We must understand people as they are rather than as market segments or demographics.
A few years ago, two of Adaptive Path’s practitioners worked together as members of a small design team at a company called Epinions.com. Epinions, which has since been acquired by eBay, featured reviews of products and services written by consumers. Reviewers earned money for their reviews, consumers rated those reviews, and other sites syndicated the content. As a whole, the site focused on building a community of authors, raters, and readers, and it was one of the earliest pieces of explicitly “social software,” long before services like Friendster, MySpace, or Flickr even existed.
It was a place where the traditional models of understanding people simply as individuals interacting with computers and the traditional business models related to products broke down fairly quickly. Because Epinions was so dependent on community, it had to function as a service and a system rather than simply as a product or site.
At Epinions.com, our customer research began with standard usability practices, where participants came into our lab and performed predetermined tasks with our site and those of our competitors. We quickly realized that we needed to abandon these overly structured methods in favor of research approaches that were more qualitative and contextual. One of our most useful sessions occurred when a woman came into our lab and brought her infant with her. ...