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Miscellaneous Thoughts From an Article on User Research

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A co-worker shared this piece with me. It’s by Erika Hall and it’s called “Research Questions Are Not Interview Questions”. Here’s a few things that stood out.


for the record “user testing” isn’t really a thing because you aren’t testing users, you are testing the usability, or other qualities, of a system. Intentional phrasing matters.

I’ve been doing software for years and have never thought of this distinction—but I love it! It reminds me of the idea that there’s only two groups of people who call their customers “users”: software folks, and drug dealers.


Everyone is too worried about looking smart in front of each other.

Doing user research requires a modicum of humility and willingness to appear “dumb”.

I’ve been on calls with researchers who do this really well. In the moment, I get really impatient—“c’mon, just put words in their mouth and move on, you know what they’re trying to say”—but the truth is: I’m always surprised where people will lead you if you don’t jump in and finish their sentences.

I could be better at this, in research and life in general.


Maybe the best way to find out whether anyone will develop a habit around your app is to learn what gets people to floss their teeth.

I love Erika’s suggestion that writing your research questions can help you understand whether you need to do any research at all. You can often learn from human behavior in the day-to-day world, outside of software.

4th, and last:

A lot of bad research results from a mismatch between question and method, usually because people spend more time worrying about the activity (surveys, testing, interviews) than about forming a good question.

While applicable to research, this feels more broadly relevant to many ambitions, including blogging! It’s so easy to spend all your time on the tools to design, develop, and host your blog than to spend any time actually writing.