On Humans, UX, And Dog Fooding Your Designs

Posted by Taylor Haney on Wed, Oct 1, 2014

This month we have some more exciting UX and Design posts for you! Kicking off October with a post by Bob Goodman, SVP/Director of User Experience at Arnold Worldwide. Bob discusses looking at design from different perspectives to create better experiences.

Bob GoodmanBob Goodman is SVP/Director of User Experience at Arnold Worldwide. He’s worked in UX for over 15 years, including 10 years managing UX teams, and focuses on creating deeply useful, usable, and engaging user experiences for leading companies. He sees UX as a driving force for product and process innovation through user research, information architecture, content strategy, and interaction design. 

I don’t think it is overly controversial on the surface to say that the agency, design, and technology communities should design for humans. I’ve always aspired to design with other people in mind, as opposed to dogs, cats, or a mongoose. However, dig deeper and there is plenty to consider.

Who are these other humans you hope to design for? What motivates them? What experience would hold their attention? What tasks are they trying to achieve? What products, services, or marketing content do they tend to embrace and use, and how would something new benefit them and not burden them?

These are key questions when you think about designing for human perception and behavior. It’s a way to start not with channels, devices, or your own assumptions: try to get closer to human psychology and behavior in every day life. One method I want to talk about today that helps humanize a design process and make for better products, services, and marketing strategies bears a surprising name: it’s called Dogfooding.

For software companies like Google and Microsoft, "Dogfooding" has been a common, if strangely secret, practice for years. Dogfooding is a process in which a team designing a new software product uses that product themselves before releasing to the general public in order to put themselves in the shoes of their future users.

The term's origins date back to the 1970s, when the actor Lorne Green, in a series of ads, declared ALPO dog good to be so good that he fed it to his own dogs. At times also it looks as if he is so enamored of that bowl of ALPO that he might just have to sample it himself.

But Dogfooding is not just for software firms anymore: it's a practice that's taking hold within agencies as the nature of advertising expands to help clients and brands achieve new capabilities in areas such as game platforms, mobile apps, and experience design.

Dogfooding is a great way to enter right into the world you're trying to create, and see first-hand how to make it better. You and your team become your own guinea pigs for a while, and when you emerge, you have a lot more perspective, empathy, and knowledge about how to make your product experience more useful, usable, and engaging for others.

At Arnold, we used the Dogfooding process for what ultimately became the Effie-award winning Climate Reality Drop site. Climate Reality Drop is a game platform launched by former Vice President Al Gore that enables people to use the news to spread scientific facts about climate change across the Web.

The Reality Drop sites aggregates news about climate science, auto-categories it according to its subject, and provides users with an "antidote”: a bit of scientific information they can "drop" into other sites and social media to spread the word. The site includes a scoring system, badges, and leader-boards.

At first, our scoring system gave lots of points just for making drops. When we made the drops ourselves, we realized that as a game, getting other people to click on your drops and follow them back to the site was a much more interesting challenge. Thanks to the Dogfooding process, the team wound up re-architecting the logic of the scoring system to reward people for the impact their drops have had on other readers and users.

It’s easy to design from default assumptions and not realize what it will be like for other people to use your product or interpret your experience. Dogfooding enables your team to swap hats and perspectives from designer to “human.” It’s a great way to gain new insights and deliver a better experience for those many, many humans who aren’t you.