User Research is Overrated
Jonathan Courtney

Great article man. I mean the headline really pulls you in.

But, when your eyes venture down things start to unravel and expectations remain unsated. It’s what we in the ‘trade’ often call an ‘STM moment.’

If you’re not familiar with this let me briefly explain. It stands for that ‘Spicy Taco Moment’. You know, the one where the menu promises three chilli heat but delivers something far more mild, dare I say almost tepid in response. ‘Heat me don’t cheat me man’ is how we like to refer to them.

So, let me tell you about one such moment happened on a recent road trip me and some buddies made up west last month.

We’d spotted a new taco shack on the edge of town and decided to stop by before we hit the interstate. Well, we left with an early full carafe of water sitting at the table. That should give you some idea of what we were presented with.

Well, before stamping on the gas we jumped on our good old pal ‘tripA’ or TripAdvisor as you’ll probably know it in the UK for a bit of UGC.

Anyway, we’re riding along and big Bill aka Brain-dog riding way up back starts telling us about this article he’s read by a dude named JC (that’s you man).

Bill tells us how this guy who’s written it feels that research is overrated. He also writes about how he used to sell it as part of his essentially productised design process. Bill goes on to tell us about selling insight and benefits and

not research. That’s just a ‘feature-set’ in product speak.

He goes on to tell us about some of the great work his research has helped to inform from products designed to help people who have experienced serious illness and isolation to those who simply want help build better futures for their children and theirs to follow.

He talks of context and meaning and how there’s no such thing as one size fitting all.

Well, at this point the rest of the wagon is transfixed as story after story of the great and the good research, in the right hands, can do to inform an intelligent user centred design process flows forth from his lips.

Then, all of a sudden he seems to stop.

After a brief pause he picks up the scent and continues on. He starts by telling us about the time he spent several days just sitting at the railway station uptown whilst watching and taking notes as commuters hurried by purchasing tickets and boarding the trains on their way into town.

Well, I can honestly say me and my road trip buddies exchanged some pretty uncomfortable glances at this point.

Trained in such matters, Bill immediately picks up on our apparent unease and sets about reassuring us about the purpose of this research technique (as we all thought interviews were pretty much it when it came to finding out about stuff you don’t really know).

Ethnographic research I think he called it.

Anyway, by this point the sun is starting to drop over the horizon so we all stop off to pick up coffees and extra supplies.

On the way back to the wagon, Jim, aka ‘The J’ on account of his brightly Hawaiian shirted plumage, reminds us of this great little taco shack, a short drive up the highway.

So, we hasten back to the wagon and I press the foot hard on the gas — us all in eager anticipation of the true spice we’ll all get to experience again less than 10 minutes up the highway.

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