How to write valuable user insights

Feb 14, 2019 · 6 min read
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Why put effort into writing down insights about users? Why not just jot down the changes needed in your product and share them with the rest of the team? Because a good insight doesn’t only tell you what your users do. It also explains why. Only then, you’ll be able to develop the right solutions. Not just now. but in the future too. Because you really understand the needs and expectations of your user. These types of insights will eventually help you create products people will love. And have a positive impact on your success metrics. Be it conversion, loyalty, revenue, or whatever you use to measure your impact.

What’s the difference between insights & findings?

It can be hard identifying the lasting insights from a study amongst an overwhelming amount of research data. To distinguish insights from findings. They look alike, but there are some important differences in content, reliability and durability. This decision tree will help you figure out if you’re talking about an insight that will still hold value in a couple of months or even years or if it’s a perishable (a piece of data that has impact on today’s research questions, but won’t have value after serving that purpose).

  1. Does it say something about the attitude, behaviour, needs or context of your users in general (it is true, regardless of your product or solution)?
    E.g. Cat owners give their cat more food if they went away a longer period of time than usual (= behaviour of cat owners)
    Yes: you’ve uncovered an insight! → Read how to write them
    No: go to the next question
  2. Is it a fundamental principle you’ve discovered, like a behavioural or design pattern?
    E.g. Users expect to find the price of the cat food near the product image (= proximity principle)
    Yes: it’s an insight. → Read how to write them
    No: don’t give up and go to the next question
  3. Does it say something about your brand, product or service in its entirety and not just a small part of it?
    E.g. Owners of cats and dogs used the search function to get an overview of all products for their pets, and not per product category (i.e. ‘Food’) (= structure of website)
    Yes: you’ve got an insight. → Read how to write them
    No: it’s a finding, but it still might be worth documenting…

When is a finding worth documenting?

Ok, so this thing you found is not something we consider an insight. That doesn’t always mean you should not add it to your knowledge base. You should if any of the following statements is true:

  • If what you discovered is also relevant for other teams. For example when it’s related to a standardized design element and is used across the whole product.
  • If what you found occurs more often or you think it will. Think about people having struggles with a particular part of the navigation, and observing that over and over in multiple consecutive studies.
  • If you need the finding to support/argue a future (design) decision. For example, stakeholders have the assumption nobody likes the color pink in your new design but that’s never been proven.

Otherwise… you could still document the finding. But the question will be whether its value will outweigh time and energy you invest while doing so. Spending more time on documenting the real (lasting) insights that will impact future decisions will probably create more value. Both now, tomorrow and beyond.

The long term benefits of insights

You don’t waste time on data that is disposable
Spending your time on documenting findings instead of insights will generate lots of data. But most of the time those findings will lose their meaning when you finish your project or you finally capture enough to make sense of them. That’s because many findings are related to a specific feature or design solution and nowadays products and services change at a high pace.

You’ll get the most out of your user research
Insights have the ability to be more lasting and shareable than a list of findings hidden in research reports. When the underlying principle is similar, insights can be relevant for other departments, products and services within your organization. So you’ll have more impact with less research.

You know how to make products that people will love (and keep loving)
Only when the problem is clear, you can start to think of a solution. When you know why users behave the way they do and what they are looking for, formulating the right user requirements or recommendations will be a breeze.
And it will also help you define the right strategies to develop your product or service in a way that creates most value to your users.

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What makes a good insight?

Insights are the universal and comprehensive learnings distilled from several observations and/or pieces of data. They will have you make sense of more than just one use-case or situation.

It describes:

  • What you’ve learned
    Your key message: a problem, obstacle, challenge, need, attitude or behaviour you discovered with your research. One learning per insight; otherwise your key message will get cluttered.
  • The context and/or situation
    When, where and for whom does this insight apply? Probably not in all cases. Be as specific as needed, but don’t overdo it.
  • Root cause
    Make sure you know ‘why did people behave this way?’. The underlying reason or motive triggering an action is often more valuable to capture than the action itself.
  • The consequences of the insight you gained
    Where does it lead to? What effect does it have on your brand, product or service for example?
  • The goal/motivations of the user
    What do they want to achieve with your product/service or in their lives? What are their motivations to want to achieve this goal or task? What’s the job they ask your product to do?
  • Bonus: recommendations & next steps
    By making the next steps explicit, team members will be more triggered to get into action. Making sure your user insights have more impact.

What does a valuable insight look like?

Let’s say you have done some research into people navigating your website. This research led to the following findings:

  1. Participants understood the labels of product categories
  2. Participants only clicked the menu item ‘Other’ after extensive browsing elsewhere on the site, and were unsure what to expect
  3. Most participants were able to find contact information
  4. More than half of the participants were unable to find “log in”

Also, you’ve done some digging into your analytics:

5. Most visitors leave the website from the index page ‘Other’

6. 30% of all customers do have an account but aren’t logged in when they visit the website

And you did some desk research about logins:

7. Most popular sites place their login button in the upper right corner of the menu

Combining these findings and questioning the ‘why’ result in overall insights:

  • The category ‘Other’ is too broad and contains too many products which are hard to distinguish
    This insight includes findings 3 & 5.
  • Some customers do not log in because they can not find login (hidden behind the label ‘Settings’)
    This insight includes findings 4, 6 & 7.

These insights are made tangible by formulating the next steps:

  • Get to know our customers by researching which words they use to describe products currently listed in ‘Other’. Might impact other product categories as well. Our proposal would be to conduct an open card sorting study.
  • Follow design conventions by offering a distinguishable login option in the upper right corner of each page.

To summarize: write valuable insights by combining findings and understanding the why.

This will make sure your insights are the prelude to real sustainable knowledge for your entire organization. But don’t let that hold you back from writing the first draft. There’s plenty of opportunities later on to refine your insight, or even to decide the insight is no longer relevant. Insights are only here to help you.

We from Sticktail are happy to hear your thoughts about this because we see it as our mission to make user research more impactful so that you, as a UX researcher, can add value to your users!

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