App users: how to create a User Profile

by Andrea Maioli on 10/20/2016

In recent weeks I’ve tried to highlight the challenges that designing an app poses, especially for those of us who have already developed a lot of business software. To get off to the right start, we can do ourselves a favor by writing a few specific documents before starting the mockup.

In this article I’ll show you a practical example of the first of these documents, the User Profile, which describes the characteristics of the users of the application, their problems (pain) and how the app could help overcome them (gain).

Since I like to talk in practical terms, I thought of a common problem that a lot of people encounter in everyday life, and I tried to see if I could fix it by developing an app. The result is ToBuy, the best app for family shopping.

These are the best cases, because describing the characteristics of the typical user of the app is easy: simply consider your own experience. Other cases require a more complicated process of identifying with users, which in turn requires an initial phase to research and directly understand the categories of users that interest us. This is in fact the only way that we can understand who our future users are and what they actually want (the personas I mentioned in the previous article in this series).

But let’s get back to our shopping problem. Not all shopping is the same; in this case the solution focuses especially on people shopping for their families. So, what characteristics does a typical user have and how do they perform this task?

  1. Men and women of working age, with partners and children living at home, usually shop for the entire family at the same supermarket on the weekend. That means they have a long list of items (40-50 rows) in many different product categories.
  2. The list is written on a piece of paper before going shopping, working from another paper list of approximately 100 frequently purchased items. The list-making process is slow and relatively disorganized, so it’s not easy to keep track of the order that the merchandise is displayed in the supermarket.
  3. While shopping, users struggle to figure out what they need on each shelf, and they have to keep checking the list to see what’s left. Since it’s written on paper, users can’t even check off the list, so it’s hard to know if they’ve already bought everything.
  4. Users aren’t shopping just for themselves, so the list can even change while they’re shopping, usually as a result of a text to their phone, and of course there’s no guarantee that the shoppers will see that text. Also, users can’t make changes to the paper list, so they need to remember to add whatever was requested via text.
  5. If during the week family members notice that a certain item has nearly run out, the user and his or her family have to find a shared way to make note of this and then to remember it when making the list.
  6. For some types of items, like detergents, it can be hard to find the right one. It would clearly be very helpful if you could see a photo of the product.
  7. People may also go shopping with other family members. In this case, it’s very difficult to work as a team, because no one knows who has purchased what.

If you’ve read through this whole list, it’s now easier to picture an app that optimizes this specific process. Otherwise, any analysis of the app would have been generic, and maybe not suited to any actual type of shopping.

That can happen often: if you go to the app stores and download the shopping list apps, you’ll see that no one has been able to make it truly efficient for people who shop the way I described above. And that’s why I had to develop ToBuy!

Next week I’ll continue with an example of the second preliminary document: User Stories. In the meanwhile, if any of you would like to try writing a User Profile for me to read, I’d be happy to!

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