Ideal Reactions to Research Findings
Ideally, our clients are as interested in our user research findings and recommendations as we are and find them valuable. User research usually reveals new information about users and provides helpful new insights and perspectives on something our clients already know about. It can also confirm and validate their assumptions. Regardless of whether our clients already know about something, our research should provide useful information that has its basis in an understanding of user and business needs.
Negative Reactions to Research Findings
Unfortunately, we don’t always get these ideal reactions to our user research findings. Sometimes misunderstandings about our research activities and their purpose can lead to the following reactions:
- “Ho hum. Where are the designs?”
- “We already knew that.”
- “You’re wrong!”
- “You talked with only 12 people.”
- “Why didn’t you mention this problem?”
- “The recommendations aren’t specific enough.”
- “We could have done that ourselves.”
Ho Hum. Where Are the Designs?
I find it amazing whenever I’m the person in the room who is most interested in my user research findings, but that’s sometimes the case. Often, when I present my research findings, it’s the first chance clients have had to hear about users and their needs, so you’d think they would be fascinated by this information. But some people are impatient and just want to see the designs.
Sometimes there is a long wait before clients hear our research findings that fuels this impatience. Since user research is usually the first stage in a project and often takes a long time, clients must sometimes wait several weeks before seeing any results. Without frequent communication about what is happening during this time, clients can become impatient and anxious about not having seen any designs yet.
How to Prevent This Reaction
- At the beginning of a project, clearly explain the research and design activities you have planned, show examples of what such research provides, and make it clear when clients can expect to see designs.
- Provide frequent updates during the research, so clients realize that activity is taking place and have clear expectations of the information the research deliverables will provide.
- Judge your clients’ appetite for user research, and if they are resistant, take small steps at first, providing tangible results. As your clients begin to buy in to doing user research, you can gradually increase the amount of research you do.
- Make your research deliverables more impactful. Create empathy for real users and generate interest in them by including participant quotations—in text, audio, or video; showing photos of users’ environments, documents, and other artifacts; and creating personas and scenarios that bring users and their tasks to life.
We Already Knew That
When a client says, “We already knew that,” I always want to say, “Well, then why didn’t you do something about it?” Unfortunately, sometimes clients react to user research findings by wondering why they spent so much time and money for us to tell them what they already knew. Usually, clients exaggerate how much they “already knew” about their users. Plus, they may not really understand the purpose of the research.
Sometimes user research gets oversold as an activity that will reveal amazing insights. While user research does provide important information that we can use during the design process, it’s rare that our findings consist solely of completely new information that no one has ever thought of before. Unless our clients know absolutely nothing about their users—which is rare—our findings are going to include things they already know. However, what some clients don’t recognize or appreciate is the value in confirming or disproving their assumptions.
Although our clients may implicitly know about users and their needs, this information is not usually documented explicitly anywhere. There is great value in gathering, organizing, and formally presenting this information in research deliverables—both for the current project and for future endeavors.
Another reason for this reaction is that user research findings can sound like obvious common sense once we’ve formally stated them. So, after hearing the findings, it’s hard for people to remember that they didn’t realize those things before. They may have known about the problems on some level, but taken them for granted. It often takes someone from the outside to come in and point out problems to which others have become accustomed.
But most important, the main purpose of user research is not for our clients to merely understand the findings, but for the designers’ understanding of the users and their tasks to inform their designs. Regardless of whether our clients already know something, the designers need to know it to design effective solutions.
How to Prevent This Reaction
- Make it clear that your research is likely to provide new information, as well as confirm or disprove existing assumptions.
- Communicate the value of gathering, organizing, and publishing user research findings in official documentation that your client can use in future projects, as well as the current one.
- Clarify that the main purpose of the research is for the design team to understand both the user and business needs that should inform their designs.