Learning from the Piece of Velcro Placed in Space Helmets

Entrepreneur Iris Shoor thinks companies should focus on real data and not rely on their, often unrealistic, conception of users to tell them how to improve their product

Iris Shoor 07:5202.03.18

In marketing, you do not really have to understand what makes people tick. There are A/B tests and the ability to run multiple experiments, even with limited resources. Product managers are not as fortunate. Every feature is expensive and we have to get it right as soon as possible.


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A common product management methodology is making up personas—a few imaginary people who represent the target audience and are used to theorize on how features will be used and how people will react to them. The problem is that personas will always be oversimplified and will not have real-world problems.


Iris Shoor. Photo: PR Iris Shoor. Photo: PR



Another common practice is interviewing existing and potential clients to figure out which features they need or want. The problem here is that, when interviewed, people tend to say what they think the other person wants to hear. For example, when asked what they would buy at the supermarket if they were given $20, most people would give the ‘right’ answer, naming healthy affordable options such as fruit and vegetables—very different from what you will find by analyzing actual shopping carts.


In space suits, there is a small piece of Velcro on the inner part of the helmet that allows astronauts to scratch their nose. No persona would have an itchy nose in its description and no future astronaut interviewed about their needs would think to mention scratching their nose. But, when observing a real person in the suit, even for just a few hours, you cannot miss it.



Astronaut (illustration). Photo: NASA Astronaut (illustration). Photo: NASA



Product managers keep inventing people or asking them to invent themselves when they are surrounded by real people that they can observe.I try avoiding playing imagination games as much as possible and design my products based on real data.


In my company, Oribi Systems Ltd., instead of building personas or making interviews we asked potential customers to install a small script we developed to extract their full user data in order to monitor and analyze it. We base every feature on data that comes from dozens of real customers, which allows us to see what actually works and what doesn’t, what is most crucial for our users and what problems repeat most often.


Using real-world data is also an important principle when designing interface. One of the main fail points for products is the gap between how a design looks before and after it had to handle real data. A beautiful design soon turns into a battlefield filled with long labels, unstructured data, text appearing in different languages and renegade graphs. At Oribi, when designing the product interface, we work with some of our customers’ actual data from the get-go. We never use well-behaved data, fictional names and nice graphs. We skip the pretty stage but make sure everything will still function well when faced with reality.


This article was originally published on Ms. Shoor's Blog


Iris Shoor is a serial entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Tel Aviv-based analytics startup Oribi Systems Ltd.

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