UX Dogfooding: What, How and Why
It’s become part of the water cooler conversation in IT and related industries; people keep talking about “dogfooding” or “eating your own dog food.” However, this isn’t just something somebody thought up to be gross. It’s a way to think about how a company works in relation to the products and services it provides, and it’s something that can be more helpful to career pros and executives than you might think.
The idea of dogfooding is catching on in UX design and other parts of the business world because it helps draw those connecting lines between businesses and their customers and helps UX and IT pros build more credible user-oriented models. In a world where “engagement means everything,” these kinds of practices are being instituted for common-sense strategies involving proof of a tech company’s hard work.
Essential Principles of Dogfooding
In one sense, the term dogfooding was coined to talk about tough work. In IT, it’s the work of dealing with a sophisticated code base, going through a system or interface and either looking for, or encountering, problems that programmers haven’t fixed yet.
A more positive way to look at dogfooding is that its technical definition means companies use their own products. For example, the company that makes CRM dashboards could use its own CRM dashboard for its own business operations.
Dogfooding in UX Design
In UX design, dogfooding would consist of things like inspecting a UX tool developed in-house, doing beta testing with it or exploring a prototype. Again, the implication is that this will involve a tough slog. Although the term dogfooding sounds derogatory and probably was meant that way, there’s a really good side to it. Two, in fact.
First, dogfooding UX applications and methods is useful for testing them. Instead of dropping bugs on a diversified set of users after release, dogfooding helps to ensure that a special, elite set of users (and those employed by the company) are on the front lines, fixing the glitches.
Walk the Walk
Dogfooding also does another important thing; it shows the world that the company stands behind what it makes and what it does. It’s the corporate equivalent of “putting your money where your mouth is,” and ultimately, it’s a good idea for user design firms to adopt this kind of principle.
The Sympathy Principle
Need another reason to adopt a dogfooding approach? This article by Shane O’Donnell on Universal Mind says it well. O’Donnell talks about how dogfooding supports user sympathy, the idea that the makers of products and services have shared a common experience with customers, and that’s critically important. After all, user design is inherently end-user based.
Think about how easy it can be for outsiders to accuse a UX professional of being out of touch; for some, dogfooding is a kind of protective magic bullet against this kind of criticism. It shows a history of being engaged and knowledgeable about what someone has created, and that’s another reason why it’s become a pretty big trend.
Go Try It
So, the next time you’re faced with internal beta testing or the need to comb through product specifications, or the boss asks you to set up a usability lab to simulate the end user experience, think about how putting in this effort often gives firms a solid advantage in UX design and other markets.