February 10th, 2014 by inflectra
A true visionary sees farther than the rest of us and knows how to make those visions a reality. Can we all do that? Will we succeed using only our intuition and personal preferences? Can we ignore users and have true belief that we know better?
Like him or loathe him, Steve Jobs was arguably the most influential innovator in living memory and certainly the most successful. Our lives have been forever changed by the way we see mobile phones, by the way we buy and listen to music and by the way we think of computers. Desktop computers, no matter how slick and ergonomically designed, look positively archaic in the second decade of the 21st century and traditional laptops are headed in the same direction. We barely think of tablets as computers, instead they are personal devices; ever present tools; accessories to everyday living. The dramatic growth in sales of convertible touch-screen laptops affirms our need to have computing power with us at all times.
A greatly favored principle of Steve Jobs was, don't consult with users. Jobs didn't hold focus groups, he didn't do market research and he certainly didn't take the advice of financial officers. Jobs saw things that others did not. As a result, it would have been counter-productive to ask us as users, we were blind to his ideas, at least until he was ready for us to get our grubby hands on the results.
Jobs was his own focus group. With his chief designer Jonathan Ive, Jobs built prototype after prototype until he was happy. And even then, he would often change his mind and throw away the supposedly final version and start again.
Jobs was also the master of the product launch. As much a showman as an innovator, Jobs could turn an audience of sceptics into a cheering crowd of believers clamoring to buy his latest baby. Part of his success was his total belief in what he was promoting, which only came after months of exhaustive prototyping. It is interesting to speculate how New Coke would have fared were Jobs to have been in charge and the truth is, his personal conviction and exuberance would probably have won-over the minority of non-believers and avoided the revolt that quickly led to New Coke's demise.
Does this mean we should all ignore users to be innovative? Perhaps. But Steve Jobs was a visionary; an innovator with an extraordinary feel for what we, as users, want to do. Very few of us have that instinctive insight; we lack the gift that comes along so rarely – the ability to not just see the future, but to take us to it.
As for the rest of us, we need users. Users tell us what they are doing and what they are trying to do, and sometimes how our products suck. If we have sufficient skill, we can interpret this 'user-speak' and devise ways to help them do it better. We show our users prototypes and we listen to their feedback. We record what we hear and we call these things 'requirements'. Unless we look in the mirror and see the next Steve Jobs, we ignore users at our peril.