User Research


Many entrepreneurs jump into solving the problems from day one without adequately understanding the needs of the primary beneficiary of the imagined solution, the context in which the user operates, the wider context, including competitive options, behavioural trends, technology trends, industry trends and other relevant aspects.
Spending some time in conducting research about these aspects will help guide your thinking in the right direction. Research also gives you valuable insights into the needs of the users.
Business Context in step 13 will guide you through the macro context in which you are operating. In this step, you’ll focus on the core user and how to research to uncover the real needs of the user.
User research is “the single most” important aspect of any project. If done right, you are likely to uncover insights that will enable you to address the real needs of the user. The main objective of the research is to “empathize” with the users/core stakeholders. There are three important aspects of user research:
1. Planning
2. Observation
3. Engagement

2.1 Planning

Before you go out for user research, it is important to plan the research. Think about all the avenues of primary and secondary research. Primary research entails directly observing and interviewing the users. Secondary research includes finding out information from other sources, including online, other people who would know the space better, books, library and media.
For primary research, you need to find and narrow down where to find the users to observe and research. The best approach is, if you already know people in this space, to reach out to them directly.
Otherwise, find out ways to reach out to the users and explain why you need their time and how the research will help you in understanding their needs better.

2.2 Empathetic Observation

Observation pertains to viewing users and their behaviour in the context of their lives/work. Watching what people do and how they interact with their environment gives you clues about what they think and feel. It helps you to learn about what they need. By watching people, you can capture
the physical manifestations of their experiences, what they do and say. This will allow you to interpret the intangible meaning of those experiences in order to uncover insights. These insights will lead you to innovative solutions. The best solutions come out of the best insights into human
But learning to recognize those insights is harder than you might think because our minds automatically filter out a lot of information in ways we aren’t even aware of. We need to learn to see things “with a fresh set of eyes.” Tools for empathy, along with a human-centred mindset, are what gives us those new eyes.

2.3 Genuine Curiosity

To have a genuine curiosity, you must engage with users through empathetic questioning. Think of it as personally connecting with someone rather than interviewing or surveying someone. This mindset allows you to seek deeper insights and ask harder questions. At the end of your time with a user, you want to have captured what that person said and did, and you want to have an understanding of what that person thinks and feels.

2.4 Being Inquisitive Is Good, Without Being Intrusive!

We want to understand a person’s experience as a user in the space so that we can determine how to innovate for him/her. By understanding the choices that a person makes and the behaviours that a person engages in, we can identify needs and design for these needs. Use this map to guide your
◾ Introduce yourself and your team.
◾ Provide the project and explain why you are doing the research.
◾ Build rapport.
◾ Do not go through the interview questionnaire question by question.
Instead, have the questionnaire as a guide and have the engagement as a conversation.
◾ Listen to the user responses intently to understand rather than rushing to finish asking all the questions.

2.5 Adopt a Beginner’s Mindset

We all carry our experiences, understanding and expertise with us. These aspects of yourself are incredibly valuable assets to bring to the design challenge – but at the right time, and with intentionality. Your assumptions may be misconceptions and stereotypes, and they can restrict the amount of real empathy you can build. Assume a beginner’s mindset in order to put aside these biases so that you can approach a design challenge with fresh eyes. Be mindful of the following aspects:

2.6 Don’t Judge

Just observe and engage users without the influence of value judgments upon their actions, circumstances, decisions or “issues.

2.7 Question Everything

Question even (and especially) the things you think you already understand.
Ask questions to learn about how the user perceives the world. Think about
how a four-year-old asks “Why?” about everything. Follow up an answer to
one “why” with a second “why.”

2.8 Be Genuinely Curious

Strive to assume a posture of wonder and curiosity, especially in circumstances that seem either familiar or uncomfortable.

2.9 Find Patterns

Look for interesting threads, patterns and themes that emerge across interactions with users.

2.10 Listen, Intently

Lose your agenda and let the scene soak into your psyche. Absorb what users say to you, and how they say it, without thinking about the next thing you’re going to say.

2.11 Suggestions for User Engagement

Ask why. Even when you think you know the answer, ask people why they do or say things. The answers will sometimes surprise you.
Encourage stories. Whether or not the stories people tell are true, they reveal how they think about the world. Ask questions that get people telling stories.
Look for inconsistencies. Sometimes what people say and what they do are different. These inconsistencies often hide interesting insights.
Listen to nonverbal cues. Be aware of body language and emotions.
Don’t be afraid of silence. Interviewers often feel the need to ask another question when there is a pause. Sometimes if you allow there to be silence, a person will reflect on what they’ve just said and say something deeper.
Don’t suggest answers to your questions. Even if they pause before answering, don’t help them by suggesting an answer. This can unintentionally get people to say things that agree with your expectations.
Ask questions neutrally. “What do you think about this idea?” is a better question than “Don’t you think this idea is great?” because the frst question doesn’t imply that there is a right answer. Don’t offer approval or disapproval
with words, facial expressions or body language.

2.12 Engagement Guidelines with the User

Prepare a list of questions before the interview. Two to three people should go for the engagement. The team should be prepped on the engagement model and preferably trained on empathy-based engagements. The team should interview three or more users in the same role and synthesize those insights afterwards. It is recommended to assign a dedicated interviewer and note taker for user research.

2.12.1 Guidelines for Interviewer

◾ One person should take the role of an interviewer who will drive the questioning.
◾ Ask open-ended questions.
◾ Review the guidelines mentioned above.
◾ Do not go through the interview questionnaire question by question. Instead, have the questionnaire as a guide and have the engagement as a conversation.
◾ Listen to the user responses intently to understand rather than rushing to finish asking all the questions.

2.12.2 Guidelines for Note Taker

Other person(s) should be solely responsible for taking notes.
◾ Only ask questions for clarification.
◾ Use the “Observation Template” and “Note-Taking Template” to record the observations and answers.
◾ Take pictures of the surroundings and the user with his/her permission.
◾ Review the guidelines mentioned above.

2.12.3 Sample Questions for Interview

Sample questions for an enterprise engagement include the following:
1. Introduction:
a. Tell me about yourself.
b. What is your educational background?
c. How long have you been in this role?
d. What did you do before this job?
2. Jobs to be done:
a. Tell me about your role.
b. What are your responsibilities?
c. Who is your manager, and how does he/she measure your
d. How do you fulfil your responsibilities today?
e. Whom do you rely on to do your job?
i. Which other people within and outside your team?
ii. Which information do you rely on?
iii. How do you get that information?
iv. Do you know how this information was generated/ aggregated?
v. Do you trust the information?
vi. How soon do you see that information?
vii. What do you do with that information?
viii. Do you massage the information in a certain way yourself to have a better understanding of the reality?
ix. Can you show us how you do that?
x. Can you show us how you see the information today?
f. What decisions do you have to make daily/ weekly/ monthly/ quarterly/ yearly?
g. Whom do you interact with to make your decisions?
h. How much of the decision making is subjective, based on your experience?
i. How would someone with much less experience than you have made such decisions?
j. How do you know that the decisions that you made had a positive or negative impact?
k. Can you walk us through the major tasks you do? We’d just shadow you and make observations and ask questions to have a better understanding of your challenges.
3. Customers:
a. Who are your customers?
b. Tell me more about your customers – are they both internal and
c. What do these customers expect of you?
d. What are their biggest challenges?
e. What is the job that you are helping your customer do?
f. How else can your customers do their job if you did not provide the
4. Challenges:
a. What are your biggest challenges?
b. Why are you facing these challenges?
c. How many of these challenges are related to organization?
d. How many of these challenges are related to processes?
e. How many of these challenges are related to technology?
5. Aspirations:
a. In an ideal world, how would you be doing your job?
b. What are the factors that you would like to maximize in your job?
c. How would you solve the challenges you identified earlier on?
6. Evoke stories throughout the interview:
a. Tell me about a time when … ?
i. Tell me about a time when things didn’t go as planned?
ii. Tell me about a time when things worked better than
7. Understand emotions:
a. How did you feel when this happened?
b. Tell me more about how you felt at that point?
8. Conclusion:
a. Thank the user for his/her time.
b. Tell the user about the next steps:
i. What you will do with all this information and when they can expect to hear some progress on the research.
ii. You’ll be interviewing other users as well.
iii. You’ll be synthesizing this information.
iv. You’ll be coming back to them for validation.
v. You’ll be thinking about new ways to do things/solutions.
vi. You’ll be inviting them for their input on new solutions.
vii. You’ll be prototyping new solutions and sharing them with users to get feedback.
viii. You’ll be prioritizing use cases across all verticals.
ix. You’ll be building solutions for them if their area was selected as the top use case.
c. Thank them again for their time and openness.

2.13 Template

Capture your insights on the following template, from observation to interpretation and deriving insights (Figure below).
Bring notes back from the engagement and complete the Template 4 Empathy Map.

Empathy Template

2.14 Example

Empathy Example

2.14.1 Guidance

Session Lead
For each user research, draw the template on a flip chart/whiteboard. Use one colour of sticky notes for each user interviewed (do not mix colours).
Ask participants to record their research in this template:
◾ What was the user doing?
◾ What was the user uttering/saying?
◾ What was the user seeing?
◾ What was his/her environment?
Interpretations and/or answers
◾ What are the user’s thoughts?
◾ What are the user’s feelings?
◾ What are user needs and challenges?
10-minute self-brainstorm
◾ All participants document their user research insights on sticky notes.

2.14.2 Team Brainstorm

The session lead asks everyone to come to the flipchart and paste their thoughts.
All Users
Repeat the brainstorming session for all the users researched. Use different
colour sticky notes for recording research insights from each user.
Ask everyone to bring insights from the different users into one empathy map. The team should be able to see common themes emerging across different users as well as unique insights from individual users. These insights should be discussed in order to further develop empathy with the user and generate ideas.

2.14.3 Document Assumptions

After the session, the session lead should ask the team to write down all the assumptions that you are making and record those assumptions in the assumptions template.