Not that long ago I went for a hike to Yorkshire dales. Now I’m not the biggest hiking person but I did enjoy the views and physical activity that comes with it. However this post is not about the hike itself, rather about something that made it more enjoyable.

So as mentioned before I am no expert in hiking and I needed something to guide along this specific scenic route that I chose. Of course me being a millennial living in London, I started looking for an app that could guide me. I found a few, nothing too magical, but I think it would have done the job. However a person I was with insisted on using this old website that she has found, on the outside it looked like it’s still living in the 90s. But I thought why not it seems intriguing to use something like that. All it was a simple one page static website with bullet points interlinked with small paragraphs of text. It began by giving simple instructions how to reach the beginning of the route. Then on, it described visual clues that you can navigate by to find your way forward and the bigger paragraphs gave more information if you came across a point of interest.

This is where I found magic in its simplicity - by just following visual clues and brief descriptions there’s an added level of excitement, to figure it out how to get from one point to another. You feel a sense of accomplishment that you can navigate purely from a single bullet point – it was basically like solving a micro puzzle every time. The other great thing was that by following a website like that there was room for error, you would from time to time get a bit lost, which when you are on a hike adds a dimension of adventure - or you could say variable reward in product terms.
Now if you compare this to an app that was available - it would have given me a geo location based route drawn out on a map perhaps a guiding arrow to direct me even further along the route. That kind of a product would just get me from A to B and would get me there more efficiently than the simple website. However it takes away those two added dimensions, making the route less enjoyable.

That brings me to my point about what user needs and what user wants. If you would put the problem on a blank piece of paper it makes sense to provide users what they need - a clear route which they can follow and eventually complete. Yet that is not exactly what they really want, which is a memorable and adventures journey. I think all of this comes down to truly empathizing with the user you design for and understanding what is the core behavior problem rather than a surface problem. Different methodologies can help to identify the core problem, yet there’s always a danger to make an assumption and draw out a loosely defined persona, that can lead you into inherently biased decision on the solution. Real empathy on qualitative research, can help to steer away from solutions like that.

Now it's worth noting that all those apps, that provide direction and routes, have high rating on the App Store and not surprising as they serve a real function. However they don’t necessary bring value as an actual consumer product, they appear to be more like a tool that can be used once or twice and not like an app that you would actually encourage you to go on a hike.

Therefore it’s important to understand what the users really want, put yourself in the shoes of the user and most importantly use qualitative research and really look for an insight. Otherwise there’s a danger to make an assumptions on what the user needs and build something that resembles a tool and not a consumer product, which can extend beyond the function and grow user retainment, provide opportunities for monetization and scalability.