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We spent 25 hours interviewing potential users, here's what we learned.


With Reset, we are trying to solve a problem that we ourselves struggled with - how to be productive, engaged and not lose your mind when you work from home. The good news is we knew exactly what the need and pain points were, but the bad news is we completely overestimated our own experiences in the beginning while doing user research. 


While validating our idea, we set out to find as many remote workers as possible and interview them.


25 hours and 50 user interviews later - here’s what we learned about the process and how you can avoid our very silly mistakes.  


The problem was relatively straightforward - people who work remote, freelance or work from home had limited options for workspaces. They could stay at home, go to a free-ish resource (coffeeshop/library) or pay for a co-working space. They need a place that wouldn’t be as distracting or lonesome as their home, but would still have the right type of setup and environment to help them work and didn’t break the bank. With the burgeoning idea of Reset in our minds - utilizing amazing restaurants spaces that are closed during the day and opening them up to remote workers - we set off to try to validate our user assumptions.


Keep your eye on the prize - not your idea


The prize is not validating your idea.

Repeat after me - the prize is not validating the idea.


At the beginning of my interviews, I spent so long trying to pick out the nuggets that were validating the idea that I ended up whizzing right by other important insights. During the data analysis phase, I was struggling to map the cohesive picture of who the user was - because I had only written down the parts that seemed directly relevant to the business idea.


The prize is learning about the prospective user’s life, behavior and painting the picture of them as a whole human being as accurately as possible. In my next few interviews, I started focusing on mapping the whole person and truly listening rather than looking for the “a-ha” moment at the end of the horizon. I practiced active listening, and honed my note-taking to include everything - the boring, the mundane and the “a-ha’s!”.


Takeaway

Focus on learning as much as you can about your interviewees, not marching toward validating your idea. Stop looking for the “a-ha” moments or the perfect metrics to put in your pitch deck and really listen to the human in front of you. Once you do that, you’ll learn a lot more about what they want, who they are and how you can solve their problem.


Add This to Your Toolkit

A few resources here to help you get started and avoid all of the very annoying mistakes I made. Learn from me grasshopper!


Never Ask What They Want - 3 Better Questions To Ask in User Research Interviews


UX Research Cheat Sheet for All Stages (Discover, Explore, Test, Listen)



Be hypersensitive to the questions you’re asking, they’re probably boxing you in


This seems like a no-brainer, but bear with me here. I was so overconfident going into this, how difficult can interviewing prospective users even be? Ask them some questions, figure out needs - bam insights galore!


Not really. Turns out, if you ask users a bunch of targeted questions aimed at the how/why/when of freelance work you get a lot of disjointed, short responses. For example, I started out asking people about how often they work from home vs other places, what they do and other follow on questions. But, I only got answers to those questions - I didn’t learn anything about things outside of that realm of questions, which is where a lot of the truly fun insights were.


Once I started asking users to walk me through their days working remotely things completely changed. They gave me details from time of waking up to bedtime - I learned what they ate for breakfast, where they liked to work, when they walked Fido - things I never would have asked!


For example - some people who work from home like to break up their day in the afternoon by changing locations, walking their dog, or getting a work out in.


Takeaway

Write down your questions, test them, and then change them. Leave space in the conversation for your interviewee to fill, let them talk about things that frustrate them, that make them happy and they wish they had. Ask open-ended questions that seek to learn more about your user and tell a story that you didn’t see coming.


Start with “walk me through your day” and see where the conversation goes from there. Try it and let me know how it works!


Add This to Your Toolkit

Sarah Doody’s guide is a great place to start as a beginner, and will get you thinking in the right frame of mind. If you want to dig deeper and/or are a nerd like me check out the second link from the Interaction Design Foundation that digs into context mapping.


Starter Questions from Sarah Doody’s User Research Guide

Probes for Context Mapping - How to Design and Use Them


Connect the dots, and build out key patterns visually


Now comes the fun part! Take that big pile of data that’s you’ve worked very very hard for, and turn it into a beautiful Play-Doh sculpture of wonder. Be wary through, our minds play tricks on us. You’ll almost never remember every important detail after 25 hours of talking to people, most likely the ones that are more relevant to you (oh she has a dachshund too, cool!). Being able to take that big unruly mess of data and turn it into something usable is hard, but really key.

I thought I would never say this but, use a framework. My co-founder is a former consultant and I am a former marketing/creative person so frameworks were my version of a snoozefest. But I admit I was wrong and they are amazing - especially when two very different thinkers are working together to analyze it.


With that, I recommend taking a post-it approach. My co-founder and I set aside 3 hours, a bunch of post-its, and a big whiteboard to create a thematic map of the insights. The goal was to drill down and cluster common pain points and user needs - which would eventually visually map the biggest needs ours potential users had.


The key steps here are:

  1. Split up the data and set color codes for the post-its (we experimented with % of time remote and type of job, but we although about splitting the data by age and level of extroversion)

  2. Begin writing down key insights, quotes (definitely this!), important habits, or demographics even

  3. Begin grouping like pieces together, eventually you’ll see big groups form and one-offs. (For example, we saw big groups of people stating they schedule in social time with lunches/coffee since they don’t have it built in like an office environment)

  4. Parse out key groups, and how they relate to your business

Add This to Your Toolkit

Start with the very fast read on the anatomy of a good sticky note, for ideas of what to highlight. Then move on to the more dense article on clustering info if you dare.


Anatomy of a Good Sticky Note

Clustering and Information Synthesis


Finally....

I hope your journey into potential user research as insightful as mine was, it is an absolutely critical and eye-opening piece of creating a company. If you take one thing from this article it is that you should listen actively, and start with a big, broad question - try “walk me through your day”.


Bonus!

I did an interview with the FUND Conference organizers a few months ago, check it out on their blog today. 


This blog post was also published on Medium.

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