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chapter 4

Understanding the user

Measure twice and cut once: planning starts with the user

Proper discovery and planning are the most important steps you can take to make your product a success, and the cost of neglecting them can’t be understated. 

Skimping on these steps increases the risk for rework, wastes time, and slows the entire effort. Not only does the app you create with Skuid need to do what you designed it to do; it needs to solve a tangible problem or make someone’s job easier.

Before you start building your app, spend some time on this question: Who is this for and how does it solve their problems?

Stakeholder questions when designing an app

Who will be using the app?
What are they trying to do?
How do they do it now?
What are the challenges in today's process?
What are steps missing right now?
Are any of today's steps irrelevant?
How do you measure performance or success?

Remember, custom apps are only valuable if they are designed for the end-user. Start with the human need and the problem to solve, and this informs what features will help users easily reach their goals.

The real purpose of every app that you build: enabling people to take advantage of super-complex technology without forcing them to understand what's going on behind the scenes.
Ken McElrath headshot
Ken McElrath

Founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Skuid

Employ human-centered design

Following the tenets of human-centered design (HCD) will help us to understand how to begin this process. Rather than starting the conversation with a discussion of the tech stack or budget, HCD tells us to put the user front and center. It’s all about people, how they interact with technology, and how it helps them to do their best work and accomplish their goals.

“Understanding how users feel about your application helps you avoid poor adoption and create better apps in the future,” says Ken McElrath, founder and chief strategy officer at Skuid.

“If you hear users say it takes too long to get to the information they need in your app, or that the steps to enter or extract valuable customer information takes too many steps, you likely have a design issue. Similarly, if you find it necessary to incentivize users to use the system because they don’t feel it’s going to help them work smarter despite industry data to the contrary, then you likely have a design issue.”

Human-centered design balances three aspects:

Does the user want it?
Can we build it?
Can we do so profitably?

We recommend first focusing on desirability because if the app isn’t wanted, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s feasible or viable. 

Of course, feasibility and viability need to follow for a product to be successful, but they are supporting arguments rather than the main reason to build a product. 

The next question, then, is what makes an app desirable?

Here are four key traits of a desirable, well-designed app:

We can use the app to complete tasks and accomplish goals.
We perform tasks faster and/or easier than before.
It’s easy to use the app without training or consulting a manual.
Visual appeal, smoothness, and other aesthetic components inspire confidence in the app and the people who created it.

Identify the user champion

During the design process, get specific about user needs. Instead of, "How will this app help accounting or sales?" ask "How can I help Michael generate monthly invoices on time?" or "How can I help Samantha close more deals faster?"

Not only will this give you a concrete frame of reference for better decision-making during the development process, but it also gives you a voice to inform your work throughout every stage of the project. 

Your user champion is a valuable source of information and feedback, and once the app is live, their buy-in is crucial for getting department-wide adoption. They’re the intermediary between the user and the business analyst or developer.

Key traits to look for in selecting a user champion


Successful at what they do


Admired by their peers


A natural leader (even if they aren’t in a leadership role)


Cares deeply about the problems you’re trying to solve

Make sure that the user champion not only experiences pain points daily but knows there’s a better way and has the drive to see the solution through to the end. A true user champion understands the problem in a way that’s deep and intuitive. It’s your job to draw that out and design an app that people want to use.

Engage the user from the start

Once you’ve selected a user champion, get them involved with the product from the beginning. 

Clearly define their role and the expectations surrounding it (both for them and the development team) so that everyone is on the same page.

For instance, decide if your user champion should join the technical stand-ups at the beginning of each sprint, have daily check-ins, or even just communicate regularly through email. What’s most important is establishing channels of open communication and setting expectations for how you’ll work together as you move through the project.

Next, work together to define what it means for the app to be successful. What problems will it solve? What do they envision the app providing for users? How does it look and behave?

Remember, we’re not focused on the technology itself here. We’re talking about outcomes. These give us a vision, and our work then becomes filling in the blanks to achieve it.

Involve the user throughout the project lifecycle

In the next section, we’ll cover the five Ds that guide us through a successful project: discovery, definition, design, development, and deployment. Although we’ll go into more detail on these phases, the user champion will play a key role in each stage.

In the discovery phase, they’ll provide key input as described earlier. During definition, they'll review synthesized data collection and conclusions for accuracy. In design, they’ll ensure that wireframes meet their visual and functional objectives. And in the development phase, they’ll provide critical feedback for sprint demos.

When it comes time for deployment, the user champion will be crucial for creating user documentation and training, as well as getting end-user buy-in and adoption. As the key stakeholder, they represent the end-users’ interests and know what they need more than anyone else. Their input will prove key for adoption.

Finally, the user champion will continue to play a role as you iterate and improve the application. They’ll help to collect and curate feedback from the rest of the users. Just as they represent the users during development, they’ll do the same after deployment. 

Remember that app development is only successful if it solves a human problem. Failing to spend time understanding the user will inevitably result in an app that doesn’t get adopted or is used begrudgingly. Taking time at the outset to understand the user will result in a smooth and fast process. Slow is steady and steady is fast.