This is part five of an eight-part design for communication series. This series is adapted from a master’s paper on the intersection of design and technology-mediated communication.

Listen to User Feedback to Guide New Features

When developing new technologies we need to balance new capabilities with user feedback. Features of technology determine the expressive capabilities and their utility in interpersonal interactions as well as other domains. However, “the nature of media and their potentials are [also] socially constructed, and the richness and utility of a medium are affected by interaction with other individuals in one’s social network.” (Walther) In other words, these capabilities shape how we interact and express ourselves online, and we as users help to shape these features, how they are used, and how we might find them useful. These can also vary from group to group. One friend group might use the technology one way while another uses it another way, and so on.

To make things even more complicated, interactions develop over time and demand more capabilities. We must be aware of these changes and listen to our users to understand the way in which people use the channel to communicate and design to create richer communication rather than designing for the sake of design. “Achieving users’ goals might require research-based refinement involving many related transactions” (McKay, 2013)

There are two ways to approach developing new capabilities. The first, iterating based on user feedback.  (Kulkarni, 2017) “Ideally, your team will do plenty of user research and create models, called personas, for your target users.” (McKay, 2013) The best user experience designers turn observations and research on the way people use the technology into new capabilities. Take Facebook, Facebook’s design team will beta test features by rolling them out to a select number of random users at a time and/or even roll out two different versions to different groups of users. (Zuckerberg, 2016) The new capabilities tend to shape new ways for people to interact, and as Facebook observes how people use these new capabilities they adjust them accordingly. Say one group favors one version of a feature significantly more than the other group, in this case, social construction leads to the refined feature favoring the version more people favored in their interactions to be rolled out to everyone on the platform. (Zuckerberg, 2016)

The second way is through creative exercises. Sticking with the Facebook example, the development of Facebook Live demonstrates how an idea Randi Zuckerberg developed during a Facebook hackathon was refined to become a full-time feature through user testing. “Half of Facebook’s features today came from hackathons. I had two ideas, one of which was Feedbomb, an ‘80s rock cover band that played for free. Which we did. The other, was a question: Could there be a 24-hour news feature that lived inside of Facebook?” (Zuckerberg, 2016) “Zuckerberg’s idea turned into Facebook Live.” (Andrei, 2016) Facebook Live took off when users, such as Katy Perry and President Obama used them in their campaigns to communicate with other users live. (Andrei, 2016) The feedback from the two events demonstrated the success and impact of the feature, allowing it to become a vital part of today’s version of Facebook. “Facebook launched its live video service last year for celebrities and public figures before offering the option of live streaming to regular people, too.” (Greenberg, 2016) Facebook even added the ability to react and comment during and on live streams. “That’s important, Facebook says, because initial data reveals that viewers comment “more than 10 times more on Facebook Live videos than regular ones.” Part of the fun of live videos, after all, is the real-time interaction—be it with questions, opinions, or just getting a chance to tell your favorite musician “Wow.” (Greenberg, 2016)

Figure 2: User-Centered Design Process. This illustrates how Facebook, and other platforms design and use feedback to develop new capabilities that will allow for richer TMC. (Barret, 2014, pg. 20)

However the initial idea develops, you still need to follow the user center design process as seen in figure 2. It illustrates how many platforms concepts, design, test, and iterate new capabilities and features. Everything should come back to the user. Don’t design for the sake of design. You can still experiment and try new things, but don’t add it to the platform just to add it. Solve a problem and picture how people might use the feature. Will they use it? Facebook didn’t just roll out Facebook Live after they came up with the idea. They beta tested it with real users and did layers of iterations to perfect it into something people wanted to use and would use.

Stay tuned for Part Six: Grow Communities Through Design! Did you miss a part? Check out the full series here: Design for Communication.
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