Visualize the future problems

When we create a new product or service, we do it to solve a problem. But usually we forget to see the problems we create with these new products. 

The problem of scale

0.1% is a lot when we are millions

In an age when we use services on a large scale, even tiny problems can become huge issues. This is something that Del Harvey VP of Trust & Safety at Twitter has understood well. When people post a photo on Twitter, the app removes all metadata of the photos. Why should Twitter bother about this? Because when a dissident journalist posts a live photo on Twitter, a tyrannic government might track him. The governement could use the geolocalisation data of the photo. If we remove the metadata, the government agents or any weird guy have more problems to get the position of the people who tweet. Del Harvey explains that well. When something happens one time every 10’000 it's unrelevant for small businesses. But when you have a scale like the one of twitter, the every tiny problem becomes a huge issue. 

The problem of misuses 

Happy and sad issues

When you create a new product or new service you open the door to new creativity. Chatroulette is a an example of a service that some weird people misused. At it launch this service put randomly in contact two strangers with video. A great app that lets people meet new people worldwide. But soon people misused the app for exhibitionism, pornography and shocking live videos. There are also happy misuses of service and applications. Twitter for example was first a kind of messaging service about personal things. It was good to keep your friends and family posted the small things. The things that happened hours after hours. But soon, journalist took it as a medium to share informations quicker. Experts use it to share pieces of knowledge. Freedom fighters use it to communicate. They share news about places where no journalist goes. 

Issues foresight

User Research, scale, and extreme people

People use service in unexpected ways. It sometimes leads to positive outcomes and sometimes to bad ones. If you are a product creator or service designer your job is to enable happy misuse. At the same time your job is also to protect people from bad misuse. So, you have to imagine what are the bad things that may happen after the product launch. I propose here three simple methods to get you started. 

The first thing you might do to find potential problems is to get your service tested. I don’t mean hear tested in a lab. No tested by real people, in real conditions. Give your app, product or service to people and let them discover it. Let them misuse it. Don’t explain them anything and they will show you how we can misuse your product. When you do user research don’t target only your standard customers. But also let extreme people test your service too. Let children play with it. Let elderly try it. Let creative, crazy, stupid people use it, destroy it. 

The second thing you can do is to thing about what will happen when things scale up. When do simple issue start to be something enormous? You don’t have to solve every problem at the beginning. But you should know at which moment in your growth you have to take care of it. 

The third and last thing you can do is to imagine what could happen when extreme people use your service. What happens if a pedophile uses your service? Can he harm someone? What happens when a serial killer uses it? What happens when a tyrannic government uses it? What could all these people do with it? If you are in the b2b business you might think that you don’t have to consider this advice. You are wrong. Companies like Basecamp have understood this well. They introduced in their new productivity tool a «working hours» feature for its notifications. It helps people to not see work related stuff when they are in their free time. If you are a b2b business your extreme and crazy people are the asshole manager, the stalker boss, the control freak and so on. There are crazy and extreme customers for any service and product. 

So, next time you build something visualize what are the bad things that might happen. Get your creation extensively tested. Imagine the problems that happen when you scale up. And finally imagine what crazy and extreme people could do with your creation.

Note

Protect but do not lock

You can’t protect people from everything, but you should at least take a moment to consider the biggest issues possible. 

The hard part in creating services is to know how much freedom to give and how much to lock things. You have to let enough freedom. Enough freedom to let people use your service or product with creativity. But at the same time you have to protect these same people from themselves and others. That’s why in Service Design and Agile product development there is iteration. You will always need to fix up things later. If you know that you have to fix things quickly then you can protect people. You then even can give enough freedom. Once you see that things could tip quickly to an unwanted behavior, iterate quickly.