fight. So, he hopped out of his car in the middle of traffic and descended to the London Underground. This was the first time he was taking public transportation. He sat down in one of the Underground cars, while all the people stared at him in surprise and awe.

He turned to them and asked how they felt about the current situation; he asked, if they had a choice between making a deal with Germany or fighting, what would they choose. The commuters exclaimed in the support of their country with courage and patriotism to never yield to the German aggression. Inspired by the “feedback” he got, Winston wrote down the names of the “participants” on the back of the box of matches and quoted them during his speech to the parliament.

Now, this story is not really true. According to the screenwriter of the film, Anthony McCarten, this episode was constructed by many stories of Churchill from time to time “going AWOL” and mingling with public, during his years of prime ministership, to get their opinions and the true spirit of the people he was appointed to govern (link).

Whether this episode is based on true facts or not, it is an excellent example of how important it is to touch base with reality and understand what the real people or users feel and want. As usability and experience design experts, we very often end up in continuous debates and endless convincing arguments about the importance of validating the products or services we shape. Watching this episode of the film made me think what a vivid demonstration it is of our efforts. If Winston Churchill, one of the most decisive and powerful people in the history, could allow the opinions of ordinary people to influence his decisions, then how can we not do so when it comes to call-to-action buttons, messaging tag-lines, or touchpoint interactions. Is the decision of a political stand during World War II less of an important one than whether the app we create brings any value to people or the website has simple language for communication?

We, as experience designers, often struggle with companies or management that claim to be user-centric, but don’t actually dedicate time or budget to proper validation and usability testing. The key is to remember that we are the advocates for shaping products or services for people, and, as such, we have quite a bit of power. So, we shouldn’t yield, but focus on the goal of creating a simpler world, with useful, needed, and accessible products, through design.

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