We’re still a bit in awe of our own chutzpah at attempting to both provide a rationale for, and a quick introduction to, user research for innovation projects. In one chapter. Entire books and careers have been spent on this topic! On the other hand, the general principle—observe!—is simple enough, and we think that if you can get your mind around that, maybe it doesn’t take much guidance to get you going. Our approach here was to explain why, provide a little how, and point interested readers to other resources.

We believe passionately that empathetic observation is critical to understanding people’s motivations, and thus to effective innovation. This isn’t to exclude other kinds of research, though. We’ve identified other types of research below we’d also like to address.

What seems to be working

  • The Innovation Gap is a fundamental insight from the IIT Institute of Design, and we see it reflected in much of our work with clients over the last half-decade.
  • POEMS as an observational framework is still generally applicable—and perhaps just as important, it’s memorable, and easy to use on-the-fly, by everyone on a team.

Areas that need more work or input

  • We’re not sure the Needs Map is adding a lot of value. What do you think?
  • In the next edition, we are planning on grouping user insight on three levels: Macro trends: desk research, trying to answer questions about what will happen in the general population over time, Human scale: contextual research, and making meaning of both macro trends and micro-analytics, Micro-behavioral: digital analytics, which show what is actually happening
  • Also, yikes: we don’t mention social networks. Granted, they didn’t have nearly as big a presence in 2007 as they do now, but there you go. If you blink, you miss it. We’ll definitely have to cover research and co-creation through social networks.
  • We will update the resources section here to include some of the great work done in recent years. We’re happy to hear what books/articles/videos have been useful for you.
  • Finally, the “Seinfeld” opening seems a bit dated now. We should put something else there. (We’re open to suggestions.)
After you’ve read the chapter, please post your thoughts, constructive critique, and suggestions below. Thank you!
  • David

    I’ll go ahead an get things kicked off for this chapter. I found it particularly helpful because I really don’t know much about user research, except that it’s a good thing to do.

    You spend a good deal of time (4-5 pages) convincing people that user research is a valuable step and excellent starting point for the Innovation cycle. Then you spend only 3 pages teasing out a research method before getting to the needs map. I understand the need to make a case for empathetic user research – I’ve been in organizations that take an understanding of clients for granted – but I do wish more time was spent on presenting the method.

    Regarding your question about the Needs Map, I like it. It was really helpful for me to understand how empathetic research can lead to distinctive value. I might like to see it earlier in the chapter, though. Maybe before learning about the POEMS framework.

    Here are two questions I still have about user research that someone out here might be able to answer:

    1) How do you turn an observation into an insight? How many times do I need to observe a behavior before I can abstract a need? Or is it not a quantitative measurement? I’m just unclear on the relationship between particular observations and the insights that come from them.

    2) Once I have some insights, how do I make a case for them? In a firm that loves quantitative research, how would I make a legitimate case for empathetic research? I think part of it might lie in having a good framework to fall back on. (Another case for expounding on a research method.)


    • Zachary Jean Paradis

      Fair point on the time in persuasion versus research methods. The reality is we’ll always be “short on the method” part given you really need an entire book to do this justice. That said, we absolutely should invest a few more pages in it. Per our note in our critique above, we plan on having a more broad introduction of methods for gaining insight on people.

      I’m glad you got something out of the Needs Map. We’ll look for a few more contributors to weigh in on that point before keeping it, but your guidance around putting it before POEMS or other frameworks makes tons of sense.

      How to turn an observation into an insight is a challenge for many people, for sure. This is ripe for us to cover, at least in brief. How it will play out will likely be in addressing the three levels of insight. You can learn a lot from macro-trends and from micro-behavioral analysis but it’s when you start combining these with contextual input where it really gets juicy and meaning/insight is derived.

      Making a case for this type of insight is sort of what we do at the beginning of the chapter. I’m not sure a framework will help here or if it’s more like principles to keep in mind when introducing this type of information.

      Incredible feedback. Very helpful. Thank you.

  • Bruno

    Based on the heading of the section: People, is it a bit restrictive to only focus on consumers and related user centered approach?
    What about the people working on the product?

    I think one critical impediment to innovation is missing from this section: people bias, assumptions, and own experience influence on their work and how they perceive the product.

    • Knowl Baek

      Again, thanks for great feedback and I have to agree particularly on this point about considering the designers and other people working on the products.
      There is the challenge of personal bias and perceptions influencing work, but I am more interested in empowering and supporting the teams to be user-centered and risk-taking. It also reminds me of a blog post by Brendan Reynolds, a principal at Moment (a digital products design consultancy in NYC)- he talks about a model to create a culture for great design and innovation in a company:

      • Bruno

        Thanks for the link. Great read!
        I agree with you that empowering and supporting is key. Making people aware of their bias should be part of that. This can only be addressed by them and not an external person. That external person can only facilitate the process

    • Zachary Jean Paradis

      Agree this is important, although I’m not sure if it is so much the “people working on the product” which are relevant to the chapter as “people who will own the product”, e.g. the noted back-of-house as described in service design. We always called them “business users” at SapientNitro.

      I’m thinking what you are referring to might work best in the Innovation Intent 1.0 chapter given it is there where we have to establish our biases regarding the project we’re undertaking together. We also talk about team collaboration in that chapter, so it makes logical sense to introduce that before we get to talking about “People” as the prospects, users, customers, business users, service staff, etc.

      Very appropriate comment though and we do need to address it. Thank you!

  • Bruno

    Following on my earlier comment, the part covered in the section on user centered approach is a great start but I think it is barely detailed enough for people to decide to consider doing things differently.

    There is not enough material for people to get started:
    - besides POEMS, what are the other frameworks (e.g.: AEIOU)
    - which framework to use, under which circumstances
    - how to use them in practice
    - and of course my favorite: real life example on how such frameworks help to get insights

    As for the Needs Map, it is a great tool. Very easy to grasp.