(Not) Enough User Research

I love mentoring and coaching at 2112,??the Creative Industry Incubator in Chicago??that recently celebrated their first anniversary (congrats)!??Its a dynamic space with more than 70 creative tech startups and entrepreneurs who are all??all creating, testing, and pushing innovations in music, film & video, and creative technology.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a startup developing a promising app.??Its called SnapAsong. You can capture a moment not with just a photo but also with an accompanying 20 second (or more) sound clip–think of it as an audio postcard. Its meant for music fans, particularly in a concert setting where they could (for instance) capture that moment when their favorite band breaks into their favorite song.

What I love most about this app is that its not so literal or revealing like video. It allows consumers of the content created on the app to connect in a different way by making us fill in the blanks, making us depend on our own memory or frame of reference, making it more personal in a way.

The team at Snapasong were in the process of improving their user experience based on some research their UX team conducted and they invited me to review their prototype solutions. It was buggy, and at its present state, didnt differentiate itself from many other similar apps.

I was impressed with the work the team did. In general, the prototype solutions provided clean, balanced, and improved standardized approaches to the user interface and in turn, optimized the overall usability of the app–it worked, and it worked well. A clear improvement from the current version.

After the lead UX designer concluded the demo, I asked, After all your research and design iterations to improve the usability of the site, did this process generate any more questions about the users experience?

She dropped her shoulders, relaxed her breath and replied confidently, Yes, it did.

What are those questions? I asked.

She explained that although the data and insights collected in the user interviews helped their team optimize the UI design, they were still not sure if the solution would be optimized enough to set it apart from competitors, or what would make users choose this app over something else (cough, Snapchat). They were also unsure about which features to bring forward or push back.

Were just not sure what questions to actually ask and how to go about collecting those insights to help us make decisions, she said.

User Research Methods

Picking the right questions will always help identify the best research methods. I explained to the team that from their initial approach, their results helped them find out what users thought was broken based on what they said or shared but it didnt quite capture insights on how they actually use the app in context.??This led us to one main question that would require more user research:??Should the camera and microphone access be the default open screen or the content feed?

I shared with them a great summary by Christian Rohrer??where he illustrates the landscape for determining the most appropriate user research for a product. In general, it maps out two sets of differentiators for the types of research that should be conducted–qualitative and quantitative, and users attitudes and behaviors.

Based on these maps, it was clear that their research was more focused on the qualitative and attitudinal quadrants. What was lacking was research that focused more on both qualitative and quantitative research that focused on user behavior.

They were able to find out what was broken and how to fix it, but didnt have enough insight to understand how to get people to truly love their app.


So rather than just conducting user interviews, observing and understanding the use of the product in the field would be their next steps in collecting data–gaining insight on the natural use of the product. We began strategizing various methods for doing this right then and there. I suggested that they come up with a plan to conduct Field and True Intent Studies so that they could better understand how users were applying these app features in a real-world context. Measuring how many times a user used either the camera or the feed and in what context could help them make a decision about which feature should come forward (or not), or at least introduce it in a way that was designed for its ideal intent.

Any More Questions?

It became clear to the UX team and the product owners that having a UX strategy wasnt just about optimizing the UI and overall usability. It needed to dive a bit deeper to understand the user from their own context, mindset and ideal intent for the apps use.


  1. Consider these five layers of of user context:
    • Semantics: their understanding of signs and symbols,
    • Psychological: their assumptions and belief systems,
    • Physical: the physical environment in which they will use the product,
    • Physiological: their overall state of being while using a product,
    • Technical: their ability to access the required technology to use the product.
  2. Formulate the right questions that need to be answered.
  3. Consider Rohrers Landscape of User Research Methods??to identify which methods and for what reasons they need to be conductedhelping you focus on just enough research needed to design and optimize a users experience with your product.

If you’re looking for help getting started with user research for your design project, we can help!??Our Human Centered Design Workshops tackle just this sort of thing and arm our clients with the information they need to make smart design decisions.

Sign up for UX Newsletter


More Insights

Scroll to Top