Observation in UX design and Product Design Research

One of the things I’ve learned in the last few months when designing products and designing user experience is observation. Taking a course along with the leader of my company in the Innovation center, I learned to identify several mistakes that we make as product designers and as user experience designers in the research stage.

To discover insights in the target segment, we often use focus groups, interviews, surveys, among other activities in order to discover people’s wishes and needs. I know that many of us have observed cases where, despite performing “well” this process has failed and the design or product has not been successful. This is not only applicable to the field of product design but in communication and marketing strategies, among other things. We usually ask ourselves, why have we failed if we can identify what the people wanted? This is where observation comes into play.

There are two big differences between asking and observing, asking seeks to know what people want, observing is analyzing trends and behaviors of people’s daily lives to discover insights of which many times they are not aware. This is a practice inherited from anthropology which is being put into practice in the field of market research and user research for product design and user experience. I will now give an example about the difference between asking and observing.

Two people had it in mind to start an ecommerce website focused on gifts for young women, person A decided the thing to do was to segment his audience of young women by age and socioeconomic level. After several focus group sessions with several groups, He tried to find out which gifts they liked the most, in which times, special dates, etc… The women answered that they loved going to dinner, they loved perfumes, they loved clothing, bags, shoes and so on, he asked them in detail about the brands and models they liked the most, he asked every detail to know what they wanted. He then designed the ecommerce gift site for women adapted to these desires, tastes and needs, he added everything the women answered in the different sessions, everything, He created dinner coupons in restaurants, offers in clothes and discounts with alliances that made with stores and brands , etc.

Person B simply went to a mall with a camera, recorded and took voice notes on his cell phone while continuing to watching women whose profile could belong to this segment. She observed in detail what was most appealing to them in the showcases and found a pattern of behavior common in 97% of women: She noticed that they all went with the main objective of looking at the windows of clothing stores, they all took time to see clothes, shoes, skirts, jeans, hats, bags, etc., but noticed surprisingly, that each time the women went through a store specializing in personalized crafts, they were overwhelmed when they saw some cactuses in colorful materials with a personalized love message, and other items, such as pillows, luminous signs, among others that also brought romantic personalized messages. The expression of all the women in front of that store window in respect to the others, including those of clothes, was totally overwhelming. To validate if it would be a perfect gift, he decided to ask several women not if they would like to be given such a gift, but rather if someone had ever given them such a gift, with the surprise that very few answered yes. The majority answered that they always gave them clothes, shoes, trips, dinners, etc., some spoke of letters, stuffed animals, balloons of hearts, but not of this type of gifts, so person B decided to create her ecommerce site focused on personalized gifts for women in alliance with several stores that offered these types of products. Person B realized that the attraction for these types of gifts that the young women had was very particular with respect to other articles and that many, did not even know of the existence of these.

While person A’s ecommerce site was not a leader in it’s market and tough tim finding a place in said market due to the large amount of competition he had since they all offered practically the same, the ecommerce of person B became a successful site and got a great market share since each time these gifts became very popular and with very good acceptance in the female audience, they were simple, different gifts, with great emotional value and much cheaper than other gifts for men. These were insight that you might never have found if you do not embark on the task of observing.

This is just an example, many of us know of cases similar to case A, where they do a great market research to design products and they simply stay in the gondolas, in supermarket display cases, in both physical and virtual stores without customers or users.

With this article I do not want to ignore the importance of the techniques and methods in question: tests, surveys, focus groups etc… but I do consider it important to learn observation for the design of products and experiences since observing gives us deeper insights than methods of questions, interviews, tests, etc. cane, since we look for behavioral tendencies and not “people’s desires” because one thing is what people want to do and other what people actually do, one thing is that I want to do X or Y activity and another is what I actually do, one thing is to buy X or Y thing once and another is what I buy regularly, one thing is what I say I like and another thing is what I like. This is because most people are not aware of themselves, their actions, their daily life, their social and cultural behavior and especially their unconscious and subconscious (related to the reptilian brain of the instincts and the limbic with the emotions). If people do not really know themselves, it is often difficult for them to truly identify what they want, what they need and what attracts them most, it often happens that people say, I need to see it, experience it to know if it is (method of design thinking) but we can save several steps of iteration and validation by applying observation methods to product design and design of experiences.

Finally I want to add that observation can be carried out by questioning methods as long as we seek to identify patterns of behavior, for example by asking, what do you do when you get home, or when you get up, etc.

By: Alvaro Garcia