How I used User Research to kill a book idea
Building an app or writing a book — the fundamentals still hold true
A core tenet of being a User Experience Designer is,
“You are not your user.”
Despite having preached this to several people, I failed to adhere to my advice recently.
Three weeks back, I was mulling over some topics to write a blog post. I like to read, so why not write about reading. It seemed so obvious. Carried over by the euphoria of writing a few paragraphs, another idea popped into my head. Why not write a short book about it?
Some people complain about not having enough ideas and we designers have the opposite problem — way too many ideas. Our brains seem to be hardwired to detect the next shiny object. Is that a new Figma plugin?
Given the fact I am on a break and wanted to do something creative to keep my mind occupied, I decided to launch a newsletter that would make sure I write regularly, and the social pressure would keep me from backing off.
The objective of the book was:
Help time-strapped working professionals learn something new by reading a book in a faster and effective way.
On the surface, it seems like a genuine problem. But there are a lot of underlying hypotheses behind it, and the big one is:
Working professionals preferred to read to learn new topics.
As a researcher, I always harp on the importance of speaking with customers to understand their needs and validate the assumptions before building a product. In this case, the book is the product.
In my excitement, I made a gross generalization:
1. I am a time-strapped working professional.
2. I like to read books to learn about a new topic.
3. Therefore all time-strapped, working professionals like to read books to learn a new topic.
I guess I took the Lean Startup methodology too seriously.
After three sending newsletters, I had a nagging feeling something wasn’t right. It was the researcher in me, who popped in for some tea and scones. I decided to validate my assumptions by doing some quick research.
I created a poll to understand how working professionals prefer to learn new things and posted it on different groups that comprised of the target audience.
The overwhelming response was — most people do not prefer reading books but rather prefer different mediums like blogs, videos, online courses, etc.
The only exception was this response from a group where a large number of participants said they prefer reading books. But they explicitly mentioned they enjoy reading and the number of hours they spent reading wasn’t a matter of concern to me.
I followed up with some of the participants who took part in the poll and did a few interviews. The findings correlated with the poll results.
So I was basically writing a book that pretty much no one wanted.
The reality check hurt, but it is essential. As a writer and a designer, I know the importance of killing my darlings. Or as Kevin O’Leary would say on Shark Tank — “It’s a stupid idea, it’s going to zero, take it behind the barn and shoot it.”
So I have decided to shut down the newsletter and the book idea of Get, Set, Read.
Not everything is gloom and doom. I did learn a couple of stuff in the past few weeks:
- I have stopped over-thinking and started taking actions. In the past, I have mulled several ideas in the head but was stuck continuously in an analysis-paralysis loop. Now I realise the importance of taking action, any action.
- I learnt how to use Substack. It’s really cool, and I look forward to using it again in future.
- I learnt to create a quick book cover using Canva (even though I have no prior experience) and also getting the courage to share it with the world.
I never spent a penny on anything fancy like getting a domain name, design tools, etc. All it took was some time and effort.
This short experiment has taught me that no matter how exciting an idea sounds, never forget the fundamentals:
Always do your research first.
Off I go, till I spot the next shiny thing.