Marc Andreessen explains why we need user experience folks

ning signHave you ever looked for a succint, catchy way to explain why we need user experience. Why folks who know like talking to users need to be part of the software development process? Do you need video evidence? Well, Marc Andreessen is glad to help you out. While talking with Jonathan Schwartz about Ning, his new startup he says: (~ 6.56 min):

“Ideally we’ll never meet any of our customers. We actually had to take the sign down from our front door because one of our customers actually stopped in, uninvited, and said, ‘Hi, I love your service.’ And we’re like, ‘why are you here?’ And so down came the sign.

“Drop-bys like that should only happen in sitcoms as far as I’m concerned… The consumer internet businesses in a sense are ideal businesses from the standpoint of never meeting your customers… If you do it right, you will never meet any of your customers!”

I have never heard the engineering attitude towards users so well articulated and captured on video. I am so going to use this for my talks. Thanks Marc Andreessen, you just made my day!

On a side note, some Ning users decided to visit Ning just to annoy Marc. They used Ning itself to organize this, and are supposed to be visiting today.

Note to Marc: There is no escaping users. Maybe you need to hire a person or two who are more comfortable with drop-bys!

4 thoughts on “Marc Andreessen explains why we need user experience folks

  1. IHi there! I’m one of Ning’s Developer Advocates, whose job it is to meet and help our users and developers, and then communicate the needs of those users back to the rest of the company in order to guide future development. I hope it’s fairly obvious that, if Ning really didn’t want to consider its users, I wouldn’t have a job. (In other words, Ning has been following your advice since before launch.)

    There’s quite a difference between never wanting to meet your users and preferring them not to drop in unannounced at any hour. But, in today’s case, we were forewarned and put on quite a spread for those who came (and we had quite a few, too!) There should be photos hitting the net soon – wait, here they are:
    In fact, it worked so well, we may do it again soon!

  2. There’s quite a difference between never wanting to meet your users and preferring them not to drop in unannounced at any hour.

    Yoz, fair enough. I am glad the visit went well. Maybe I will come by next time – am close by in Mountain View :->

    Actually, I am somewhat sympathetic to Marc’s viewpoints (even though the video is so quotable!). Different people have different roles and strengths. And its quite fine if some people at a company do not want to meet users. I would not be able to write software to save my life.

    Since I have your attention – here is a followup thought. And this does not just apply to Ning. The users you have contact with are probably not representative of the average user. They are the very early adoptors, the highly tech-savvy. Are you making efforts to meet and design for the average user? How? Just curious.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Hey Rashmi,

    I was surprised to hear your phrase “the engineering attitude toward users”. While the disdain for “lusers” found among some engineers is lamentable, I’m sure you agree that there is a wide range of views, and I know you have helping to shape the most productive among them.



  4. Rashmi, sorry for taking so long to get back to you – what with a major new release, Mashup Camp and more, things have been a little busy recently. :-)

    It’s an interesting question, one that applies to practically all software companies developing for external users. It’s always dangerous to divide users into “techie” and “non-techie” categories, something I still find myself doing occasionally. Good usability is required at all levels, and even those we mark as “power users” will still regularly fall prey to bad design.

    Ning is both a development platform for non-developers and developers alike; we provide multiple ways to create new apps, the most popular of which is the “Clone this app” feature. This, combined with the new setup screens we’ve put on all our starter apps, mean that users can create featureful apps for themselves and customise them without touching code.

    While many of my friends and colleagues are in the more-techie side, they’re far from the only people I come into contact with. Every day, I deal with people (through email, blogs and on the phone) who have never touched code but want to build a site using Ning – in fact, these people make up the majority of our users. A major part of my job is guiding their feedback through to the development team, so they know which features need creating or fixing. If there’s an existing part of the interface that would solve a problem a user has, we have to work out why they’re missing it. In addition, we have done (and continue to do) work with usability experts when designing high-profile, potentially-complex interfaces. So we do a lot of work before releasing a feature, and then optimise it through regular iterations, based on experience and feedback.

    How’s that?

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