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Don't Fall in Love with Your Product

I don’t know what your calendar is like, but at my company at the beginning of the year business and upper level IT managers will prioritize their needs and I’m assigned to different projects depending on priority. Sometimes at this time of the year the air feels electric. It's almost like going on a first date. Will the project be exciting? Will it match my skills?

It may sound silly to compare working on a new project to a first date. But, it's far more relevant than you might guess. While we want our users to fall in love with our products, it's wrong for us as technologists to fall in love with them. If we do, we lose the objectivity we need to keep our biases out of our work and we lose the ability to clearly see and measure the results of our work.

Psychology of Attraction

First, let's learn a little about how falling in love works. There are three stages: 

  • Craving or lust - is used to filter all our options into a group of what we desire in some way. 
  • Attraction - helps us focus our energy onto a single person or item in that group. 
  • Attachment - makes the real person or item tolerable for a longer term-commitment. 

The psychology of attraction is what we, as product creators, need to understand. During the attraction stage we pull the object of our affection into our subjective reality without seeing its blemishes while exaggerating its good qualities. We do this by deceiving ourselves and our brains even rewire themselves in a process called limbic revision. Attraction creates the longer lasting thrill and results in lasting tenderness after attraction has worn off. So love in this way really is an illusion. We are wired to lose all objectivity when we fall in love, no matter the object of that affection.

Because we are creating the subjective experience for our users and the layer of illusion around our product, we have to be able to see the ugliness and failings of our product. But, we are susceptible to falling in love with our products because our involvement is done in the same way we attach when falling in love – we have intense and exclusive focus on the application, we have intimate knowledge of why it exists and how ever little part works and we have a vision for and are invested in its success.

Detriments to Falling in Love with Our Product

If we fall in love with our product, we are no longer able to remain objective. We gain none of the benefits of love and all of the detriments:

  • We maintain an illusion of the product instead of seeing the potential problems. 
    • We have the false impression of the product as being objectively exceptional.
    • We exaggerate our satisfaction with the product. 
    • Our product seems absolutely intuitive.
    • We will dismiss feedback because we know the product handles the problem and are baffled when others just don't get it.
  • We set up potential conflict within our team and/or the company.
    • We believe that we have singular insight into the product.
    • We avoid conflict to our view of the product at all cost or we we take a stand against changes because we believe the product is perfect or that our opinion (values and ideals) is the right one. 
    • We exaggerate our contributions to the product.
  • We may deliver the wrong functionality. 
    • We seek and only hear superficial feedback that doesn't threaten our fundamental beliefs and desires for the product. 
    • We project our personal values and ideals into the product. 
    • We search for, interpret, or prioritize information in a way that confirms our beliefs or hypotheses.
    • We make systematic errors in evaluating and/or trying to find reasons for our own and others' behaviors. 
    • Our version of the product takes preference to any other potential versions or solutions.

How to Keep from Falling in Love

Keeping ourselves from falling in love with our product can be difficult. We've all done it. Sometimes it's the technology we're using to produce it that gets us. Sometimes it's the cool interactions we designed into it. But, we can avoid falling in love with our product. Here are some suggestions to help keep our objectivity as we're working on projects:

  • Make sure to listen to understand and to really hear other people's opinions. 
  • Remember your product is only one of the potential solutions. 
  • Remember your voice is not the most important one. 
  • Recognize when a decision is fundamentally a subjective one and ensure that all other decisions are made as objectively as possible. 
  • Base your decisions on user-based rational and not on gut feelings or opinions. 
  • Take time to understand biases, how to best neutralize them and how to talk openly about them when you are making decisions. 
  • Do not treat the product as a reflection of yourself. 
  • Be cognizant of your feelings and recognize when you feel self-important or defensive in relationship to the product. 
  • Be sensitive to teammates questioning your objectivity.
  • Create safe words to use for when someone may be starting to fall in love with the product, "Jeanne I think you're 'flipping pancakes' on this one." 
  • Learn how people work through psychology, physiology and philosophy. 

This doesn't mean we shouldn't be in love with our work. Love is what drives passion. Instead we should love our personal process of creation. This process is our companion throughout our careers. This is where we should align our values, ideals and self-perceptions and this is what we should develop a deep attachment to. Our process should grow and evolve every time we go through it and we should take time to reflect on it to gain new insights. As the very early '70s Stephen Stills song went, "Love the one you're with."

Based on a presentation given by Jason Civjan at World Usability Day, Seattle, 2014


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