The No BS Plain English Guide to User Experience

User testing often reveals surprising and unlikely ways customers use your products and services. A UX designer conducts research to define user needs by user testing, and then builds user requirements back into products via a UX or Content Strategy.

Do you wonder what the term user experience means? Do you think it’s some kind of pseudoscience? Do wonder how some companies design their content as if they already know what you want, making it a joy to use?

Here are 8 steps to show you how to tailor content to customer needs, so that you can be so good they can’t possibly ignore you.

Step 1. Your customers are not you, so take a step back

If you do think you customers are you it’s commonly known as a bias. Your inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair — in this case your prejudice is for your business. To remain unbiased you need to learn about your customers and involve them in your online stores design process.

You know extensively about your products and services. Your users, on the other hand, are likely to not care that much. They have different attitudes and goals, and they want to get from selection to checkout — as fast as possible.

Google’s “What is a Browser?” survey brilliantly demonstrates how little people understand or care about such a thing as a browser. Why would they care about ecom-store software, as long as it works, right? The results are always surprising.

There’s a good psychology study illustrating how hard it is for people immersed in a business to put themselves in the shoes of their customers. An example of this bias would be of an online jewellery boutique; because the owner has made a ring, she is intimately familiar with the quality of the item in craftsmanship, features, and quality. When pricing a ring for sale, she needs to take the point of view of an uninformed customer- someone might be visiting the online store with no previous knowledge of the owner, jewellery design, or how difficult or easy the item is to make.

The jeweller, as hard as she might try to take the point of view of the customer, cannot completely separate herself from the knowledge she has of the quality of the ring, and therefore will assume a customer will value and pay much more for the ring than is actually true. This is the curse of knowledge, and the curse can be broken by identifying customer needs through user testing.

Step 2. Even if your ecom store has been designed by experts, you still need to test it with customers

“Don’t worry – The UX Design team are analysing your customer feedback right now”

User testing is often considered unnecessary if an out of the box design solution has already been implemented.  So you got your store from shopify, woocommerce or magento  – you may think that’s good enough, but since your customers rarely behave the way you expect them to, and usability tests always reveal surprising issues, you can’t really substitute an expertly designed online store without usability testing first.

An expertly designed online store  focuses on general usability standards while a usability test is better at finding issues related to actual user tasks. A usability test can reveal much more than how usable a site is – it can also demonstrate the “users’ emotional response to the brand, statement of business purpose, graphics, long- and short-term messaging, competitive position, sales path, and more.Users’ behaviour is often hard to predict, even for professionals. Experts are rarely members of the target audience, they sometimes “miss the real problems” that cause users to fail tasks. Real user data is better than guessing because experts can be wrong

Step 3. Usability testing is not expensive compared to revenue lost through poor UX


Many ecom owners believe usability testing is a luxury that requires an expensively equipped lab and takes weeks to conduct. In fact, usability tests can be both fast and relatively cheap.

You don’t need expensive prototypes; low-tech paper prototype tests can also bring valuable results. You don’t need a lot of participants either, even 5 users can be enough to test for specific tasks, and the recruiting can also be done guerrilla-style. For many projects, you can even use remote (via Skype) and unmoderated tests.

Step 4. Low budget user testing

I recommend cheap and lab-less testing for quick insights, there’s no need for usability labs most of the times. Moreover, labs can even distract participants. Jakob Nielsen discusses how usability projects can be inexpensive and fast saying that

“The methods are incredibly flexible and scale up or down according to circumstance.”
Jakob Nielsen

It’s normally enough to test a design with 5 users, by adding “more and more users, you learn less and less”. Keep in mind though that a more thorough test of a complete website will still require larger numbers. Steve Krug also states that 3-4 participants are usually sufficient for finding the biggest usability issues. Several UX experts tell their experiences on fitting usability testing into a low budget – skipping the extras and the lab, going informal, etc.

“User testing is most effective when you have very specific questions about how people use an interface for relatively simple and straightforward tasks.”

Step 5. Get Stakeholders to agree to user test

What stakeholders think UX do
What stakeholders think UX do

Usability testing avoidance like is common “Our product is already perfect” or “It’ll slow us down.” are often quotes cited. To pitch usability testing in a company examine what the company base its design decisions on, look hard at how they are making design decisions. Without doing some kind of user research or usability testing, how do you know they are basing their design decisions on good information?

Step. 6. Stakeholders will mostly agree on the feedback results

What UX'ers actually do
What UX’ers actually do

I’ve worked in UX for  the last 4 years and sat through many design review meetings, I can’t remember the last time a client contested usability test results – especially when  including detailed metrics – it is seldom questioned. Thinking that experienced designers do not have to test their products is one of the greatest misconceptions in web design. Even the most successful and experienced designers confirm that “user testing is the absolute key” to successful products and services.

When a design decision has to be accepted by many stakeholders, an expert review might seem another disputable opinion while data based on usability test results – often including metrics – is seldom questioned.

Step 7. If it works for Amazon, will it will work for you?

Amazon has excellent well-proven features, but they won’t work on any ecom store. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t copy the web or store design of others – by all means try it out, but make sure you also understand why it worked for them and how it will work for your customers.

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
Pablo Picasso

Amazon is one of the biggest websites in terms of traffic and user base. It can afford to sell some items below cost and even allows third-party ads and items on its product pages (cannibalizing its own sales). It also has enough users for features like reviews or Listmania.

A study found that “was perceived in the usability testing to have the slowest home page loading speeds of the 20 websites studied, and to have one of the most confusing home pages. But users said before and after the website testing that they were likely to use and/or recommend Amazon to a friend.
‘Amazon had already been visited by 71% of the usability testers,’ notes Ms. Frank, ‘so the familiarity with the site and the strong brand recognition were able to overcome flaws that would have been the kiss of death to lesser known websites.’”

Jakob Nielsen writes that “copying successful designs is not a foolproof way to improve your own site’s business value […] and has many pitfalls”  and is no longer the role model for ecom design

Step 8. Stock photos improve the users’ experience

A picture is worth  1,000 words except when it isn’t. Stock photos have a bad rap. They’re campy and cheesy and the butt of plenty of jokes. But what’s great about them is they’re often the catalyst for promotions or gags—sort of a comedic blank slate.

Vince Vaughn Stock Photos
A Vince Vaughn kind of awesome.

Usability tests and eye-tracking studies show that stock photos and other decorative graphic elements rarely add value to a website and more often harm than improve the users’ experience. Such images aren’t related to the topic of the website and don’t hold useful information. Users usually overlook stock images and might even get frustrated by them.

Leave me a comment below with your user testing questions, I’ll show you how you can make them happen.

How to Flex Your “Left-Brain” by Mastering the Art of User Testing

The first iteration of the Airbnb website. A beautiful example of minimum viable product.
LAUNCH TIME: Behold the first iteration of the website, 2010. A beautiful example of minimum viable product.  Note how the homepage is all about them.


Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 14.29.40
AFTER: 2015 The homepage is now all about the customer. Every design decision, has been informed by user research over hundreds of iterations.

Building a digital business is fundamentally an experimentation in search process. If you’re not getting deep into the minds of your customers using deep research and testing techniques, it’s going to be really hard to get them to use or buy anything you build for them.

“Entrepreneurship is fundamentally an experimentation in search process.” Chuck Eesley – Assistant Professor, Management Science & Engineering, Stanford University USA.

Without giving low-cost experimentation a go to discover customer requirements, you risk throwing money down the drain, including ruining your mental health, jeopardising your reputation, and losing the patience of friends and family.

What if you could reduce the financial risk associated with launching a new product? What if there was a way to inexpensively test your ideas before you launch them. How much would that mean to you?

There is, it’s called user-testing and it’s exactly like looking into a crystal ball.

Look into your REAL crystal ball for the future of your business: it’s called user testing and interviewing your customers.

Understanding what your customers value about your products in the language they use, is the best way to build a digital business. By user testing with customers you can get upfront buy-in and you can sell them products they will value again and again.

A well made road. A strong bridge. Problem solved.

Validating an idea

I’ve experienced digital product owners bailing out of this process – because it can be overwhelming talking to potential customers if you’re new to user testing.

User testing forces you to address product weaknesses. Discovering your business needs are not about your needs is essential –especially if you’ve invested much time and money on starting a business. From my experience people never use your products as you thought the would. That’s why it’s essential to start with a basic prototype of your idea and start to gather feedback.

If you don’t have a website yet and want to validate products, get a few products out to potential customers to find out their preferences, ask your customer what they want, what would help them and what they would find useful.

Perfect example of minimum viable product. It’s a beauty to behold. Look and learn.

An early iteration of Yes. It looked like this.  A beautiful example of a minimum viable product. All the important information is front and centre. 

A lo-fi paper prototype is a great way to test a user-case or “story” with customers, and then gather feedback and iterate the business model or design, based on that feedback.

Get your idea in front of real customers as soon as possible. Ditch your 50 page business plan, build a lo-fidelity prototype and start testing, even if it’s only a lo-fi prototype sketched out in pen and paper.

Ann Miura-Ko from Floodgate explains the importance of the actual business model and testing assumptions about the model.

Your goal is to reduce financial risk from the beginning. By building simple user-testing methods into building your business so you don’t have to spend a great deal of money on ordering your stock upfront, because the customer will let you know what they prefer. You should be identifying real customers needs not “make believe” product requirements based on how you think it should work.

Here’s my 5 step framework to help you identify customer requirements, by user testing your products to reduce the risk of an expensive failure:



1. Start Experimenting and Document the Results

It’s really important that you document and produce evidence of your

 experimentation and search process. The process helps you identify business model ideas that people want, and helps you eliminate weak ideas with no demand. I want to repeat that. This process helps you identify business ideas that people want, and helps you eliminate weak ideas with no demand.

Next time you hear yourself saying, “I know my customers would love this idea, there only X dollar each, I only need X amount“ STOP. TAKE A STEP BACK. AND BUILD AN EXPERIMENT TO TEST IT.

Set up a Word Press blog, or use the Lean

Launch website (my favourite place to document ideas) and document your

 experimentation throughout the process. As a team you can use

 Skype or Google Plus hangouts for team conversations if you 

can’t all get together in the same place at the same time.

Allow a good 4-12 weeks to test a simple business model idea with your network, your network must be potential customers – if you don’t have any, but know where they hang out, go and introduce yourself and get to know them better, ask them how you can serve their needs better than your competitor.

  • Post simple questionnaires to twitter, Facebook or your email list, RESPECT Customers TIME – keep it short – 3 questions at the most, avoid a 27 question diatribe
  • Interview customers in person or over the phone – ask their permission for you to record them – recordings reveal amazing insights amongst every intonation
  • Screen record people using your website or products – sit in as a moderator – make them feel comfortable, ask your customer to perform a couple of tasks on your site. Ask them: What do they see? What they would they like to see? Ask open-ended questions. Such insight can reveal ideas you never thought of and take your business to the next level fast
  • Ask customers to keep a diary of how, when and why they use your product during the week. This is called ethnography – it can lead to deep product insight.
  • Ad Words – create a low-cost campaign and link it to a landing page to collect email address of interested parties, measure the reaction
  • Facebook Ads – see how much interest an inexpensive ad campaign can generate. Measure the results of two or three ads to compare which one gets the most clicks
  • Desirability Study – how likely would you buy this on a scale of 1-10?
  • Participatory design – ask your customers how they would design your products
  • Collect potential customers email addresses – get their first name – this is basic stuff. Respect their inbox, get them to opt-in to your newsletter, don’t spam them because you just got their email from a competition you ran, if they entered a competition they want to win your prize, send them an opt-in email to see if the want your newsletter too, you have a 2% chance they will. Yes that’s an average conversion rate.

Use mail

term, postmark, Google groups, or create online surveys with

 Woo Fu, Zoomering, or Qualtrex, to try to get more

 information about your target customer segment.

Continuously check in on how you’re

 doing in the process of experimentation.

 You base your assumptions about a piece of the

 business model and what you end up finding eg. “I believe people want to buy customised city bikes” prepare tasks to find out:

  • What type of bikes do they buy now?
  • Where do they currently buy bikes and why?
  • When do they buy? What’s the purchase trigger?  How often?

Allowing customers to reply anonymously gives people a chance to be 100% honest about your product, and they will be. You need to hear this and develop a thick but always inquisitive skin, if you want to be successful.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 10.57.15.png

Here’s an

 example of a questionnaire I put together for a client using Google Forms – a FREE survey tool that you can to create a basic questionnaire with and then send out to customer via a link.



Keep your website as simple as just a splash page using LaunchRock – make sure you include:

  • A value proposition (the problem your product solves)
  • Summary of benefits from using

 the product,
  • Perhaps a short survey
  • A call to action,

 such as leaving a e-mail address to learn more

For none 

coders you can even make a quick prototype of how the site

would look in Powerpoint or you could use, sites like

 Google sites, Weeble, Godaddy, WordPress. These can all

 enable even people with very minimal coding skills to 

create a basic web site.


Here’s a link to a series of user flow pages I designed in Powerpoint to indicate the install process for a chrome plugin. Click to view the whole document.

Write out the tasks you want to test and monitor your results. Don’t know how to use spreadsheets? Take a course, you’ll be using spreadsheets heavily as your business grows.



2. Get early customer buy-in: “Yes, I want it now. How can I pay?”

Warning: this is not a fast process, it requires planning and patience. It’s not for everyone, but if you are willing to put in the work, it will yield successful results.

I’d like you to start out with your customers in testing, identify the people who will

 actually want to buy this product. You want to able to get hold of high quality data and this can cost $1,0000’s, but in London if you join the British Library you get access to THE MOST AWESOME HIGH QUALITY MARKET RESEARCH ABOUT YOUR CHOSEN SUBJECT FOR FREE in the IP centre Business Library. This is phase one.

  • Who are they?
  • How many of them are there out there?
  • What’s trending in this area?
  • Who are the market leaders? What are they doing? What are they not doing?
  • Most importantly – Is this market GROWING or DECLINING?

If you don’t have the answers to the most basic assumptions of your business. Go and get them.

If you use the lean launch lab website to establish your questions and testing gather evidence and monitor your testing, you’ll see something like this.

Next you want to try and 

see if the domain that you are interested in using for your 

company is available.

You can use products like Domainr 

or Demise. For web or mobile ideas, try and 

build a low-fidelity of the website. There’s so many tools

 available, even if you are not a coder, or don’t have a

 coder on your team. You can still use sites like Google

Sites, or other options to create at least a splash page and

 the front end-user inter interface, even if you can’t.

If you’ve chosen an e-commerce idea you thought was good but your products are in a saturated market eg. there are 40 companies selling the same things as you and in a higher position on Google, and you: have no business training, work in banking, are a stay at home mum, graphic designer, or bricks and mortar boutique owner, how would you know if your e-commerce business idea will be profitable or not?

3. Get a Strong Reaction from Potential Customers About Your Product Before You Spend Money on Orders or Product Development

In other words, get people to buy your stuff upfront, so you have cash flow to grow

Watch and learn: (Fast word to 3.33mins to listen to the awesome story)  In 1980 (pre-Macintosh) Steve Jobs secured 50 pre-orders – on his blank printed circuit board prototype from a local bike shop owner (yes a bike shop owner), but the clearly badass bike shop owner wanted a fully assembled computer, not just a circuit board. Jobs would never have known what his customers wanted – if he sat behind his typewriter all day, writing letters.

Those orders gave Steve Jobs the leverage he needed to negotiate the parts PRE-PAYMENT and build the Macintosh, collect the payment, paid for the parts and ploughed the profit back into generating more sales.

If your customers are not grabbing your product out of your hand right now, then never will, no matter how many colours you offer it in. The kiss of death comment to any idea is “That’s really interesting, thanks for letting me know”.

If you hear that comment, I want you to down tools and go back to the drawing board. Or – if you’ve spent £10,000+ on a product you haven’t even user tested – start asking potential customers the most important questions you’ve ever asked them now. If you’re uncomfortable doing this – practise.

 The top 3 magic questions to ask your customers:

1. What do you see when you look at this product idea?

2. What would stop you from buying this now?

3. If we could make anything for you what would it be?

Note or record the replies in Lean Launch Lab and use them to build something people will want.


4. Stop Making Assumptions: You Are Not Your Audience

I know you love those white mugs with weird sayings and slogans, you love quirky names for everyday things, you have individual taste in photography, you hate email newsletter pop-ups on your website, you don’t want to bother your customers with newsletters, you love the colours green and pink together, you like those bags with tassels, you know you can get them cheap from China. You love holes in jeans, quirky handbags, campfire nuts, yoga, green smoothies, you have a basic grasp of powerpoint etc. STOP THERE.

Guess what, no-one really cares what you like, your business is about your customers, not you. Just because you spent £5,000 on branding and legal fees does not make it attractive in the eyes of your customers.

This could be could be construed as arrogance, it goes like this: “Here’s a bunch of stuff I love – I hope you like it to?”  That’s just too risky.

Your job is essentially to search for a repeatable successful scalable business model. Once this is formed, you then scale up into a large organisation and a large established company is primarily executing on an already known and successfully proven business model.

5. If it’s Broke FIX IT

Inertia and sitting around doing the same unsuccessful things will kill your business.


You know an e-commerce owner has hit the ‘trough-of-sorrow’ when tired of no sales they start reducing prices based on the idea that they are doing the market a favour by selling them cheaper goods.


You are doing the market a favour if the product you are selling is meeting a market need, at a price which makes you a good profit.

If your products are not selling, dropping prices WILL NOT STIMULATES SALES, because the pricing is not wrong, it’s the product to market fit that’s wrong.  That’s if your product is a good fit for their needs in the first place.

Selling it cheap only hurts your business, and starting your relationship with new customers buy offering them a discount sets a future precedent, which goes something like this:

“10% off, is that all I’m worth to them? Cheapskates, I hope it’s more next time.”

Imagine that scenario versus, “Wow this product is awesome, I’d definitely pay the full price for it, can I have 2 please, one for me and one for my friend”. Which sale would you rather be converting the former or the later?

I really 

want to encourage you – if you’re going to do a web or a mobile e-commerce idea,

 to actually create at least the front end of the product to try out my ideas.

In just a few months, your assumptions will be validated. So you’ll never have to worry about whether your you are spending your money on doing the rights things again.

Do you want to learn more? Subscribe to my newsletter and you’ll get access to my private VIP email list, including strategies and tactics I won’t share anywhere else.

I this articles resonates with your successes and failures, I’d love to read what worked or didn’t work for you? Please leave your comments below, I read them all.

Thank you,





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Learn How to Swim Naked Through Shark-infested Waters


Justine Musk, first wife of billionaire Elon Musk, knows a thing or two about wealth and hard work — her ex-husband is a founder of PayPal, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and has an estimated net worth of $12.1 billion.

Justine’s recent reply to question “Will I become a billionaire if I am determined to be one and put in all the necessary work required?” and reply posted recently on Quora is a fascinating insight into the mind of what qualities it really takes to build a successful business.

Many of my readers have dreams or are in the midst of building an online business, but do they really know what it takes to create success and how to build a competitive advantage that will sustain their business over it’s lifetime?

Here’s a breakdown of Justine’s engaging response:

The answer is “no”

The reader is asking the wrong question altogether.

One of the many qualities that separate self-made billionaires from the rest of us is their ability to ask the right questions.

This is not the right question. Which is not to say it’s a bad question. It just won’t get that deep part of your mind working to help you — mulling things over when you think you’re thinking about something else — sending up flares of insight.

You’re determined. So what?

You haven’t been racing naked through shark-infested waters yet, will you be just as determined when you’re washed up on some deserted island, disoriented and bloody and ragged and beaten and staring into the horizon with no sign of rescue?

We live in a culture that celebrates determination and hard work, but understand: these are the qualities that keep you in the game after most everybody else has left, or until somebody bigger and stronger picks you up and hurls you back out to sea. Determination and hard work are necessary, yes, but they are the minimum requirements. As in: the bare minimum.

Shift your focus

Learn how can you *leverage* your time and your work away from what you want – a billion dollars, and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you, no one could outsource you, no one could steal your product and make it better and then club you into oblivion  – not literally. Develop that potential.

Choose one thing and become a master of it

Choose a second thing and become a master of that.

When you become a master of two worlds, say, engineering and business, you can bring them together in a way that will….

Introduce hot ideas to each other

So they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before.

Create a competitive advantage

Because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.

The world does not care what you want or deserve

The world doesn’t throw a billion dollars at a person because the person wants it or works so hard they feel they deserve it. The world gives you money in exchange for something it perceives to be of equal or greater value: something that transforms an aspect of the culture, reworks a familiar story or introduces a new one, alters the way people think about the category and make use of it in daily life.

There is no roadmap

No blueprint for this; a lot of people will give you a lot of advice, and most of it will be bad, and a lot of it will be good and sound but you’ll have to figure out how it doesn’t apply to you, because you’re coming from an unexpected angle. And you’ll be doing it alone, until you develop the charisma and credibility to attract the talent you need to come with you.

Have courage

You will need it.

Good luck

You’ll need that too. Justine’s full response is on Quora here.

I would love to know if using the framework above, do you think you could make it within a year? Leave me a comment below with your idea and details and this week, I’ll show you how you can make it happen.



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