This is a tricky topic. Conventional wisdom says that when you are planning a new product, it is very important to get user feedback through the process, multiple times. The logic: When the team is working on a new application or software product, they tend to get too involved with their own thoughts, their rationale and seek to believe that these are exactly what the users want. There are a number of products that were developed without user feedback and testing, and a large number of those do not really set the user community on fire, many of them are downright failures, since the users really are not looking for the workflows that the team thought would be loved by the users.
To try and ensure that the people involved in the application design and development remain close to what the users want, and also get a chance to vet their design and prototypes, typically a restricted user testing is done. A sample of users are taken, and depending on the current state of development of the application, either screen shots, or prototypes, or the working product is shown to the users and they are encouraged to use the application or evaluate whatever has been given to them. Viewing the interaction of users with the software is invaluable to the design team, since it gives them a fair idea of what the users like, what they dislike, and whether they are comfortable with the workflows that are being shown to them.
So far so good; however, over the past few years, there is another thought that is gaining attention. A number of new hardware and software applications have become successful where the application is meeting a need that users may not have thought about, and in such cases, user testing and feedback may not be the sole criteria on which to go by. It would be very much possible to think that some of the great apps on the iPhone, such as Instagram or others were not really designed and launched after user feedback.
Instead, you had a committed set of application developers who knew what they wanted, and were passionate about what they were doing. If some users did not like it, this would not have shaken them. In such cases, what happens is that even very honest user feedback would not have been the right way to go about; and this is the concept that is now shaking development companies around the world. When you are trying to build something in the area of the web / tablets / phones / Facebook app, a lot of stuff that is being worked upon is new, or atleast the workflows being developed are new. In such a case, the companies do not even go in for user feedback, instead working on releasing the software, seeing the amount of user acceptance and then tweaking (or dropping) the application, and go on. This makes life difficult for companies that have worked the traditional way, and which depend on user feedback as a way of validating new stuff that they are doing.
Some great books from Amazon on usability and user feedback:
|A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability||The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics||Designing with the Mind in Mind|