I’ve noticed a recent uptick in interest in two provocative articles about user research: (1) First Rule of Usability? Don’t Listen to Users and (2) Walmart’s $1.85 Billion Dollar Mistake. In my view, both of these are being used to advocate for exactly the wrong things.
User research involves studying how people interact with products, services, and experiences to create better solutions. One common idea in user research is that it’s not about what people say, it’s about what they do.
This notion implies that people may not always be able to articulate their needs or desires accurately, so observing their behaviors and actions can be more revealing. While there is some truth to this idea, it can be oversimplified, misleading, and used to undermine the value user researchers add to any org.
People’s actions can reveal a lot about their needs and preferences. However, what people say can also provide valuable insights into their thought processes, emotions, and motivations. For instance, if someone says they find a product confusing or frustrating to use, it’s worth investigating why they feel that way. Perhaps they have an underlying need that the product doesn’t address, or the design is not intuitive enough. By exploring their feedback and feelings, we can gain a deeper understanding of how to improve the design.
Moreover, people’s actions can be influenced by external factors such as social norms, environmental cues, or cognitive biases. These factors can sometimes lead to behaviors that do not reflect people’s true preferences or needs. Therefore, combining observations with qualitative research methods such as interviews, surveys, or diary studies can provide a more comprehensive understanding of users’ experiences and needs.
While observing people’s actions is essential for user research, it’s not the only source of valuable information. What people say about their processes, thoughts, and feelings can provide additional insights that can help designers create better solutions. Therefore, user researchers should approach the idea that it’s not about what user’s say it’s about what they do with nuance and use a variety of research methods to gather a complete picture of users’ experiences.
(1) First Rule of Usability? Don’t Listen to Users
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