On user experience and meatballs

A certain client, let’s call him “Dad” (aka my husband, father of my children), approached me with a serious problem.

He had managed to create a very good product. An excellent meatball. It was round, big and of good complexion. Juicy and full of flavor from all its tomato sauce marinade. His product even ranked highly on the professional lists that count (i.e. my mom, his mother-in-law).

“So what’s the problem?” you and I both ask.

“My target user (our extremely active 4 year-old) just won’t eat it!” a frustrated Dad exclaimed, “I don’t understand, it is everything a good meatball should be. The best product on the market by far!”

The client “Dad” has already jumped to conclusions: the user is presenting early vegetarian tendencies! Please god no, not another vegetarian in the family (yours truly has been afflicted with this symptom since the age of 12).

In hopes of raising Dad’s spirit I venture a professional approach:

Me: “Does the meatball meet your user’s needs?”

Dad: “Well yes, he definitely needs meat.”

Me: “No, I mean does it fit the way he would want to eat the meatball?”

Dad: “Definitely! I would like to eat a meatball that looks just like that…”

Me: “We need to try to understand our target users’ experience”

A few observations, a questionnaire and one task analysis later we definitely feel we’ve made good progress in understanding our user. It’s the sauce. He doesn’t like the sauce, not the taste of it, but the texture. No sauce at all is the first major change to the product.

But still the dry-ish meatball doesn’t seem to do the trick.

Me: “Don’t give up just yet; let me observe him trying to eat it for a while”.

As I watch I have a thought, “Can this be? No harm in trying”. I quickly give the order: “Make them smaller! Much smaller!”.

Eureka! Success! Not only did the four year-old go for it, but his one year- old brother helped him clean-up the meatball dish.

Dad: “How did you figure it out?”

Me: “While I was observing I noticed that the original meatball was too big and heavy for his fork, it took him forever to finish and overall seemed a burden – not fun.”

By changing their size, the whole experience of eating meatballs changed. They became simpler to handle, easily held by a child’s hand or fork and did not dominate the dinner by staying on the plate forever. Eating the happily rolling-round-the-plate meatballs became fun!

Together, we’ve managed to transform a good product into a sellable product. Now our boys demand the meatballs every other day (oh, what have we done)…

Sometimes it’s all about User Experience (and having a husband who can cook).

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