Ryan Feeley

Product Designer based in Toronto, Canada

Think like the user… and have fun!

At my first position designing for the web, the president would often proclaim that we should “think like the customer and have fun”. This mantra stuck with me, especially as I spent much of my career working alongside engineers who loved hairy technical problems more than hairy customer problems.

This is the story of how this was once applied for Firefox.

The problem at hand

The dominant culture at Mozilla, likely due to the open source software roots, is engineering-based. I thought it would be worth trying to shake things up with a game that presented user research in a fun and interactive way.

The hypothesis was that users think differently than the technically-savvy employees of Mozilla, and that we could produce a broad survey about technology and navigate the results in a fun group exercise. Presenting the responses in a game format would be an engaging and non-threatening way to present the information.

We used a service to poll the general public online. We presented a few dozen questions that could be answered online in a few words. It was important to then do the hard work of coding the responses.

Erica and I at the All-Hands in London. Note the nonsensical responses.

Working with Erica, the application was designed and developed to present the game on two screens: one screen would be for the contestants, and the other would be for the host (me) controller.

Host control (left), contestant view (right)

All the questions

  • Name something that Mozilla makes.
  • Name a reason why you would avoid logging in to a website with your Facebook account.
  • Name something people include in a password.
  • Name the worst thing about internet advertising.
  • Name your second favourite search engine.
  • Name the way you most often share links with friends.
  • Name why someone might want to avoid using their Google account to sign into a website.
  • Name the approximate number of different passwords you use on the internet.
  • Name something you wish websites would stop asking you for.
  • Name something that you can do with a browser add-on.
  • Name something about using computers you hate.
  • Name an operating system.
  • Name something that worries people about using a computer on the internet.
  • Name a computer-related problem you spend too much time dealing with.
  • Name a way that Firefox is different from Chrome.
  • Name something you expect Firefox to be the best at.
  • Name a reason to use Firefox Sync.
  • Name something you think other browsers may be better at than Firefox.
  • Name something you can do with the Awesome Bar in Firefox.
  • Name what the lock icon beside URL represents.
  • Name a reason why you would need to reinstall Firefox.
  • Name an operating system that supports Firefox.
  • Name an operating system that does not support Firefox.
  • Name something Private Browsing mode does.
  • Name something that Firefox does that you can’t do without.
  • Name something about Firefox that drives you crazy.
  • Name a type of website you would visit only in private browsing mode.
  • Name a way that Mozilla makes money.
  • Name the first thing you do with Firefox when you get a new computer.
  • Name something you can do with a Firefox Account.
  • Name something in your browser you might want to sync.
  • Name a popular browser add-on.

The result?

Aside from a good time having been had for all, I think that the contestants came away with a renewed curiosity for the users’ perspective. The biggest surprise was that no one was able to guess that the biggest response to “Name something about using computers you hate.” was computer speed and sluggishness. Unlike the technology industry, regular people don’t automatically have their hardware replaced every two years.

If you’d like to run such an exercise, you will find that the code has been open sourced. And now with AI, you can process the clean up the survey results automatically. Enjoy!