Expectations vs reading minds

My morning routine usually is built on : Phase ONE: leave the bed (7:20), head to the kitchen, make myself some breakfast, taking some notes or reading the news while

5 years ago

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My morning routine usually is built on :

Phase ONE: leave the bed (7:20), head to the kitchen, make myself some breakfast, taking some notes or reading the news while shoveling food in my mouth. The other phases are irrelevant for this post so I will skip them for now.

This morning at 7:39am I got the following message from a friend that I talk to often:

“Call me when you get the chance”

I was cutting fruits from my morning smoothie, so at 7:40am, “Hey Siri, call…”

He was in disbelief that I was so prompt and he said:

“WTF at least give me the time to brush my teeth. Do you sleep with your phone?”

Originally posted by imightbeacoffeesnob

I pointed out that I did what he asked. I actually could callback after seeing his message. He ranted about why I was wrong and he was right, that as an engineer I do exactly what the instructions say rather than “interpret” the instructions or use common sense. Whiner…

That conversation made me realize something that in my head triggered as

“ah! That’s what happened when a company builds a product. They make assumptions about what their future customers will want based on their own experiences. They will look at the data but then the interpretation of that crucial piece of evidence will be reconciled (or glued) using the individual experience of the project manager(s) working on the future solution. And if it doesn’t work out, well… the customer didn’t get it!”

Originally posted by imightbeacoffeesnob

As pointed out in the awesome movie V for Vendetta, the answer to what happened in that exchange and ah! Moment is very straightforward:

Debugging what happened is crucial to build parallels that can make a product designer out there, more aware of what you ask to customers for the purpose of designing an experience and how to connect their answers to build a logical (from customers point of view) path of usage.

Break down the analysis in two parts:

  1. Behavioral analysis
  2. Habits

Behaviors are genetically pre-coded in our heads. Some people use a tool/device in the most uncommon way you could think of the first time they enter in contact with it. The object completes its function and from that moment that person will continue to use that device/tool in that way (becoming a habit). Ignoring that the rest of the planet is doing it in another way. Behaviors are regularly placed under scrutiny by either us or the people around us. Occasionally we change those behaviors based on feedback or a new benefit or an overpowering behavior. As a new company a customer is more inclined to change behavior if the upcoming product comes from some branding backbone otherwise if it comes from i-am-nobody Inc the job is a lot harder and that means millions of marketing dollars harder in some cases.

Habits are the results of behaviors that have not been questioned by our mind. When a behavior is placed under the UV light of our mind, we tend to compare it with others and judge pro and cons. Habits are never placed under judgement light. They are micro executions shaped by our muscle memory. They are like bookmarks of a browser. You pull them out as needed and you don’t even realize how many you have, you just keep adding some.


  1. My friend’s morning routine is different from mine
  2. He’s a structured individual and likely he graphs his immediate use of time
  3. He sleeps and eat with regular patterns
  4. Doesn’t own an Apple Watch
  5. He has frequent interactions with buckets of people at which behaviors he has adapted and therefore synchronized his own time management

You can’t model a product experience across all potential users linking everything that you know about them. The outcome will be a monstrosity that the world won’t need. Not now, not ever. So don’t do it.

As an example: everyone has a morning routine, that is fair, however, assuming that routine is the same for “most” people, is the first mistake in the book. In order to qualify who fits in what bucket you need additional qualifiers to move person A in bucket D, if you don’t have that information and hi-level of precision, you are better off to not use that data point altogether.

Binary decisions are an excellent material for understanding human behaviors. You are either on time or always late. Even when you think that your use of time is fair, in the large scale analysis it is pretty irrelevant to know how off someone might be from one of the two extremes. So in this case, assuming that he is “time optimizer” (by direct experience) is an accurate statement. If I didn’t have that direct information, a simple questionnaire would uncover that behavioral nature because binary topics are usually spotted within 4, apparently irrelevant, questions.

If you are a poor sleeper or bad eater you won’t relate to other people's time management because those habits and functions are so encoded into you that you can understand the difference but ever be able to “feel them”.

As an example, I have a severe sleep disorder, my close friends know about it and they feel sorry for me. However, because they are not subject to this life-changing sickness they don’t have empathy that allows them to map in their subconscious. Otherwise, I shall not receive requests or comments on the way I answer emails in the middle of the night, or not being able to leave home too early or other subjects that conflict with the principle of “my life is different than yours because I don’t sleep like you do”

Empathy is the key here, there is huge research on the subject and that is the key ingredient of many Apple’s products. This is my morning post (I am still doing breakfast) so I will skip it for now because in a few I have to go to work.

In the context of the text message, he made an assumption: I will go ahead, send him a text, by the time that he will see, I will be probably driving to work and all the stars will align. A wrench in the plan was thrown when my own time management aligned exactly with what he had requested me of doing it :-)

He doesn’t own an Apple Watch, therefore even if he is aware that you can take calls from the Apple Watch, the lack of direct experience make him not realizing that I don’t need to have my phone by me. The “phone” is with me at all times for the virtue of having a smartwatch. Tadaaaa!

In closing when designing a product focus on four things:

  1. Time (consumption and planning)
  2. Empathy (what I know is because I have experienced, not what I can see/read)
  3. Don’t make assumptions unless it is part of your design strategy
  4. The customer is always right. You got it wrong.

The mother of all mistakes is the assumption, particularly when that is coupled with the principle that we’re all equal or all unique.

Mario Esposito

Published 5 years ago