Do you really understand your users?

Woman holding child in London street

Never make assumptions about your users without good data.

Many times I’ve been in meetings with clients where broad assumptions were made about their users’ various capabilities, habits, and preferences. Sometimes it was about how their UI should look, other times it was about how they wanted to represent themselves visually, and many times it was about changing functionality based on how they themselves used the website instead of their users. Assumptions aren’t always necessarily bad things to make, but always make sure they’re backed up by the appropriate experience and data.

One client meeting I vividly remember, from a previous company and life-time, involved restricting the user’s navigation options based on a location selection which saved via a cookie. The client insisted on a fool proof system, one that “even his grandmother could use” for reserving game rooms. The only problem was that this was for a website promoting escape rooms and I seriously doubted there was a huge market for grandmothers looking to escape from a make-believe Alcatraz prison room (maybe if Sean Connery was waiting at the other end).

They were afraid their users would reserve rooms in the wrong city by mistake, but it wasn’t a very compelling argument for such a heavy handed approach. Why make the user restrict themselves to a single location right at the beginning of the experience? Why not confirm the location when the actual booking of the room itself happened? Eventually, our team yielded to their request, but their insistent approach for accommodating even the most computer illiterate users resulted in a sub-optimal experience for everyone else – admittedly partly because of the implementation chosen, but also largely due to the restrictions of the original request itself.

Always collect data for when you’ll eventually need it

A better approach all around would have been to find demographic data supporting the notion that 50+ age individuals were going to frequent these game rooms. The Codex, a website dedicated to escape room enthusiasts, released the results of a survey compiling many different data points concerning escape room customers. Based on their data, 85% of participants were in age groups between 21 to 45 yrs old. However, this survey was worldwide and was based on only about 250 respondent “enthusiasts.”

“Your website is in the best position to collect data about your customers and you should leverage that to improve how your business and website operate.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at another online survey, this time one conducted by Their survey, with a much larger submission pool, has almost 650 submissions so far and still appears to be ongoing. According to their results, only about 8.5% of escape room participants are over the age of 45. That’s slightly different from the previous survey, but it appears most of the differences in numbers come from the age groups under 21. Also remember that the first survey is for enthusiasts while the second survey is more general interest focused – coming from what appears to be a simple directory website. However, one could assume that by looking at these numbers that a majority of their user base wasn’t going to be elderly computer illiterate thrill seekers.

Unfortunately though, that conclusion still doesn’t address our particular problem directly. Even if we average the two surveys together and determine that roughly 10% of customers could be over the age of 45, that doesn’t tell us how many of them booked online using a website versus simply going to the escape game business and physically reserving a room while there. My gut tells me the latter is probably the case for most participants in this age group, but without better usage data I would hold that assumption, which leads into the entire point of this article – always collect targeted data if you want to know your users better. Your website is in the best position to collect data about your customers and you should leverage that to improve how your business and website operate. Analytic tools like Google Analytics can provide a wealth of knowledge for anyone looking invest a little technical know-how and effort, but even the simplest of methods, like user surveys, can still yield highly valuable results.

Stay data informed, not data driven

In hindsight, what that previous team should have done was immediately ask the clients if they were collecting any type of demographic data and analytics on the subject beforehand, and then we could have directed the conversation around solving the problems using the data as a starting point instead. Combining any industry data with their own usage demographics, we could have then came up with a much more personalized user experience that best fit their core audience. In addition, if there was indeed a real problem with reservation errors, it could have been solved in way that better accommodated those users without being quite as confusing to everyone else and with far less pop-ups. May the Internet gods forgive us for all those pop-ups.