What can a toothbrush teach us about building better products and businesses? – Gregory Onyeahialam

Perhaps this image resonates with you. But let’s look at it in detail. What is the “ideal” user journey of using a toothbrush?

  • You wake up in the morning, perform your morning routine (if you have one).
  • You pick up your toothbrush then your toothpaste tube (or whichever comes first).
  • You put the toothpaste on your toothbrush, head to the bathroom and begin brushing.

So it seems. But, many times the ideal user journey isn’t followed by users or something happens in between the steps in the journey. As designers, we need to ask ourselves “What happens in between?

Staying on the toothbrush scenario, what happens or what could happen between putting the paste on the toothbrush and the actual brushing of teeth? Many times, something else grabs our attention — a knock on the door, a call or notification on our phone, or maybe you want to wash your face before brushing. These interruptions require you to drop your already prepared toothbrush — which brings with it the struggle of placing your toothbrush flat on its back. The problem with this is that it usually falls sideways, unable to balance, and this is quite frustrating. So, you try to solve this problem by resting it against something or you put the toothbrush handle in your mouth and hold it with your teeth, leaving your hands free. For those with the engineering gene, you probably figure out the point of equilibrium and finally get it to be steady, only to come back and see that it has fallen sideways with toothpaste sticking to your recently polished mahogany table.

Well, not all toothbrushes are designed like this, intentionally or not. Some are designed like this due to ergonomic and aesthetic concerns, but sadly, no UX concerns (although UX or no,t this should be common sense). Most times users just deal with it, suffering and smiling, not knowing the toothbrush is to be blamed. A more sturdier toothbrush that has a nice grip but can sit well should be designed.

So, what can we learn from this?

When people use a product, they want to be taken from a less desirable state to a more desirable state. Between these two states, there is a process — a series of steps, a journey.

As you map out the steps in the user journey for your product, ask yourself what happens or could happen in between.

What happens between launching your Uber app and arriving at your destination? What happens between booking a ride and the arrival of the driver? How can the experience of waiting be improved (or waiting totally removed) or how do users pass time during this period? When reading an online article or an eBook on a pdf reader, many times users want to keep note of a quote or a phrase or share it on social media, how do you help your users at this stage, not by adding more steps but by eliminating the steps they would have taken? How can they share directly from the site without leaving the page and perhaps get sucked in their twitter feed thereby abandoning your site/app?

So, look at the series of steps users have to take in using your product to perform a job, pick out two consecutive points, ask yourselves —

  • What happens (or what could happen) in between?
  • How may I help?(not by adding more steps but by eliminating the steps your user would have taken).

Do not leave it to your users to figure it out.

Ensure you fill in these gaps or mend these holes, lest your users fall out through them.

Apart from asking what happens in between, also ask what happens before and what happens after. What happened before the user picked up your product — what were the series of actions that lead to this, what are the users’ motivations? What happens after the user drops your product?

Customers don’t want your product or what it does; they want help making their lives better. — Alan Klement

Understanding how your product fits into the life of your user is key to building a great product and improving the overall user experience, making it stand out among competition.

Solutions to problems deliver value beyond the moment of use.

Most of the answers to these questions will not be gotten by brainstorming with your team behind closed doors but rather by “getting out of the building” talking to users and observing them as they use your product.

Writing was inspired by Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Product People, Mind the Gap! by Samuel Hulick , When Coffee and Kale Compete by Alan Klement and of course my freaking Toothbrush.

This article first appeared on Medium, and is republished here with the permission of the author. Minimal corrections, mainly punctuation, have been made to some parts. Read more from Gregory.

Feature image: ethendras

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