You are not your customer

I was first exposed to Markdown in 2010. We needed a way to embed rich, well-formatted text in a website and I figured this syntax would be the easiest way to do so.

Markdown came with me to my next job where I built a bespoke content management system for the team. Every page was editable, assuming you were logged in. Markdown made it easy for anyone with access to manage the content on the site.

And it was a failure.

The problem was that I built a tool for engineers. For people who thought like me and could work with abstract logic. Like text wrapped in underscores being italicized. Or brackets delimiting links.

Our content editors couldn’t figure it out and kept trying to paste already-formatted blocks of text from Microsoft Word into the edit boxes. This kind of worked, because the editor respected HTML markup (and Word helpfully exported as exactly that). But it was a painful experience for everyone involved.

It doesn’t matter if you like it

It wasn’t until much later that I understood the problem. Talking with a marketing expert and entrepreneur, she explained to me a very important point. “When you start a company and come up with a name, whether or not you like the name doesn’t matter. You are not the customer.”

I love Markdown. It’s how I format my blog drafts if I lack access to the WordPress editor. It’s how I draft notes on my computer. It’s how I laid out the entire content of my first book.

But in many cases, the things I personally like are not good fits for everyone. I like coffee – my family hates it. I like vegetarian burgers – a lot of folks question that. Markdown is my favorite way of quickly formatting content but I now understand not everyone likes it.

This means, whenever I focus on building a project that allows user input, I usually avoid Markdown. Instead, I’ll spend time understanding my customer and what they’re trying to accomplish. It means I might leverage TinyMCE or CKEditor or Gutenberg if I’m working with WordPress. My needs are not necessarily the customers’ needs.

Does it mean I won’t like my product? Not at all. This merely means I’m not always building a product based on my own preferences or tastes.