OK, before this gets mainstream: 1) usability testing IS user research.
Adam Nemeth

Hey Adam,

Thanks for your reply. Yes, you’re right that Testing is User Research, and yes, the title is as little misleading, but I prefer being blunt to get the basic point across instead of being 100% correct.

Your reply is fantastic, and there’s nothing in there that I really disagree with, but let me give you a few comments here:

2) a 4–6 week “user research package” is WAY off, we sell 1 week interview packages (2 with recruitment), to quickly ask 3–5 potential users, sometimes over phone.

Just because you guys are doing this, doesn’t mean that other companies aren’t still out there wasting other people’s time and money. I know pleeeennnttyyy of famous/successful and very prestigious companies still doing over 2 months of up-front research.

4) Tacit knowledge is, and always was much more important in user research (including usability tests) than explicit findings. Personas (in my opinion) are mainly there to make it tangible for the department which pays for user research, as some of them need get “something” for their money.

The point of my article was that a lot of waste is produced in the research phase, you are aware that companies are spending literally millions on personas right? I’m not sure how large your clients are, but in my world this is a crazy issue.

5) the issue with starting design-first is that you don’t even try to understand the context beforehand. This is a very short-path to the “prove the null hypothesis” effect, which we sometimes see with Google Sprint advocates: they come up with something in a meeting room, build it up quickly the most realistically possible (usually final visuals), and go out to prove themselves (“it’s great isn’t it?” “yeah, sure”). Dangerous path.

A dangerous path indeed, but in real life: the exact same thing happens with up-front research when in the wrong hands. The research is interpreted the way they want to see it. The results are skewed either way, why not just get the “wrong thing” out faster and iterate based on actual insights. I know this is an aggressive, crude approach, but i’d rather that then investing in wasted up-front research.

Again, your perspective is that of a company already offering a leaner approach to research, i’m not arguing against this.

I appreciate the long comment though, some excellent points!