User Research Pitfalls
It’s really easy to think that “I am a proxy for all others” -- that the things I know about me may be truthful for everyone. It’s a very risky proposition to apply that understanding to others.
Inside the business enterprise, we very often find that folks believe that their deep understanding of the business translates to an understanding of how other people in the organization must behave or will behave. One is not a substitute for the other. A deep knowledge of the business is not a substitute for really understanding the people inside that domain. You have to have both.
The stakeholder who really knows what needs to get done -- that's important. But it needs to be complemented with a deep understanding of that human audience for whom we’re about to make something. So I think one of the greatest pitfalls is asking them what they want. That is not an exercise in understanding people; that’s an exercise in capturing a notion of beliefs.
A big pitfall is this idea that it’s good enough to put people in a focus group and throw my idea at them and ask them what they think. Similarly, it’s not enough to ask someone what they need to perform a task. They’re not likely to give you the insight that you need at that point.
User research allows us to go out into the context of people performing particular tasks and watch and listen and understand. It’s not a matter of what they say they need but actually capturing an appreciation for why they believe that’s what they need. That’s a big difference.