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gari jenkins

> User Customer Interviews

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 tested.

> Focus Groups

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 new ideas.

> Lead User Analysis

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.

> User Profile (persona)

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.

> Delphi Technique

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.

> Direct Observation

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 interpretation.


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.

General approach
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 interviewer bias.

Experience has 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:

  • Images 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

  • What 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

  • What 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

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.

General approach

  1. Objectives
    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 the session.

  2. 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.

  3. Who to invite?
    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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 significant preparation

  • Needs an independent note taker / recorder

Lead User Analysis

The 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

General approach

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 market place

  • 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.



  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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 realistic.

  4. 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 answer etc.

  • False goals - goals which do not get to the root of the purpose for desiring or using the product - saving memory, measure more quickly etc.


  • Quick to do and can be extremely powerful in generating user understanding

  • Need to be creative - a good way of encouraging team creativity

  • Basic materials required - A2 boards, magazines, possibly a word processor

  • Keep it basic and fun - don't try to produce the perfect powerpoint persona!

Delphi Technique

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.

  1. Identify experts

  2. Define the problem

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Round three questions
    The final questionnaire which aims to focus on supporting decision making.

Direct Observation

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 insight.


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 and weaknesses.


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 observations
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 figure below):

  1. Task Analysis
    Describe the sequence and timing of actions and events. Can tasks be eliminated?

  2. Technical / Performance issues
    Record issues related to technical performance. Was it satisfactory, could it be improved?

  3. Functional issues
    Issues relating to product functionality and features. Were the right features present?

  4. Emotional issues
    How did the user feel? What expressions or comments were made?

  5. User issues
    Did the user require specific skills? Record comfort, ergonomics, physical and ease of use issues.

  6. Environment issues
    Did the location affect use? Were there access, noise, heat or other location issues?

Revision Sheets

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