A common mistake teams make is designing for a context their users don't have

Under time pressure it’s easy to design a service that works for those that understand a problem. But not those that do not.

In the last week or so a team released a question in a service that made sense to people who were doing something daily. But, how the question was written meant that people who did it once a week thought it applied to them. It did not.

The team were working under intense pressure. And getting a true outside perspective was hard. They lost sight of the fact that the large majority of the service’s users wouldn’t know the context of their work. Their policy and their question.

People answered wrong.

It’s easy to make this mistake. We’ve all made it.

There can be many ways a team develops this blindspot:

  • Overconfidence
  • Lack of time
  • Last minute changes to scope
  • Restrictions who you can talk to
  • User research only with users with knowledge of a policy

There are a few questions you can ask yourself or your team to try and guard against making this mistake. Such as:

  • Is this service used by people who don’t need to see this question/feature?

  • What number of people will understand this question?

  • Does this question or flow cater to the majority or a minority of journeys?
  • Is how we are wording a question presume a certain knowledge? And is that knowledge going to be common amongst our users?


When tasked with rapidly adding an important new journey or new feature it can be easy to give the new thing massive prominence. But new does not mean it’s something that the majority will use. Nor understand.

If you can, explore your new feature or question with those that understand. And those that don’t. Your biggest issues will always come from those that don’t understand. From those who don’t match the context you expect.

At the very least ask yourself, is this a feature or question something that the majority will know about.

If it is not, try to restrict who sees it. Or guard the question by optimising for the 80% journey. Not the minority.

Understand if your design works for those without context.

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