I’m afraid I have to take issue with your article about ‘Getting User Research Wrong’. You explicitly call out IDEO in your article as a culprit, I can only assume you’ve never worked at IDEO or with IDEO teams as you seem to have completely misunderstood our process of user research.
I encourage designers to spend time studying adjacent fields as part of them broadening their tool-belt. Behavioral Economics is a key area for designers to study, so it’s only right that our industry helps explain itself in return.
Please take this as a constructive continuation of the conversation rather than a defensive list of niggles.
Three of the reasons we will continue to carry out user research:
1. Building empathy
First and foremost, spending time with real people in real contexts helps teams to gain an understanding of the people they are designing for. ‘Building empathy’ can sound a little patronizing, but the reality is that deeply identifying with what people care about and how the design of a new product or service will help them sustains a design team through out the project.
While we do use personas — to codify sets of behaviors and anonymize participants — more often than not, the stories we share in the team are about the people we’ve met.
2. Identifying user need patterns
When carrying out ethnographic interviews no team should expect to hear solutions to the problem they are trying to solve.
(In fact, I’d give people slightly more credit — there are many occcassions where a really strong idea is suggested by a participant not by the design team)
Instead, when carrying out user research, we are listening for ‘unmet needs’, ‘work arounds’ and any other random signals that might inspire a solution. The designer is still responsible for the solution, but we are always looking for that inspiration. It’s why we do much more than just interviews too. Surveys, prototypes, analogous experiences for example.
It’s also important to note that we gather a lot of noise along with the signal and that the vital stage of synthesis is where patterns really emerge.
3. Understanding perceptions
Finally, and exactly to your point, self reflection is difficult for everyone. The difference between what people say/think/feel/do is widely understood in the companies carrying out Human Centred Design.
In fact, we can use this to our advantage: much of the initial adoption of a product is in the way it is perceived. So we actually want to spend time in this area. Knowing a person might sign up for a service with good intentions and then drop off quickly is actually a very important thing to know and this design for.
True, in a strict sense perception isn’t reality. But the two are entangled therefore must both be understood.
I hope that helps to explain more about the way we carry out user research. I’d love to continue the conversation.