User Feedback vs. Behavior

When product managers interview customers to better understand their unmet needs, you will hear them explain their problems. If you ask them how they currently use your software, they will also explain in vivid detail how they use it. Unfortunately, often there is a distinct difference between what humans say and humans do. Let me illustrate with a simple example. If you ask users if they like to scroll to find information on a web page, they will say No. They would tell you that they would like all of the information above the foldline (think about it as the top section of your web page that can be completely viewed without scrolling). However, in numerous usability tests I have done, it has been consistently observed that the first thing users do when they land on a web page is to start scrolling.  So make sure that you mix in observed user behavior with what users tell you to truly understand their real problems. This is what the field of ethnography is all about.

Thoughts? Please share your perspective via comments.

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11 thoughts on “User Feedback vs. Behavior”

  1. First off – I enjoyed the post. Your hypothetical brings out another point with user requirements vs usage with respect to the development team. Like many posts here, there are varying ideas as to what people should want, do want and ultimately what they do. This is no different from the development side. It’s important for the development team to work through those ideas and communicate them. Developers have an ability to develop from their own set of principles – this can work as an advantage and disadvantage. The product manager has to harness this and balance that against what the user percieves is their wants. Developers left out of the loop will resist the end goal.

    Now, how much and what content comes above the fold is a very specific question that has to be tied to the intent and goal of the content. and yes – the answer always “Front and Top!”. On a personal note, I know the important pieces are at the top, but I’m more of a bottom of the page individual – looking for a nugget outside of the big bulletin points.

  2. Gopal,

    You are right on target. Without observing a user’s behavior you only get a partial story and the part you do get is based off of the user’s perception. By observing multiple users and determining the patterns of usage you get a more accurate picture of the requirements and true usage.

  3. An interesting post and certainly something that is discussed on an almost continual basis in many organisations. Pushing the user-focus aside for a moment, this debate is often also very alive amongst sales stakeholders, who want ad-units above the fold (online media sites).

    From the user perspective, I do agree that it is now very common place for users to accept scrolling down a page, although I still believe it is essential to provide a clear indication at the top of the page as to what will follow beneath. If you have 1 clear goal for your page, make this clear at the top, even if the call-to-action sites somewhere further down the page…

  4. Hi Gopal, interesting blog…I saw your blog link on LinkedIn… Strikes me that the field of ethnography can and is used in other disciplines as well. I couldn’t help but make the correlation of what you hear from a buyer/seller and what they actually do. Observation of the behavior is crititcal in I guess all disciplines.
    Hope all is well.

  5. Very true! As a budding product manager myself I often ask my end-users what information they need and where they would like it to be visible on the website, and they always say – front and top!

  6. A good observation indeed. Many times, we as users don’t even know when we’re doing something like scrolling. Actually it should be a subliminal action, like manipulating your bike’s handlebars to keep upright. After doing it for so long, you just don’t even know you’re doing it. So the trick is to do less capturing of what users say, but what they do.

  7. Understanding your users should include contextual inquires into what they actually do. This will give you a deeper understanding of what a user thinks and does.

    Recently, a colleague of mine was conducting a user test. Each user in the test could not get past or complete the first task. However, each user rated the task as an easy task.

    In concept the task was easy, but the doing was different.

  8. Personally I prefer to see all the important content “above the fold line” but am adept enough and have the technology to use a scroll button on my mouse. One thing to consider is that not everyone is as technically savvy as you and some people still actually click and drag that scroll bar thingy over there to the right, which takes time and effort, and they use their laptop’s mousepad! Ugh!

    Everyone has a limit on how much time and effort they’re willing to take, including the patience involved in learning new tech (like a fancy scroll button on the mouse). Of course this argument doesn’t include screen resolution. Don’t get me started! 🙂

    Out of curiosity, what do you see as information that should go above the fold line? Which portions should be eye-catching? How much is too much, causing clutter above the line? How much time and effort do people give to looking at everything above the line before scrolling?

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