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Why our User Research workshop was an eye-opener for many

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Designing a product or service is never easy – get it right, and you may have loyal customers, get it right, and you’ll still have a long line of disgruntled customers!

In fact, understanding a user’s actual needs and nailing down the right insight can be highly challenging, which explains why innovators and product developers were driven to adopt the scientific, structured process of User Research.

However, just mechanically applying the tools of User Research is not enough, as participants of our recent User Research workshop realized at the end of an insightful 2-hour session.

As ardent believers in the ‘Learning by Doing’ approach, we wanted our participants to learn User Research methods by literally applying them while at the workshop. So, we divided them into teams of two and gave them a task – to design a lunch system for each other.

During the next two hours, we walked the participants through the different stages of User Research, starting from in-depth interviews, to insight generation, ideation, prototyping, feedback gathering and final presentation.

Each section was timed, affording every participant ample opportunity to really understand and investigate their partner’s habits, preferences, and behavior.
The only thing left to do was to pin down the key insight and design a product aligned to it.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Surprisingly, even after an hour of intensive interviewing, ideating and reworking based on the feedback gathered, many participants had their final idea rejected by their partners.

And it wasn’t because their partners were playing hard-to-please, or were simply being nasty. It wasn’t even because the ideas weren’t creative enough. In fact, some of the rejected ideas were the most creative ones.

The problem was that while the participants took their users’ inputs into account, what they didn’t take into account were their own prejudices and attachment to certain ideas.

Says Abu Sheikh, a designer working with Amura Technology, “The biggest takeaway for me was to learn to step back and check if the entire product was making sense – not only from an aesthetic point of view, but from the user’s perspective. While designing a lunch system for my partner, I was completely consumed by my own idea! So even though my partner wasn’t comfortable with the prototype, I still went ahead and developed it…only to have the final product rejected!”

Adds Ashish Belagali, another participant and a serial entrepreneur who spearheaded the Pune Open Coffee Club, “When your user is in front of you, giving you real-time feedback, and you still end up designing a product that they cannot use, it makes you appreciate the difficulty of getting the right product/market fit. It also made me realize the importance of conducting User Research right at the beginning, before launching my product.”

Through the workshop, Abu realized that ‘Users say something but mean something else.’

Anjeli Singh, the founder of Hureo and our workshop facilitator, has some advice to share on handling this conundrum. “To capture the right insight, one needs to be more investigative,” she explains. “Don’t assume anything, ask probing questions to understand why a user has a particular point of view or behavior.”

This brings to mind the adage attributed to Henry Ford, creator of the first affordable motorized car. Ford had famously remarked that if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have replied ‘a faster horse.’

This statement may seem to disparage User Research, but in fact, it serves as the perfect case in point – don’t ask people what they would like, instead, try to filter out the need expressed behind that statement. In this case, people were looking for a faster way to travel, which is exactly what Ford gave them!

In other words, learn to read the air and pick up on what’s not been said but what has been expressed. And once you understand what your user really wants, don’t get attached to your product idea. Rather, get attached to the benefit it should deliver to your users!

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