Seeing user research in Mindhunter

Michael Le
5 min readDec 2, 2017

Recently I finished watching Mindhunter on Netflix. It’s a crime drama based on FBI agents who attempt to understand and catch serial killers. While watching the show, beneath the dark themes and talk of murders, I felt that the show was advocating for good user research.

Note: There are no show spoilers here but I am using moments in the show to relate back to user research processes.

How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?

When the existing data is not enough

When working on a new problem, I always like to understand what do we know now? This can start off with existing data and knowledge from within the company and desk research.

You and I could theorize all night, but the truth is, I don’t f-ing know.
But we’re supposed to, right? Sure, but here’s the troubling thing: no one’s even asking the questions.

That’s a good starting point but to understand users better we need to get out of the building and to talk to them one on one. Getting out the building will help you see the world in their views and talking to them allows you to get the nuances that data can’t tell you.

The question is not only why did the killer do it, but why did the killer do it this way? We are now talking about psychology.

You know, this is really important work. If your boss won’t let you do it, then you should talk to someone who has the freedom and resources to

Convincing stakeholders to do research sounds like intimidating because there are lot of questions how long will this take, how many people do you need to speak to? Try to get your team to speak to at least 5 people. Knowing what kind of research goals you are trying to get will help you choose the right method. User research should not be a blocker.

Now that you have some users lined up, is it as simple as having a chat?

They’re learning to create a dialogue.

Have a plan for the research

Coming up with the goals of the research and questions to match can be tricky because in you might not want to ask the question outright because that could be leading the user towards your view rather than letting them tell you their mental model of the world.

Don’t forget to about getting the users to relax by asking warm up questions.

Paperwork? Yeah, it’s hardly sexy, but I’m trying to put together a list of questions for the killers that you interview.

Sometimes even if you planned and booked interviews they don’t show up. That’s part of the process. I usually strive to book 6 with the expectation that one might drop.

Tools for interviewing

Now it is time for the interview. We have moved on from cassettes but we now have more tools to use to record a session.

Once I forgot to press record so I use a checklist with prep steps like even basic steps like “press record” are done to make sure I have things covered before I get stuck into the interview.

Always remember to ask for permission to record the session. It’s creepy to record someone without them knowing it.

You’re taping it, man.

With all of these tools, how do you keep track of comments made during the interview? I personally take small notes against my questions so I know to go back to certain areas to dig deeper. Really good researchers make this look easy sometimes by not even using notes and that’s where it becomes more of a conversation than an interrogation interview #researchergoals

One method that I am experimenting with to help make my interviews more conversational is using topic maps.

Taking notes helps with transcription.

Remember to maintain eye contact

Making sense of the interviews

Good notes and recordings help not only you remember what was said but it also helps your team or new team members listen in because they they were not there.

Following a standard list of questions and process for recording information allows us to compare and contrast the different interviews.

Making sense of the interviews is the next steps. When do you do it? I do it after speaking to 5 people (3 if the time between interviews is long). This allows you to compare and contrast information to find a pattern.

Tools like post-its are great if your team is co-located and you have dedicated space for organising notes. I like to mix post-its for tactile and visualisation and then putting them in Trello/spreadsheet for organisation and filtering. It’s a lot of double handling (if you know a better way, I’m all ears).

It’s a riddle, but it can be solved. It’s complex, but it’s human.

After all of the interviews and when the analysis is done, (hopefully) you learn why people use your product and how and in the end that’s the insight you are hunting for.

TFW a researcher uncovers user insight for the product team



Michael Le

Product designer, speaker, father, design mentor #ux. Based in Sydney. Creator of Navibaby