Thoughts on user research
I frequently get asked about process and how projects get structured where I work. One of the main questions is does user research happen. It’s always a little disappointing to say “not really”, but I wanted to think about why that’s the case.
Coming out of school, user research was positioned as an almost magic bullet that can solve any problem. We watched this video about IDEO using research to inform the design of a new shopping cart. It seems like an easily repeatable process of conducting research, gaining insight, and creating a solution. It’s been disappointing to learn after school ended, that the story doesn’t always end that way.
Design/user research at its best is an amazing process. We learn and gain some insight about people that we previously didn’t have which leads to better solution. The problem is (and this might be my problem), we don’t always gain insight. Instead, we confirm our assumptions about the world and it’s in this scenario where we get in trouble. Confirming our assumptions feels like a less valuable outcome because it ends up feeling like the research was unnecessary and a waste of time. This makes research hard to sell in my opinion because it’s hard to get people to admit when something is an assumption versus when something has been validated.
What are ways to make this better? I’ve got a few ideas:
1. Do better research and develop more insight. A fair criticism would be that maybe our research process isn’t good enough and needs to be improved. However, it’s a bit difficult to think every assumption can be overturned.
2. Acknowledge that we are making assumptions in the beginning, and one outcome of the research process is to validate that our assumptions are correct. This makes the scenario above a lot less painful since the expectations are much clearer up front.
This is pretty messy in my head and re-reading the above, it’s messy in words too. I’m hoping that by getting this written and out into the world, I can straighten and smooth things out a bit.