A lesson in seeking input from your target audience, as learned from the movie ‘Pretty in Pink’

It’s crunch time again: Just one more iteration to go before code freeze in our next dot-X release. And once again we’re right down to the wire, hoping to get the marquee feature done on time.

A lot of work went into the design from a UX perspective. Customer calls, use cases, design reviews with peers in UX and Architecture, and even a preview of UI mockups with a key customer to get early feedback.

However, we just had the second-to-last sprint review (it was about a five iteration project) and seeing the feature nearly complete raised several concerns from the internal stakeholders. There are some places where they think users will be confused. And there’s a bigger, underlying concern that the feature won’t meet the users’ expectations.

After all that work the feature still seems a little shaky. But for the love of God, why?

I think I know the answer. And there’s a lesson from the movie ‘Pretty in Pink‘ that explains why. Well, the lesson actually comes from the making of the movie. Let me explain.

One of the great Brat Pack movies of the 80s: Pretty in Pink

A while back I read a book called, “You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and their Impact on a Generation“. It was a perfect guilty-pleasure read about a bunch of iconic teen films from the 1980s like “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, and yes, “Pretty in Pink”.

Awesome guilty-pleasure book for anyone who grew up in the 80s or just loves these classic teen films.

For those who aren’t familiar with the movie Pretty in Pink (which should be nobody, come on!) it’s a teenage romance about a punky high school girl from the wrong side of the tracks named “Andie” who falls for a dreamy rich guy, “Blane”. Her best friend, a boy named “Duckie”, is secretly in love with Andie, too. Much drama ensues as Andie and Blane try to establish a relationship across social classes in advance of their Senior Prom, with all of their friends seemingly against them and treating them badly.

What I learned in the book is that the original script had Andie hooking up with Duckie in the end. It was supposed to be a tale of true love born of friendship vs. falling for the rich, dreamy, popular guy (aka the Prince Charming) and riding off into the sunset. Hooray for the underdog!

And this is how they shot the ending at first. But when they screened the film with the target audience the teenage girls threw a fit. “No, no, no! She can’t end up with Duckie! She has to get with Blane!”

The kids loved the rest of the movie but they hated the ending. And in the exit surveys, they ended up saying that they hated the film.

After getting this feedback, the filmmakers went back and re-shot the ending so that Andie would indeed get together with Blane and when the movie was finally released it went on to become a huge blockbuster hit.

So what’s the connection to UX and the big marquee feature that my company is trying to get out the door?

If you’re looking for a commercial success, there’s no substitute for getting direct feedback from your target audience on a ‘final version’ of your project . Final version being in quotes, of course, because the point is to get feedback and make the necessary changes before you release. And in our case, we haven’t tested a complete version of the working feature with users yet. So we’re left guessing at how things will turn out.

You can’t assume that just because you’ve met your ‘artistic vision’ that your project will automatically resonate with the audience. Sure, you know them well and you’re smart and creative and passionate and have done all the things you know how to do to make something great. (You have done that, right?) But in the end, they’re the judge of what works. They determine your success or failure. They need a chance to see what you’ve done and give their opinion.

So getting something to ‘Done’ doesn’t mean just finishing up all the work items in the backlog. It means putting it into the users’ hands and getting feedback. And planning a project doesn’t mean squeezing in a bunch of stuff that just barely fits into the allotted time and rushing it out the door. It means plotting out a schedule that delivers working features with time to get direct user feedback NOT JUST ALONG THE WAY (in each iteration) but also at the end, when everything comes together and people can get a feel for the totality of the work.

If you can do that, you’ll remove those nagging doubts and replace them with solid evidence that tells you that you’re on to something good.

So queue up that last round of usability testing! And get ready for real success.





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