Want to get real user feedback? Let them in.


We all know that user testing and feedback is essential in building intuitive, customer-centric products, and in fulfilling the wants and needs that those users might not realise they had until they come across a solution (hopefully yours). But getting direct input has traditionally been far from straightforward, and often prohibitively expensive for small enterprises.

Whichever way you do it, the Holy Grail is to build a communication channel with your users where they can give you feedback in the most frictionless way possible. Ideally, they should feel like you’re a friend they can chat to over a cup of coffee. So, why not take that idea literally? Instead of escorting someone to their usability testing workstation or putting them with strangers in a focus group, why not invite them into the office and just let them mingle?

Letting your customers see what you do is hardly a new trend. As journalist Lambeth Hochwald wrote, you only need to look at the way bakers have for years created a space for showing off frosting prowess (to which I would add the more recent trend towards open kitchens in restaurants) in order to see how this transparency is appealing to consumers – whatever the product.

People want to feel that they can build a relationship with a product, and this is particularly true when it comes to technology, where that relationship with an app or platform involves long-term interaction, the surrender of personal data, and often – as is the case with Facebook, LinkedIn and our own research collaboration platform Mendeley – the projection of your own personal and professional profile through that product.

The trick is to approach each user as you would an investor, because they are, after all, going to invest time, energy, and a surprising amount of emotion into using your product, and these are precious, monetizable commodities these days. This is why it’s crucial to pitch them the whole package, since getting to know who’s behind the product is getting you a step closer to them trusting the idea.

That’s the concept behind the Research Hub we created in Mendeley’s London office. In and of itself it’s nothing fancy; a collection of 6 desks in a nice airy space, decorated with some pot plants and posters of famous scientists. There is free Wi-Fi and our guests are welcome to help themselves to drinks and snacks in the kitchen or join a game of foosball, chess or Jenga at lunchtime. People use an online system similar to those used to reserve tables at restaurants to book in a time slot at one of the desks, each named after a famous scientist like Einstein, Newton or Marie Curie.

The researchers who pop in can be from out of town or even abroad, and some are local to London and just tired of wrestling with undergraduate students for library desk space. In return for using the facilities we might ask them to give us some feedback and actually test some new features here and there for half an hour at a time, but feedback can also happen around the proverbial water cooler (in our case the coffee machine). This gives them a chance to have direct input in a very natural way, and constantly reminds the team of the real people that use the product every day.

Some companies still have a culture where they hold on tightly to their secrets and are afraid of outsiders taking a peek behind the curtains, but in the world of tech where open APIs and lightning-fast iterations rule, what you can get back from real-time feedback – combined with the goodwill that openness engenders – far outweighs those risks. If you expect your users to love and share your product, then you have to be prepared to show your love and share everything with them too.

Would you like to visit the Mendeley Research Hub? We’d love to see you there, just click here to book!