Don’t Ask the User? Really?

Surely, you read to the end of my last post when I said:

But, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying “don’t listen to users.”

Because knowing your users is extremely important. While last time I said, “don’t ask users,” I didn’t mean don’t ask them questions. I meant, don’t ask them the wrong questions; don’t ask them to design the system; don’t ask them to explain themselves.

How Do You Get to Know The Users?

There are numerous and varietal user research methodologies and each has its pros and cons. But all of the research falls into three major categories.

  • Understanding the User and the Problem
  • Design Validation
  • Product Efficacy

Understanding the User and the Problem

You start by observing. The fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology use a technique called “ethnographic research.” User Experience Design and Interaction Design have a specific flavor of ethnographic research and contextual inquiries that are detailed methods of observing users in their “natural habitat.” This is the most valuable and productive type of user research. It is also the most costly.

User Interviews, card sorting, fringe discovery, and other techniques augment and supplement ethnographic research.

The output of the this type of research is Personas, Scenarios, Affinity Diagrams/Mind Maps, and finally, wireframes.

Design Validation

Going to the same users from earlier studies, validate the design in wireframe form. Make refinements to the output of the user research documents and to the wireframes. Iterate. Document everything. Use Likert-scale surveys. Use solid research methodologies.

Product Efficacy

Conduct A-B testing, usability testing, eye-tracking, first-click testing, and additional observation. Observing as if the users were in their “natural habitat” like in the first stage of research while your product is a part of their environment is a handy way to learn hidden information about your product.

Yes, Really, Don’t Ask the Users (To Design the System For You).

Asking the users pointed, helpful questions is part of design. Asking users open-ended questions doesn’t yield beneficial results. We are researchers and developers (and designers), we have the tools and the expertise. Let’s use this to make exceptional products that delight the users in ways they never imagined.