Support in-depth understanding of user requirements,
following a pre-determined structure. A structured
interview enables the researcher to focus on issues of
particular relevance to the proposed product. Tried and
A focus group is an organised
discussion with an 'expert' group of users, customers or
specialists. It typically aims to bring together the
attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and experiences of
different customers. A good way to gain a large amount of
material in a relatively short time. An especially
effective way to evaluate different concepts and explore
> Lead User
Lead users are an extremely valuable cluster of
customers and potential customers who can contribute to
identification of future opportunities and evaluation of
emerging concepts. Understanding these users can provide
richness of information relatively efficiently.
Gives you a cast of characters against whom you can
'test' design ideas and concepts. Can help in technical v
marketing 'feature debates'. Encourages the design team to
step into the shoes of the user or customer. Encourages
team understanding of the customer's motivations. Can help
when identifying possible users for further research.
An excellent tool for
gaining input from recognised sources of expertise,
without the need for face to face meetings. It provides a
highly disciplined way of addressing or solving a problem.
It can be time consuming and the information gained is
only as good as the selection of the experts.
A rich source of insight into how, where, why, when
and who uses your products. Is good for both exploring new
ideas and also for evaluating product concepts. Excellent
for supporting incremental improvement. Provides a deep
team understanding of usage issues, but needs careful
User Customer Interviews
Interviewing remains one of the most popular ways of
gaining user insights. With appropriate preparation,
interviews are relatively simple to conduct, provide
insight into customer needs relatively quickly with
comparatively low levels of expertise. Interviewing can be
used to establish responses to current products, elicit
requirements for future products and understand
preferences for competitive offerings.
Customer interviews are generally conducted one-on-one,
with a single customer and a small number of
representatives of the design team. Where possible, the
tasks of interviewing and recording the data should be
separated. If acceptable, it is useful to record or video
interviews for later analysis with a larger team.
Typically, a user interview should last no more than 2
hours, preferably less than 1 hour. The customer or user
is often giving up valuable time, so detailed preparation
is required to make the most of the opportunity. Due to
the complex nature of many distribution chains, customer
visits are often attended by local sales representatives.
Care should be taken to ensure that the sales force and
the customer do not view the visit as a sales call, but as
an opportunity to listen to the customers needs. Care also
needs to be taken to be objective and not introduce
demonstrated that 90-95% of 'needs' can be revealed from
20-30 interviews - the time to stop is when no new needs
are being found. Some general rules for questions: ask
open questions, avoid closed questions, avoid leading
questions, avoid biased questions, don't combine
questions, avoid price questions, avoid 'feature
checking'. Although a guide is essential, it should not
constrain interesting avenues of discussion. Some themes
worth considering are:
which come to mind about the product: How do you feel,
how do you see yourself, describe the product, how and
when do you use it, product comparisons (what type of
car, fruit, shop, person etc)
Complaints, problems and weaknesses: Does it
live up to expectations, is it good value for money, has
it ever failed or broken, what problems have you
experienced, have you had any complaints, what annoys
you about it
features are important: which do you use, which don't
you use, which aspects influenced your buying decision,
where did you buy it, what requirements are not met,
what do you like best
new features: If you were to buy again what would you
look for, how could it be improved, what would product x
of the future look like, what else could you use instead
Competition: what made you buy it, which did you
consider and why, how did you find out about them.
Can encounter difficult interviewees and good
interviewing requires some skill and practice
Good listening skills are important, along with
judgement to know when to let the discussion run
Preparation is essential
Avoid bias and where possible involve a number of
perspectives from the design team
Always involve the full design team whenever possible
Focus groups are an effective way of evaluating and
refining a range of design concepts and prototypes, to
encourage an externalisation of the decision making
process. However, they can also provide valuable insights
into perceptions and preferences of existing or
competitive products and can be a useful way of exploring
new requirements and desires.
It is critical that the objectives of the focus group
are clear and explicit. What new knowledge is hoped to
be gained? What do you hope to learn? The clearer the
objectives, the easier it will be to design the rest of
Planning, preparation & facilitation
It takes time to organise a meeting, to develop an
agenda, a script, prepare materials, invite
participants, test the questions, organise a site and
agree a date. The session should no more than 3 hours
and it is likely that in a 2 hour session, there will be
time for 5-6 questions. Questions should be open, enable
discussion and should be tested. A script will the
session run smoothly and should include an indication of
where and how the facilitator should probe further.
Skilled facilitation is essential. Either seek training
or at least practice first. It is important to create a
good atmosphere, prevent any destructive behaviour and
encourage participation. Most of all, the facilitator
needs to be impartial.
A good session requires a small, but representative
sample of 'expert' participants to discuss a topic.
These 'experts' may be potential or current customers
(or users), lead users, extreme users or possibly
recognised technical experts in the particular field. As
a rule of thumb, there should be between 6 and 12 people
involved. Sense check that the participants are
appropriate for the objectives of the session.
Location, atmosphere & equipment
The room is important - is it comfortable, does it have
the right atmosphere and does it set the right tone?
Typical materials include notepads, pencils, flipchart,
markers, tape, blu-tac™, post-it™ notes, name tags,
refreshments and a clock. Recording equipment is
essential, including tape or video.
Translating results into action
The focus group is only useful if the findings are
translated into action. Schedule a team meeting to
review the transcripts and summaries of the focus group
or watch the video. Refer to the objectives when drawing
conclusions and compare the findings to other research -
user observations or interviews.
Can be expensive,
especially if customers are geographically dispersed
Needs careful and skilful
facilitation - some experience in managing group
discussions is useful
Can be beneficial to use
external, professional moderators
Needs an independent note
taker / recorder
Lead User Analysis
concept of 'Lead Users' was introduced by Eric von Hippel
in the mid 1980s. He defined the lead user as those users
who display the following two characteristics:
They face the needs that will be general in the market
place, but face them months or years before the bulk of
that marketplace encounters them
They are positioned to benefit significantly by
obtaining a solution to those needs
Where a company has experience within a market place, it
should be relatively straight forward to identify those
customers who demand special solutions, push existing
solutions to the limit or who have customised standard
products to satisfy their own desires.
Von Hippel suggests that a key element in identifying lead
users is to first identify the underlying trends which
result in these users or customers having a leading
position. The lead users are those who are at the leading
edge of these trends.
Where possible, lead users should not necessarily be
sought from within the usual customer base, it can be
useful to look beyond existing customers perhaps to users
of complementary or substitute goods or in analogous
markets. In addition, the lead users may only have an
interest in improvements or changes to specific elements
or attributes of a product.
There are few industries of product types where there are
no lead users who have requirements or demands ahead of
the rest. By targeting these clusters, it is possible to
identify opportunities for future products and evaluate
emerging concepts. Where possible, if lead users are
sufficiently interested, then they can be considered as a
part of the extended product design team. They may even be
prepared to share the burden of investment in order to
find a suitable solution.
Furthermore, if today's lead users do not find appropriate
solutions from existing suppliers, then they could well
turn into tomorrow's competitors.
Can be difficult to identify with no knowledge of the
Get input from all who interact with customers,
including training, service, maintenance, sales,
marketing, engineering and technical support
User Profiles (persona)
A persona is a mini-biography of a fictional user for
your product or proposed product. A good persona
provides precise information about the character and
describes their goals and motivations. Different types
of persona can be created. It may be most appropriate
to define the 'average', stereotypical user.
Alternatively, additional insight could be gained by
considering the extreme users (frequency of use,
complexity demanded, power requirements etc.)
When developing a persona, don't worry about being too
politically correct. If the product is aimed at
Technical Directors and 80% of Technical Directors are
white males, then the persona should also be a white
male. If the buyer is a different person to the user,
then aim the persona at the user as this is of
greatest benefits when reviewing design concepts. Most
importantly, the persona should represent the
behaviour and motivational aspects of the user and not
just the job description!
The persona can be used to evaluate design decisions -
when an engineer presents a great new 'feature' 6
months before product launch, it is healthy to ask if
this new feature fits the needs of the persona most
associated with the project - "how would Doris feel
about that new feature?" This helps to ensure that all
product features are driven by market pull and not
technology push. It also helps the engineers to get
inside the head of the customers.
Identify the range of possible users
Gather this information and collate it into a coherent
picture of your range of different users. Bring together
representatives of service, installation, maintenance,
specials, sales, marketing and engineering to establish
this range of users
Narrow the list of personas
Keep the persona set small - aim for a minimum set
(3-10) which represents the archetypal and extreme
users. Choose 3 of these as the 'primary personas'. If
in doubt, choose just the one, most 'average' user.
Define the personas - add life to them
Give them names, find a photograph. Describe the persona
- physical, mental and emotional attributes. Add some
life to the personas - their age, family situation, home
life, income, job, hobbies and interests. Think about
their personality. What are their favourite things
(products) and what do they hate? Be creative but
Define the persona's goals
The most important element of the persona - the
motivating goals and the goals for using the product.
Think about the different types of goals:
Experience goals - how do
they want to feel when using the product - confident,
excited, not stupid, happy, expert, having fun etc.
End goals - what have
they achieved after using the product - awards, saved
money, direct benefits, efficiency, higher quality,
happiness, solved a problem etc.
Corporate goals -
increased profit, market share, defeat competition,
security, growth etc.
Practical goals -
specific practical outcome having used the product -
Avoided problems, satisfied a customer, calculated an
False goals - goals which
do not get to the root of the purpose for desiring or
using the product - saving memory, measure more
Quick to do and can be extremely powerful in generating
Need to be creative - a good way of encouraging team
Basic materials required - A2 boards, magazines,
possibly a word processor
Keep it basic and fun - don't try to produce the perfect
The Delphi technique uses a highly
structured and focused questionnaire approach in order to
establish a consensus opinion from 'experts'. Recognising
that these experts may be geographically dispersed, it was
designed to be conducted by post, although this does not
preclude its use in face to face interviews.
The method is iterative, and first aims to obtain a
broad range of opinions from the target group.
The results of the initial survey are collated,
summarised and then form the basis of a second, follow
on questionnaire. Results from the second
questionnaire inform a third and final questionnaire.
The aim is to progressively clarify and expand on
issues, identify areas of agreement or disagreement
and begin to establish priorities.
Define the problem
Round one questions
General questions to gain a broad understanding of
the views of the experts relating to the problem.
Responses should be collated and summarised.
Round two questions
Based on the responses to the first questions, these
questions should dig more deeply into the topic to
clarify specific issues. Again, collate and
summarise the results.
Round three questions
The final questionnaire which aims to focus on
supporting decision making.
In principle, direct observation is an incredibly simple
way of gathering data about how users interact with
products. However, without planning or structure, it can
be difficult to digest and process insights gained.
Without care, observation may also affect what people do
and the type and number of people observed can bias
results. Given these potential difficulties, observation
is one of the most powerful tools for gaining user
Observation can be applied to: proposed new products -
testing product concepts and models, existing products -
to help guide improvement for the next generation,
competitors products - to determine preference, strengths
As with all user understanding methods, it is important to
establish how many users will provide a representative
sample - this may be a smaller sample than some other
methods due to the richness of information gained and the
amount of time it can take.
Structure for recording
A useful structure is to have a small team involved in an
observation exercise, where each member systematically
records insights relating to a specific area of focus (see
Describe the sequence and timing of actions and events.
Can tasks be eliminated?
Technical / Performance issues
Record issues related to technical performance. Was it
satisfactory, could it be improved?
Issues relating to product functionality and features.
Were the right features present?
How did the user feel? What expressions or comments were
Did the user require specific skills? Record comfort,
ergonomics, physical and ease of use issues.
Did the location affect use? Were there access, noise,
heat or other location issues?