How Garrett McKenzie Made Our Product Better

Garrett McKenzie, the CEO of a company called InVision, has been on a mission to make his product better.

“This Is For You, My Friend,” was the headline of this article when it first published on Medium. With permission, it has been reprinted here.


“Making someone happy is very essential. Make even one person happy.” —On user experience design, Frank Sinatra

New adventures await you.

When my team was getting ready to develop a new online application for small companies a few years ago, I met a wonderful new buddy called Garrett McKenzie. He’s the one up there.

Garrett was embarking on a new venture. He’d had a terrific run as a mortgage broker, but the property market crash had snatched it away from him. He’d recently turned 34 and was in desperate need of a new challenge. Garrett had chosen to turn his passion of cycling—and his life savings—into a new endeavor as a small-business owner after years of weekend hill climbs, wee hours spent watching live coverage of the Tour de France, and many bike tuneups and gear suggestions for friends.

Garrett’s Bike Shop first opened its doors in the spring of 2010, at the same time that we released our LivePlan program. That was not a fluke.


In 2014, Garrett’s Bike Shop will mark its fourth anniversary.

The benefit of creating something for a close buddy

Garrett wasn’t simply an intriguing person with great tales to share from the start. He was also a fantastic tester for our next product. Because LivePlan assists entrepreneurs with both upfront and ongoing business planning, I was preoccupied with all of the difficulties that come with establishing a new business. Meanwhile, in his everyday life, my buddy Garrett was grappling with the same issues. What unmet needs would his store address? How would he go about finding and attracting the appropriate clients? How would he come up with reasonable budgets and forecasts? Where would he get the additional funds he required?

I can’t emphasize how important it is to have a good buddy who is also a frequent user of your product. The requirements of the market and product designs may be quite abstract and speculative. But we weren’t dealing with theory anymore. We were simply trying to figure out what Garrett needed and come up with a solution that would be beneficial to him. Specific issues are usually simpler to resolve.

Garrett’s introduction to me

Garrett and I didn’t meet in the usual manner. That’s impossible since he doesn’t exist. (Wait, is this a spoiler?) Rather, over the course of hundreds of customer interviews, user surveys, casual encounters with local merchants and small-business owners, and other exploratory research, I gradually came to know him. Garrett gradually became acquainted with us.

Garrett may be a work of fiction, but he seems very real to my crew. Everyone here knows who he is: designers, storytellers, developers, and testers. His backstory. His qualifications and experience. His company’s objectives. What aspects of operating a company he enjoys, and where he’s most prone to become confused or frightened. He loves what sort of software interactions.

Someone with a Garrett’s Bike Shop shirt is typically in the circle during our daily standup meeting. He’s a member of the virtual team. Garrett, one of our friends.

Garrett’s tale isn’t one we tell. Our market informed us about him. We just had to pay attention.

Put your efforts into making the appropriate person happy.

Why go to the trouble of getting to know a very particular client? It’s all about concentration. Creating excellent goods requires a relentless concentration on getting the details just right. Distractions abound when you don’t have that concentration. Every feature has supporters, and every cause has champions. Understanding what you’re not attempting to do is just as essential as knowing what you are trying to accomplish, especially for entrepreneurs and innovators.

Demographics and broad preconceptions aren’t very helpful. You can’t develop a solution for a certain demographic—hello, soccer moms!—any more than you can paint a single picture that properly represents every citizen of your community. Furthermore, different individuals vary, and knowing how they differ is essential for making effective choices about fulfilling (or not meeting) their needs.


“Hell is other users,” says the narrator. —As a UX designer, Jean-Paul Sartre

In our situation, the market is filled with individuals who aren’t Garrett — sophisticated users with advanced degrees, spreadsheet jockeys who believe everyone likes CSV files, and CEOs of multi-division corporations. Sure, those individuals represent opportunity, but we can only deal with so many at once.

Garrett is the antidote to feature bloat, spending effort on seldom used features or tools that don’t function as users expect, and falling into the trap of attempting to please everyone. We don’t need to construct a machine that can do everything. All we have to do now is make Garrett happy, since we know from our research and speaking to our consumers that there are a lot of individuals that look, feel, and behave exactly like Garrett.

Treat your friends with respect.

“What does Garrett require?” is a crucial question for us to answer. But, after spending so much time getting to know him over the years, I’ve come to a better conclusion:

If Garrett were a buddy of mine, what would I tell him if he came to me for advice?

The response we’re looking for is that I would advise him to utilize our product precisely as it was intended. If that isn’t the case, our first goal should be to figure out where we’re falling short and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that it is.

This close-friend test is helpful throughout the organization. Is there anything about this website design that you’d be proud to show off to a friend? Would this price structure make sense and be straightforward to convey to a friend? Would you genuinely suggest the partner’s offer to a close friend of yours in this prospective partnership?

Real-life buddies vs. imaginary friends

Why not locate a genuine, real-life buddy who has a need for your product if treating the customer as a close friend is so valuable? That would be much better, wouldn’t it? Someone with whom you may converse, observe, and bounce ideas? In principle, yes; nevertheless, good luck finding the appropriate buddy for the task.

Allow me to give you an example. My close buddy Adam, who lives in Seattle and is one of my favorite people on the planet, became engaged in a new company a few years ago. He was working hard to learn about company ownership and management, and I was looking forward to our exciting cooperation. He’d put our software through its paces to see how it performed in the real world, and we’d fine-tune it based on his thorough comments to make it better and better.

We began a good discussion, but nothing came of it in the end. What’s to stop you? One issue was that Adam and I like discussing college football with one another.


Hello there, Adam. How many times have the Ducks defeated the Washington Huskies in a row now?

And it’s not just about football. Since college, Adam and I have exchanged thousands of texts about our illustrious alma mater (Go, Ducks!) and our families, as well as places we’ve been and things we’ve seen, read, written, and pondered. But we’ve never actually spoken about work before. I pushed him, wanting to learn more about his startup experience, and he attempted to be polite, but we eventually returned to chatting about football.

But there was another, more serious issue. While Adam’s specialized bridge-building business is interesting, it isn’t a good match for our broader target market. The majority of our prospective clients are service providers rather than product builders. Most don’t have any inventory to maintain. Most have just a few employees. Most businesses have short payment cycles, consistent cash flow, and minimal overhead.

I’d still want to learn more about Adam’s business’s difficulties, but doing a fantastic job of fulfilling his requirements may not be enough for the millions of entrepreneurs out there who look a lot like our buddy Garrett.

Where can you locate your own Garrett?

For a long time, designers have been constructing fictional ideal consumers like Garrett (also known as user personas). Some people adore them, while others despise them, and it’s worthwhile to study all sides’ views. The old adage that it takes months to develop a character and days to forget has some truth to it. However, in my experience, this is mainly due to the fact that many personalities are created in the incorrect direction.

On the topic of personalities, the greatest advise I’ve received is to start from the bottom and work your way up. Do your research, evaluate your results, and allow the information create your target users organically. As a result, you’ll have a picture of the facts—often one that may surprise you. By definition, the opposing method, which involves just sitting down and describing what you believe your ideal client looks like, is resistant to insights. It’s a collection of preconceptions and assumptions.

Garrett has shown to be a valuable member of my team, distilling a thousand complicated issues into a single, answered question:

“So, what would Garrett want us to do?” says the narrator.

“Oh, that’s simple. He wouldn’t give a damn about it. That’s all he’d want.”

“All right, then, let’s just concentrate on that.”

Find your Garrett, pay attention to what he has to say, and fulfill his needs—even if it means ignoring others. That’s a fantastic formula for producing excellent work.

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