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The “average user experience” is a harmful distraction. Focus on extremes instead.

by Jared M. Spool

There is no “average user experience” for your product or service.

There is no “average user” of your product.

Averages don’t exist. They are not a real thing.

Pages don’t load in an average amount of time.

There is no average satisfaction score.

In the U.S., the average shoe size for men is 8¾.

Yet, who do you know that wears an 8¾? Nobody.

What can a shoe manufacturer do knowing that the average is 8¾? Nothing.

Similarly, you can do nothing by knowing the average user’s experience or who the average user is.

Every user is different, and every experience is different.

Averages take humanity out of our work. They ignore the experience of actual people. You can’t tell me what an average user does with your product. The average user isn’t real.

You can, however, tell me about the experience real users have. That’s right, a real person with an authentic experience. Not a mythical average person that doesn’t exist and is impossible to design for.

When we report averages, we’re reporting on no one, nothing. So when we spend time designing for the average experience, we distract ourselves from building something real people will use.

How can we get humanity back into our work?

We get humanity by focusing on real people and their experiences, focusing on the extremes.

Tell me about the person who has had the worst experience you’ve seen with your product. Not an imagined poor experience — an actual poor experience.

Better yet, tell me about the five people who had the worst experiences with your product out of everyone you’ve observed. What was it that made them such poor experiences? Were their experiences identical, dealing with the same issues?

Now, tell me about the person who has had the best experience with your design that you’ve ever seen. Again, not an imagined best experience — the actual best experience you’ve observed.

What made that fantastic experience different than the five worst experiences you observed?

The differences between the extremes are the most interesting.

When we focus on the extremes, we learn something about real people who have bad days and good days. We learn what makes each experience different. We learn what they might have in common.

We can design for real people’s experiences.

We’re making a big mistake when we work in averages.

Because the average experience doesn’t exist, we can’t see how to improve it.

If we were to average the five worst experiences with the five best experiences, we’d end up with a single mediocre experience that no real person ever had. And no clue how to make it better.

The extremes are where we see how the design has failed our users. We can see exactly where the design didn’t meet their needs. For example, we can see how what the user knew (or didn’t know) before using our design affected their experience.

By focusing on the extremes instead of the average, we see what we precisely need to do to improve our products and services. We can see what it means to improve people’s lives with better design. That’s what UX leaders do.

Averages are a harmful distraction. Focus on extremes instead.


Strategic Approaches to UX Research Intensive

The alternative to working with an “average user experience” is to have an in-depth understanding of who your users really are. That understanding comes when you up your research game and dive deep into your users’ experiences.

Look closely at our upcoming Strategic Approaches to UX Research intensive, June 3-7, to learn how your team can make this happen. 

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About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.

Strategic Approaches to UX Research

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