Listen To Your Users (And To What They're Not Saying)

User Research reveals much, but it's what your users aren't saying that's so vital


'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.' - Henry Ford

Don't get me wrong, user research sessions, no matter how in-depth or ad hoc they are, are the best way to get to know the people using your product or service. But there's something to be said for not automatically listening to and following through on every single data point or pain heard during these sessions. Sometimes it's genuinely better to not listen to what the user is actually asking for but probe and ask 'why' until you get at the heart of the issue. 

Why is perhaps the most powerful question in your arsenal of research tools that can be pulled out and used all the time. Most people are pretty clear on what they like or don't like, but far fewer can clearly articulate the reasoning behind their opinions. Asking 'why' or 'what did you expect to see/do' helps tease out these underlying, and ultimately, more important, gems of data. Often, it is useful to try and think like a child while conducting user research, in that it's important to not be satisfied with surface answers that don't get at the why - keep asking follow-up why's until you are sure you could explain this person's thinking to a 6-year-old.

As the reasoning behind users' thinking comes out, often it becomes clear, either in the moment or upon aggregation with other research, that a story starts to crystallize - the story of how a certain type of user (persona) may interact with your site and WHY. When the why's get answered, you will be able to build the next cool thing your users didn't even know they needed - you are filling a clear need at that point, using your Designer/Psychologist hat.

Many of the people I build services for have been asking for videos that they can download and watch at their leisure for training and help materials. The question they were asked was how they'd prefer to learn about new services they enroll in and how to best receive training; every single person asked for 'what I want, when I want it' first and then suggested videos 'like on YouTube.' What we're finding is that it's the right info/right time that's so valuable - not that we deliver video content. The users had specifically asked for videos - why aren't we just making videos for them? Because they will need to be accessible to all users, including captioning, and our current process has no space for creating captioned video clips. There are other reasons that my team has decided videos aren't ideal in this situation, but we will be filling the users need for self-serve help content in other ways, such as panel overlays that take users through brief mental-modeling task tours.It's these in between-the-lines asks that are so vital and are what will win over those users not yet delighted by your new prototype, service, or product. If you are having trouble getting at this unsaid information, and you don't have a dedicated User Researcher on your team, it may be time to hire one or seek out a consultant to help with the translation from in between-the-lines asks and actionable design or content plans.

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