March 18, 2015

Am I Talking to the Right Users?

For the past month or so, I’ve been playing around with the idea of developing a CAD add on for Blender. Blender is a free and open source tool for animators and game designers. You can make some very impressive 3D artwork with Blender. Some people even use it for 2D animation. While it is good for modeling and sculpting organic shapes, you have to take many twists and turns and make it work for precision modeling, tools commonly found in CAD software.

Take a very basic CAD feature: specifying the length of an edge. In Blender, you have to either use the ruler or edge length tool to measure the edge. Then you do a little division of the target length divided by current length. Then you scale it by the result of that division. Now, I’ve gotten used to this schlep, but come on, it’s no good.

I’ve been noodling around with the idea of writing an Add On for some basic CAD features. I’ve poked around at Blender user groups and forums, just to see if there are interest in such a tool.

I foud, though, that besides a few crazies like me, most Blender users do not need to be super precise. They are modeling animation characters and art, not household component parts that require specific measurements. Because Blender does not have these tools, they tend to not attract these types of modelers. So if I look to current Blender users to validate the need for such an add on, I am perhaps not looking in the right place.

I wonder how often companies and product designers face this issue. They come up with some idea, validate it with their current user base, and end up with the wrong conclusions because they talked to the wrong people. Maybe their product is to solve a problem with non-users and they only talked to current users.

I see variations of this problem at previous companies I’ve worked at, where it’s easier to talk to long time users because they are always accessible and ready to share feedback. But sometimes, product designers need to help new users, not experienced users. And new users face very different problems. We end up improving niche features for a small (but powerful) segment of our community, and miss the big opportunities because we are not talking to new users or non-users. After all, there are a lot more new users than existing users, and there are a lot more non-users than new users. This isn’t to say existing users and power users are not important, but that sometimes we miss other pieces of the pie, or miss opportunities for making a bigger pie. And we all love pie.

PS. If anybody wants to help with Blender CAD add on (developers, testers, people to advocate for specific features you’d find useful), visit