How I collected user data with $0 and my delicious home made Indian food

Source: wikimedia

When thinking of user interviews, we often think of two UX researchers sitting with a user, one researcher asking questions related to experiences and usability, and another one taking copious notes. This scenario is ideal for professionals working in a company and having a decent budget. But what if you are a student, from another country, do not know many people in your area, have limited resources, but possess the zeal to pursue your venture and want to do user interviews?

This article tells my story of how, against all odds, I conducted user interviews using unconventional methods.


I am an UX design student with limited resources. I often skip meals to survive. Still, I always have the passion and belief of starting my venture and facing unknown challenges.

User interviews are one of the most important activities for user research. It’s a window of opportunity to feel someone’s emotions, to experience what they experience every day, and to know their pain when they are unhappy. I consider myself lucky to have this ability to connect with people at a deeper emotional level.

In the month of May, I stumbled upon an opportunity to create a better user experience for a disease dictionary app. I performed basic internet research, played with competitor’s apps, saw a tremendous market growth of 13.5%(source: bureau of labor statistics) by 2024 and decided to pursue this idea.

After doing the primary study, I became eager to talk to users and to know their experiences. Searching online was a piece of cake, but now comes the hard part — Talking to users and asking for their time.

My primary purpose was to get the information from people matching my design personas, to see how healthcare professionals work, to know how they react in their environment, and to figure out how my app will help them gather information.

But the big question was — How???

Initially, I was hesitant to talk to my friends, because they might think, I am wasting my time with this venture and that I should simply focus on studies and get a good job. I was careful whom to ask and gather information.


I was getting frustrated because I was not able to talk to many people around me. Although one day, I was sharing my frustration with a friend, and to my surprise, he told me that he was a FireMedic at one point in his career. I thought that he was a Vietnam War veteran and an electronics engineer for aircraft. I did not know that he had healthcare experience. I got really excited with this new information, quickly gathered all the questions to ask to him, and rushed to his place to begin collecting data.

Source: Wikipedia

During the interview process, he told me how he worked, showed me his Alameda fire station, which was closed at that time, and shared some of the severe fire and rescue stories. That experience was fantastic! I felt like I was watching him work rescuing people, and providing medical care to patients. I asked him specifics about his schedule to understand his working style.


The next day I was talking to another friend of mine who told me, that his best friend is a Patient Safety Facilitator at a large insurance company. He also mentioned that this guy is quiet adept, and hard to get hold of. However, I was eager to learn more about him and wanted to meet him. I thought of taking both of them out for dinner, but did not have money to pay for anyone’s meal. I felt frustrated with my situation and thought of ending the pursuit. But something clicked in me, and I asked to myself,

“What if I cook food for both of them?”

I hesitantly asked my friend if I could cook food at his place and invite his friend. He immediately agreed and told me that it was a brilliant idea. I was thankful to him and got excited about this opportunity. Sometimes, being a good cook has exceptional value.

Source: Opencage , Wikipedia

My friend was so generous to pay for groceries and assisted me in dinner preparations. I prepared a delicious spinach daal, egg curry, garlic rice, and onion pakoras. This guy was super impressed by my gesture and was so happy to eat my delicious food, that later on, he spent two hours with me giving me all the information I needed about medicine, diseases, data and different resources to use. He told me about his daily schedule and about the way he deals with various cases.

At the end of the day, he looked at me with a smile and asked me a question.

“Why so much trouble for this information?”

I smiled and told him that, it’s not my intention to ever take advantage of anyone. If I cannot take you out for dinner, I will cook for you or do something to make you feel good.

I believe that there are ten different ways to solve a problem if I fail to solve it one way, then there are nine different ways still remaining. I just need to think out of the box to come up with a solution.

He was flattered by my answer and gave me his phone number, telling me to call him anytime and saying that he would never forget this experience, because no one has ever cooked a meal for three hours just to get information from him.

A week later this guy introduced me to his doctor friend and bragged about my cooking skills. I promised both of them that I would cook food for them. This doctor also gave me a lot of information about the disease database and scenarios in which he uses an app to check for medical information. I was so happy and making good progress in my interview process.


Finally, I decided to take one last interview and start analyzing the data.

I was desperately searching for a suitable candidate to interview. In the meanwhile, I got hired to design a website for a client to promote his book. I arranged an interview within two days of contacting him. In the interview process, I found out that his girlfriend is a child psychologist. I was on cloud nine when I learned this information. I always wanted to talk to a psychologist, as their line of work is a bit different. Without wasting any time, I asked her for an interview. I asked her appropriate questions and got all the information I needed. It finally ended my interview process and I felt happy that I had collected so much necessary information.

This was my experience of gathering user data using unconventional ways. It took a lot of time, patience, and perseverance, but I am glad that I completed this process.

What I Learned:

1. Money should not be an issue for talking to people. Feeling inferior does not help to move forward. We need to push through, find people to talk to and share ideas to get information. I understand that founders hesitate to share their ideas, but we cannot make proper design decisions, without understanding users. Sometimes it’s good to share ideas, because in the end what matters is how we execute the idea.

2. People are so much easier to talk to than we think. I made all kinds of assumptions and strategies before approaching these people. I was worried that the food might not taste good, but in the end, I was praised for my efforts more than praised the food.

3. Never give up, there are multiple ways to solve any problem, we just need to look deeper, persevere and think out of the box.

Want to know more about the design process? Please visit this page.