Getting your feet wet – The truth about understanding your users

When is the last time you talked to your users? No, I’m not talking about your company answering user feedback, selling your product to potential and existing customers, or sitting in a meeting discussing the specs of the next project. I mean actually finding out what they have been doing, how they do it, and why.


If I asked you for:

  • a description of the three most common user profiles with their motivations and desires
  • the detailed process figures of how your users compensate for the downfalls of their/ your current solutions
  • other models that help to understand your users as humans


how many minutes would it take you to retrieve them?

Joking aside, you probably wouldn’t have anything to give me. My guess is that your first reaction would be to dismiss the need, mistake the models for something else (e.g. user stories), or point me to the closest expert with a long professional history in the field.

Illusion of wasted resources

Effectiveness has always been the goal for most of the things we do. Our society pays more and more attention to finding faster ways of working towards a goal and not wasting resources. At the same time, we are paying less attention to the processes behind successful outcomes and focusing on the outcomes instead.

It is no surprise, then, that once we succeed with something, we tend to stop our search for alternative ways and instead focus on trimming down what worked once (or multiple times). Eventually we come to appreciate the simplicity of our current methods and feel that anything that adds to the complexity in our minds must be a waste of resources.

Consider the former statement and you should be able to guess what the initial reaction of many of our customers is when we suggest starting with user research instead of building a prototype.

“Umm… I’m not sure that is necessary. This case is really simple we just need to connect A to B and that’s it. After that the we’ll get the data…”

Don’t get me wrong, I strive for simplicity in projects, but at this point it often helps to ask: “What are you going to use your data for and why?” Surprisingly often the answer is something along the lines of “We’re not sure yet, but…”. By this time, it is easy to point out the benefits of finding out what the users want and need. Suddenly it doesn’t feel like a waste of resources.

Of course, collecting data from something is just an example of the wide collection of different cases we encounter at UnSeen Technologies. No matter the case I believe there is always a place for understanding your users.

get out

Getting out there

As obvious as it might seem, the best way to find out about your users is to go where they are. Understanding isn’t magically transferred during a meeting. Most of the time subcontractors are left wishing they understood the point after a lengthy meeting, even though only few will admit it to the client. Even worse, sometimes subcontractors are confident they grasped what the client is asking for when they have no clue. I try to be the exception.

While working at UnSeen Technologies I have taken what seems to many as the extra mile: I have visited offices, service centres, stations, factories, even prisons. I’ve sat in vans and cars, both stationary and in motion. I’ve gone where most have never been and will never go. I’ve talked to various experts and gathered an understanding which I never could have gained sitting at the office. In hindsight it all seems like a great effort, but in fact, it has saved a great deal of time.

The obvious is forgotten

Most established companies know what their clients want. Whereas many startups work continuously towards understanding their clients. It is the lifeblood of any company working with or for clients. In contrast with common believe, this essential difference between established companies and startups acts in the favour of startups.

The way in which most projects waste time is working with the wrong endpoint in mind. Since many companies know what their clients want, they inadvertently expect their subcontractors to understand the most obvious things about their customers. As a matter of fact, the most obvious things are the most important things to tell. However, just try naming the most obvious things in your field of work and you will quickly notice that it is much harder than you thought.

This is where the startup has an edge. They expect nothing, but they are willing to find out. The problem then becomes: will they figure it out?


Avoid pitfalls with the correct methods

Now it might sound simple to talk to your users to find out what they want. The real challenge is knowing what they need.

Both established companies and startups struggle with providing the solutions that best fit their clients’ needs. Even if the issue is known, the answer might not be as clear as it seems. To come up with the best solution a set of iterations is needed, which we at UnSeen Technologies specialize in.

It is always an option to just start iterating, but if you want to save resources it is a no-brainer to know what you need to establish before you start. In other words, to limit the amount of iterations needed, a set of methods can be applied. They will help to understand the real need of users and translate them into actionable goals. But before we can do that, we need to talk to the users.

Next time you want to start with “an obvious outcome”, think again and consider getting a second opinion. We here at UnSeen Technologies will be glad to help you out.