User Research Workshop: Key Slides & Notes

If You Missed This Workshop…

In addition to reviewing the slides below, make sure to conduct some user research for your product before next class, when you’ll use this research to start designing. Most likely, this research will be either be a field observation or an interview, both of which should be relatively easy to do if you’ve picked a product idea that applies to NYC students.

If you’ve yet to pick a product idea, make sure you do so for the next workshop, or you won’t have anything to do. Here are more details about picking an idea.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me: [email protected]


  1. In this class, we looked at why research matters for creating a good design and what are some different types of research. Then we focused on interviewing and talked about how to conduct a successful interview.

    For exercises, each student conducted a preliminary interview to experience what interviewing strategies do and don’t work. Then they each refined their questions and strategies and conducted a second interview, ideally with a different student.

  2. Why Research? [Bullet] User/Stakeholder Research is defined as 'Identifying the business, user, or other goals that should drive the design, often through interviews & observation.' [Bullet] In short: (pre-design) research helps you know what to make and how. [Bullet] Better hypotheses off the bat. [Bullet] “There is a direct correlation between this exposure [of team members to real users] and the improvements we see in the designs the team produces.”

    When you go to design a product, you need to answer some questions.

    For deciding what to build, these include:

    • Do people really have the need you think they do?
      • What are the problems with existing solutions?
      • Do they care about the way you’re “improving” things?
    • Why is your company/your skill-set better suited to solve this problem than someone else?

    And then when you’re deciding the details of how to build it:

    • What aspects of it matter most to the user? (i.e. Which features will you prioritize?)
    • How do your users understand the problem/situtation?

      This is often very important, and not obvious. For instance, someone coming from a business perspective may see charging variable-rate shipping as a way to be fair/flexible, whereas it might make a customer feel nickel-and-dimed. (Similarly, think about airline baggage fees.) Another example: shower controls. An engineer, understanding how the water gets there, might design a fixture with a hot knob and a cold knob (as many old fixtures used to be), whereas it’s more natural for the user to think in terms of temperature (and optionally pressure)—the system should figure out behind the scenes how much hot and cold water the user’s temperature (and pressure) translates to.

    Research helps you answer all these questions in a way that’s more accurate—​and therefore produces better results—​than just substituting your own worldview in place of the users’ (which often happens).

    But even after doing research, the designer is only making a guess about the answers to these questions, and that guess may prove inaccurate. So, of course, his/her designs will still need to be tested and validated by real-world usage. But the fact that designers are “only guessing” doesn’t negate the value of research. Guessing without research is shooting in the dark—​you’ll have to try a lot of things to get the right solution (and may never come to it), and you’ll waste time or alienate users in the process. Research-informed guesses, on the other hand, are much more likely to work and, if they don’t, the research will offer you a real understanding of what may have gone wrong and what to try next.

    As the quote in the slide alludes to, allowing a designer to see first-hand the needs the user has or the problems she encounters is the single best way to ultimately produce better designs. It keeps the user in the designer’s mind, giving him/her an intuitive sense of what the biggest pain-points are.

  3. Basic Research Methods [Bullet] Surveys: For Quantitative Conclusions. A survey is a predefined list of questions administered to a group of users, whether in person or not. [Bullet] Interviews: For Real Feelings and Motivations. An interview is an intimate, one-on-one conversations with a user that probes motivations and avoids the groupthink of focus groups. It’s directed but not scripted. [Bullet] Field Observation: For What Goes Unreported. Field observation is observing users in their natural setting as if you know nothing, trying to suss out the nuances of their behavior. [Bullet] Diary Studies: For Long-Term, Unstaged Behavior. A study in which a user records his/her behavior and observations in a diary (written, oral, or video) over time.

    Extra details…

    Field observation is good for things users can’t or won’t self-report accurately. One possible example: how they use email (how many times they check it, the type of stuff actually in their inbox, etc). There’s a whole array of well known problems with self-reported data, and field observation tries to overcome these.

    Diary studies are good for things like getting long-term shopping habits. You can’t follow a user for a month as they’re shopping, but you can have them record when they do and document where they went, what they bought, and why.

  4. Create 3 Interview Questions. They should probe… [Bullet] How does the user currently do the thing your product is trying to improve? [Bullet] Why do they do it? Are there higher-order goals involved? [Bullet] What are the pain-points in the current solutions? [Bullet] How does the user think about the problem?
  5. Revise your Interview Questions. Are they... [Bullet] Non-leading [Bullet] Open-ended (i.e. don’t ask the user to pick from a predefined list of options) [Bullet] Focused on the individual and the present, not asking them to extrapolate to others or predict their future behavior (e.g. “Would you use this to help with how you work now?” vs. “Is this useful?”)
  6. Behavioral Reminders. [Bullet] Be non-judgmental (as much as possible). [Bullet] If there’s *anything* you don’t understand, ask about it. [Bullet] Paraphrase. [Bullet] Smile and build rapport.

    Paraphrasing matters because it both shows that you’re listening and reduces misunderstanding. It reduces misunderstanding because you’re telling the other person what you think they meant, and they can correct you if that&rsquos not correct and/or complete.