Silicon Valley is known for lots of things, not least: the ‘bubble.’ I’m not talking a bubble in terms of billion-dollar valuations, I’m talking about Bubble Boy.
Bubble Boy is allergic to everything and can’t go explore the world, so he stays inside his bubble. That’s the perfect analogy for the way Silicon Valley thinks and builds when it comes to technology product development around “big ideas.”
Traditionally, many startups have been afraid to engage in the big industries of government, healthcare, agriculture, transportation, and the like. And for good reason: it’s an uphill battle against well-established companies, in industries reluctant to change. And so, TechCrunch readers are instead delighted with new selfie photo filters and to-do list apps that don’t solve real-world problems.
Over the last several years, federal incentives to get doctors to transition to electronic medical records sprouted incalculable amounts of startup interest and investment in healthcare technology, and it’s been good for government, doctors, patients, and business. One would hope that businesses capitalizing on the opportunity also share in the impetus to do good in the world and to do right by patients – but instead we’ve seen a dozen electronic medical records startups that treat the patient experience as an afterthought.
Electricians, commercial truck drivers, fast food line cooks, lawyers, on-the-road musicians, elementary school teachers, and stay-at-home parents all have different tolerances and relationships with technology, but they’re all consumers of healthcare. The way engineers, user experience designers, and product managers think about how technology should work in everyday life is largely limited and influenced by their own desires, experiences, and biases. It’s only natural.
Talking to your users is a basic fundament in user experience design, and it’s being lost in the aggressive war to be first with a ‘minimum viable product.’ Think about the people you don’t think about and don’t want to think about, and listen to them.
If you’re trying to solve an agriculture problem, it’s difficult to sit in a bean bag chair in a hacker space and intuitively know what the solution is. You have to live, breathe, dream, and experience the individual pain points your user experiences; you have to be — at least in your mind — a farmer.
If you’re trying to fix healthcare delivery, you have to think about people with kids, people without an iPhone, and people who live in shelters.
The social web, big data, new communication methods, and mobile apps are all incredibly important as we try to solve problems in the world. But sometimes, with some populations, a mailed document will have a bigger impact than a flashy UI redesign someone can’t even access; an automated phone system might be more helpful than a mobile app for someone who uses a flip phone.
Let people consume and interact on their own terms. Eliminate frustrations, be forgiving, and don’t dismiss technology non-adopters as outliers — they probably aren’t.
These big, vicious industries will reward companies that pull themselves out of the petri dish of the same solutions for the same problems that haven’t gone away.
Silicon Valley can and should lead, but it also needs to listen and learn. Time spent learning is never wasted, and will probably save money and pain in the long run.