Laura Klein

Laura has spent over 15 years in Silicon Valley as an engineer, UX designer, and product manager. Her goal is to help lean startups learn more about their users so that they can build better products. Her popular design blog, Users Know, teaches product owners exactly what they need to know to do just enough research and design. She is currently a mentor at Tradecraft and an advisor to several early stage startups.

Tweaking personas: Mastering the hunt for the ideal user

Personas are a useful tool, almost always used badly.


Register for the UX Design for Growth — Improving User Conversion training session with Laura Klein. In this online, interactive training workshop, Klein, author of “UX for Lean Startups,” will teach you to design for product growth.

Personas have always struck me as a potentially useful tool that is almost always used badly. In theory, they’re great. Who doesn’t love a deliverable that is designed to get everybody on the team more familiar with the ideal user? Why wouldn’t we create something to help us focus our design and engineering efforts around the real people using our products?

Unfortunately, the reality rarely lives up to the hype. Personas, as they are created in many organizations, aren’t nearly as useful as they could be. They’re rarely based on real user insights developed during research. They tend to be overly broad and generalized. They’re descriptive, rather than predictive. And that’s just a few of the things people get wrong. Read more…


Knowing when not to design

Don’t waste time on features that users don’t want.


Attend “UX Design for Growth,” a training session by Laura Klein that will give you the skills you need to design products that convert and retain users.

After many years as a designer, I’ve realized that some of the most important design decisions have nothing to do with what any of us consider design. Instead of designing the perfect version of a feature, sometimes the best thing we can do is learn that we shouldn’t build the feature in the first place.

In my all-day, online workshop on September 15, 2015, I’ll be talking about another aspect of building products: how to make them grow. Potentially fabulous products fail every day because product managers and UX designers don’t spend enough time thinking about how their product is going to be discovered by new users.

The following is an excerpt from my book, UX for Lean Startups, where I give one practical tip for learning whether or not you should build a specific feature for your product. If you’d like some practical tips on getting people to start using all those features you decide to build, please join me on September 15th for my UX Design for Growth training session. Read more…


7 user research myths and mistakes

Finding the holes in qualitative and quantitative testing.


Attend our live training event, “UX Design for Growth — Improving User Conversion,” on September 15, 2015, starting at 10 a.m. PT. Author Laura Klein will teach you to design for product growth.

I can’t tell you how often I hear things from engineers like, “Oh, we don’t have to do user testing. We’ve got metrics.” Of course, you can almost forgive them when the designers are busy saying things like, “Why would we A/B test this new design? We know it’s better!”

In the debate over whether to use qualitative or quantitative research methods, there is plenty of wrong to go around. So, let’s look at some of the myths surrounding qualitative and quantitative research, and the most common mistakes people make when trying to use them.
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Building the right thing vs. building the thing right

Usability does not determine usefulness.

Register for the UX Design for Growth — Improving User Conversion training session with Laura Klein. In this online, interactive training workshop, Klein, author of “UX for Lean Startups,” will teach you to design for product growth.

Cantilever_bridge_human_modelI love it when companies test prototypes. Love love love it. But it makes me incredibly sad when they use prototype testing for the wrong thing.

First, let me give you my definition of “prototype testing.” I often build interactive, or semi-interactive, prototypes when designing a product. These prototypes are not actual products. They’re simulations of products. People who see the prototype can often click around them and perform some simple tasks, but they’re generally not hooked up to a real backend system.

“Well, what good is that?” you might reasonably ask. Excellent question. Interactive prototypes are incredibly useful for finding problems in usability testing settings. In a checkout flow, you might create a simple interactive prototype and watch four or five people go through the process (with test accounts) in order to find out if there were any parts of the flow they found confusing or hard to use.

It’s a great technique for any reasonably complicated interaction that you want to test before you spend a lot of time writing code. Interactive prototype testing can save you a ton of time because it helps you make sure that you’re building the product right before you spend a lot of time and money actually writing code.

However, the thing I see all the time is people using prototypes to try to validate that they’re building the right product. Stop it. Stop it right now.

Let me explain. The common pattern is that people go out and do some research on a problem (yay!) and then their next step is to build a prototype of their solution in order to show it to people and get feedback.

This is a wonderful thing to do. You should absolutely show your prototype to people in order to get feedback. You just shouldn’t expect feedback about whether or not anybody will actually buy or use your product. In other words, you can’t use a prototype to learn if you are building the right product.

Why not? Well, it has to do with the nature of doing qualitative research on a prototype.

Imagine that you ask somebody to look at your product. Maybe you stopped them on the street. Maybe they answered an ad on Craigslist. Maybe it’s a friend or a friend of a friend. You ask them a few questions about their life or job. Then you show them something that looks kind of like a product. They can click around and input some data. They can perform a few tasks. Then you ask them if they would use this product when it becomes available in a couple of months or weeks.

They will overwhelmingly say, “yes.” If they don’t say yes, they will say, “probably,” or, “no, but my cousin would use it.” You will get a huge number of false positives for all of the following reasons:

  • People want to be polite and helpful.
  • People dramatically overestimate their willingness to adopt new things.
  • People are bad at predicting the future.
  • People are bad at extrapolating real product behavior from an interactive prototype.

None of these problems come into play when you’re using a prototype to test for usability because usability testing is about evaluating facts. It answers questions like:

  • Will a reasonable person be able to perform a specific task?
  • Will a normal person get confused by the messaging?
  • Am I building this product right?

Testing for usefulness, on the other hand, is about trying answer questions like:

  • Will a lot of people buy my product at some uncertain point in the future?
  • Is this product the best solution to a problem?
  • Am I building the right product?

And these are simply not things you can answer with prototype testing.

But don’t worry. All hope is not lost. You can still test whether you’ve got the right solutions to problems before you build an entire product. You just need to validate in other ways. Important ways. Ways I’m not going to go into right now, but I covered a few of the key points in my talk at the Lean Startup Conference in 2013 though, and you can see a video of that here.

Public domain image on article and category pages via Wikimedia Commons.

Comment: 1

Don’t Allow Behaviors. Encourage Them!

Increase your product engagement by telling users what to do.

As a consultant, I’ve talked to a lot of startups who have “social” products. You could tell that the products were “social” because they had comment sections and sharing icons that let people post to Pinterest or Facebook.

Of course, one of the things that the founders complain about is that too few users are actually making comments or sharing or doing anything remotely social with the product.

There’s a very simple reason for this: the founders have added features to their product that allow users to be social rather than encouraging them to be social.

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Not Your User’s Problem

Understanding the Difference Between User Problems, Business Needs, and Solutions

First, let me say that I love all the emphasis on Customer Development, Early User Research, and Product Market Fit that I’ve been seeing these days. What I don’t love is the massive confusion that often comes along with it.

There’s a particular type of confusion I’ve seen on teams at the very beginning of the product development process that I’d like to try to clear up. Or possibly add to. We’ll see.

Some people don’t seem to understand the difference between a Business Need, a User Problem, and a Solution. But you have to understand the difference, because if you don’t, you’ll end up doing the wrong sort of research and designing the wrong product.

A Business Need

At its very simplest, a Business Need is what a product will do for your company. This can often be expressed in the form of a metric that needs to be moved or a hypothesis about how building a new feature or product will make you a billionaire.

Here are some examples of business needs:

  • Improve the conversion rate on a landing page so that we get more people trying our product.
  • Increase revenue by selling more widgets.
  • Get more registered users for free by getting our current users to share our product.
  • Increase engagement with our product so that people are more likely to be retained users.
  • Build a huge user base so that we can eventually monetize it.

What’s interesting about these Business Needs? Well, in one way or another, all of these things, if executed correctly, should eventually increase our revenue or decrease our spend. We need to do these things to have a viable business. But there are all sorts of ways to do them, some of which are great for users and others that aren’t.

To identify a business need, typically you’re going to want quantitative data. You need to know what your metrics are in order to figure out which ones need to be higher. You don’t determine a business need by talking to users.

Obviously business needs might be caused by user problems. For example, if your onboarding process is hard to use, you could have low conversion rates. But the business need is increasing the conversion rate, which you might do in a number of different ways.

A User Problem

Your users have problems. Some of the problems they’ll pay you to solve for them. Some of the problems you’re probably causing for them with your terrible UX. Some of the problems they don’t even know they have.

Here are a few examples of user problems:

  • It’s hard to share documents across different computers.
  • The first time experience with a particular product is confusing and complicated.
  • The user can’t use an app when it’s not connected to the Internet.
  • A person has trouble finding a good hair salon in her area and booking an appointment.

You’ll note that these user problems are all quite different. The first one inspired lots of companies, like DropBox. The second one is common to many products. The third one is mobile specific. The fourth one could be solved by a number of different types of products, some of which are quite low tech. There are roughly an infinite number of other user problems that could exist.

The common factor here is that these are problems experienced by humans. The other common factor is that there is no guarantee that solving a user problem will actually fulfill a business need. Sure, solving problems for people is generally a good thing, but there are some user problems that people will pay you to solve and others that they won’t.

To identify a user problem, your best bet is observational and generative research. Watch people in the wild using your product or other products. Follow people around while they perform various tasks or do their jobs. Understand the things that make life difficult for people and then identify the biggest, most important problems that you could solve for them.

A Solution

A solution, as the name implies, is how you solve a problem. Ideally, your solution will solve a user problem which will fix a business need.

Here are a few examples of solutions: Read more…

Comment: 1

Mobile First? Not So Fast!

Why "flow" and "context" are more important than screen size

Are we done with the Mobile First meme, yet? Can we be? Please?

Look, don’t get me wrong. I fundamentally agree with a lot of the thoughts behind the annoying catchphrase “mobile first.” For example, I agree that mobile devices are now the primary (if not only) mode of connecting for many markets. I also think that having some sort of mobile strategy is absolutely required for almost every product.


The problem is that “mobile first” often equates “mobile” with “small screen” or “responsive layout” or “native vs. mobile web.” Now, those are all incredibly important decisions. But if you’re thinking about the size of your screen or the technology you’re going to use first, you are designing wrong.

Of course, if you’ve read anything else I’ve ever written, you know that the first thing you must figure out is an important customer problem or need that your product is aimed at solving for real people. We’re going to just skip over that whole part where you get to know your most important users. But that’s always first. Promise.

Once you’ve done all that though, you need to start designing. And there are two things that you should always know before you even start considering things like screen size or technology.

Those two things are: Flow and Context.

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How to Get Fast, Cheap Feedback on Your Product with Tiny Tests

User research you can do now

There’s a lot of advice about how to do great user research. I have some pretty strong opinions about it myself.

But, as with exercise, the best kind of research is the kind that you actually DO.

So, in the interests of getting some good feedback from your users right now, I have some suggestions for Tiny Tests. These are types of research that you could do right this second with very little preparation on your part.


What is a Tiny Test?

Tiny Tests do not take a lot of time. They don’t take a lot of money. All they take is a commitment to learning something from your users today.

Pick a Tiny Test that applies to your product and get out and run one right now. Oh, ok. You can wait until you finish the post.

Unmoderated tests

Dozens of companies now exist that allow you to run an unmoderated test in a few minutes. I’ve used many times and gotten some great results really quickly. I’ve also heard good things about Loop11 and several others, so feel free to pick the one that you like best.

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Laura Klein’s Six Reasons Founders Should Learn UX Design Now

The only thing harder to find than a great designer is a unicorn

I know, I know. Founders and entrepreneurs are already being told that they need to learn how to code, hire, raise money, and get customers.

Screw that. What founders and entrepreneurs should really do is learn how to build a useful product. And that means learning the fundamentals of research and design.

Don’t believe me? Here are six reasons you should be your own UX designer (or at least learn enough about UX design to fake it).

1. You need to know what problem you’re solving and for whom

GPS solved the problem of getting lost when going to new places. Kindle solved the problem of my entire house filling up with books I’d already read. Instagram and other similar tools solved the problem of how to share all those great photos on your phone with your friends.

Of course, not every product idea solves a problem, and not every problem is something that people are willing to pay you to solve. That’s why it’s so important to learn the fundamentals of customer development and user research.

If you know how to validate your product ideas, you’ll be able to more accurately predict which products solve important problems for large groups of people. This means that you’ll be more likely to build something that lots of people want to pay you for.

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