You know your product best. You know every feature, how it all works, the bugs, nuances and hiccups too. You know what’s coming next in the product roadmap. You definitely know more than your customers, right?
Yup, you have the Curse of Knowledge.
The Curse of Knowledge is described in Dan and Chip Heath’s book, Made to Stick. The basic concept is that the more you know about a subject (the more you become an expert) the harder it is for you to communicate your knowledge. The more you know, the harder it becomes to understand and appreciate that others don’t know as much.
Startups are often struck by the Curse of Knowledge, specifically when it comes to product design and development.
It becomes so easy to design products based on our own expertise (in those very products) and ignore the fact that we’ve stopped designing with our customer top of mind. This is when you start to see meaningless icons and clever UIs (or just plain confusing UIs) bubble to the surface. Icons and clever UIs are easy to use when you “know everything about the product” and make the assumption that others know as much as you, and will respond the same way. Des Traynor has a great blog post about this: The Language of Interfaces. One of his key points is, “clear first, clever second.”
The Curse of Knowledge pushes us towards clever and complex, because we’re already such experts in our own products we want to take them to “the next level.” Except too often, we’re leaving customers behind.
The first step to solving the problem is to genuinely recognize that you have the Curse of Knowledge. Then keep that top of mind – and more importantly, keep your customers front and center – whenever doing any product design and development. Make sure you do usability testing with customers and non-customers (because you want to know how well non-customers on-board into becoming customers!) Make sure you test. Make sure you listen. Make sure you simplify, simplify, simplify. Make sure you talk in your customer’s voice when designing your product. Really put yourself in their shoes and brain space. The Curse of Knowledge can quickly ruin a good idea and a good product. It might not be obvious immediately, but over time, iteration after iteration, as your product gets more complex and confusing, it will lose what customers originally loved about it. And you may not even notice, or know why customers are leaving, if you don’t face the Curse head on.