Product management

Ask your customers and end up building faster horses?


Henry Ford famously said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” (or did he really?).

Our favorite entrepreneur Steve Jobs also famously said “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” as well as “The customer never knows what they want until we show them”.

The customer never knows what they want until we show them -Steve Jobs Click To Tweet

Simply building what your customers ask for is a sure way to get stuck with iterative improvements. But I would argue that there are many good reasons to involve your customers. Let’s not forget that Steve Jobs also said “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology”. So even Steve considered customer input important.

As most people don’t need convincing, I’ll instead share some ideas of how to get customer feedback right.

When is customer input appropriate?

Getting user experience right should be an obsession. So when designing a new experience user testing is more than appropriate, when designing a new experience you should consider it mandatory.

Getting user experience right should be an obsession. Click To Tweet

So how to do it? There are many ways, from testing based on mockups, to interviews and measurements of actual product use. These methods will all give you key insights that help you tweak your product.

Earlier in the development process customer feedback is less about user tests, and more about getting broad input that guide you in the right direction. This can be through field studies and observations, surveys, data mining and market research.

Also do not forget getting input on detailed design decisions during the development process. These decisions can be about anything from speeds and feeds, to platform choices and interfaces used to interconnect your product to other existing solutions and platforms.

I’m currently working on one large product development project spanning multiple years. In this project we engage with a set of key customers regularly through interviews. This process helps us build something that fits their needs. To successfully do this the key is to pick customers representative for your larger customer set.

What tools are available to collect customer and user input?

When designing a new user experience it is all about the classical UX tools. These include wireframes (low-fi mockups), prototypes and hi-fi mockups for user observation and basic A/B testing. Focus groups and interviews provide you with an in-depth user understanding. But it is important to not only ask users what they think about something. Make sure to actually observe what they do when put in front of a mockup.

For high fidelity mockups Invision is a highly recommended tool. It lets you import designs or wireframes and make them interactive. Another well-known tool is UXpin, which lets you build mockups them from scratch. To get feedback on your wireframes, remote testing of for example an Invision mockup with Google Hangouts, Skype or similar is a great approach to reach a larger set of users.

Combining measurements of actual product usage with a limited customer trial gives you real life data. For mobile apps Appsee is a good option with a large set of functions, ranging from statistics to heat maps and fully recorded user sessions. Crazy Egg is an alternative for web sites, giving you heat maps that capture the essence of what your users are doing.

Conducting user surveys across a broad set of customers can be tedious work. To scale a service such as Mechanical Turk can help. They let you outsource simple tasks such as scripted interviews. Reaching out to a large number of customers with the same set of questions can thus be done fast and fairly affordably. Bringing the input into mind maps or shared notes in for example Evernote is great to summarize and distill your insights.

Finally ProdPad is a highly recommended piece of PM software that supports the overall collection of user input and customer feedback. It also allows you to tie that customer feedback to ideas, which can later be worked into features pushed to development. If you haven’t tried it I highly recommend you give it a go.


While simply asking your customers what they want puts you at risk of building a faster horse, asking customers is still a hugely important part of your design and development process.

There are tons of tools available to support you in gathering and analyzing customer feedback. The ones mentioned above are
Invision and UXpin for mockups
Google Hangouts and Skype for remote user testing
AppseeApp See and Crazy Egg for real life usage measurements
Mechanical Turk to scale your user surveys
Evernote for survey results
ProdPad for a large portion of your PM work, including organizing customer feedback.


By Alexander Sandstrom

Passionate product manager with a love for technology and innovation. More about me.

1 reply on “Ask your customers and end up building faster horses?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *