All about User Research: Observation

Updated: Oct 8

Hi!🙋🏻‍♂️


User Research is the art of understanding the behaviors, motivations, and needs of target users. It is the first step in building any product or startup. User Research is very crucial for any startup or organization as it sets the foundation for future product development. The reason most startups fail is that they built products that are never wanted by the end-user. Most startups make this mistake because of poor or no user research before starting product development. Thus it is really important to understand the user needs, behaviors, and pain points to ensure we solve real user needs.


User Research can be done in the following ways:

  • Observation

  • Interview

  • Market Research

We will discuss observation, which is the first step in conducting user research.


What is Observation? Why do we need it? 🤔


Observation is the art of listening and watching the target users carefully to gain insights into the user process lifecycle. User observation helps the team to gain insights into the following aspects:

  • Gaining user empathy. While solving any problem, one needs to gain insights into both the intrinsic as well as extrinsic needs of the users. Great products solve both these needs and hence are successful. Market Research and Data Analysis can help in identifying extrinsic needs, but user observation is a great way to gain user empathy and solve intrinsic user needs.

  • Discovering alternative solutions and workarounds. Careful observations can help in discovering alternative solutions used by target users. This is immensely helpful as these workarounds can be based to future innovations.

  • Validating assumptions about user needs. It is imperative for the team to validate assumptions before stepping into product development. Many products fail in the market as they are built on incorrect assumptions, what may seem like a large user need maybe turn out to be a damp squib, where not many users care about the solution developed.

  • Gathering additional data which can be useful in further steps of product development. Product development involves extensive brainstorming into user needs, behaviours, motivation etc. User observation can help in gaining insights into additional data which can be very helpful in future steps of product development. Watching users interact can help gain valuable information in creating a better user experience.

How to conduct Observations? 🦸🏻


Following are a few tips that can be helpful in conducting efficient user observations.


🗒 Plan well!


User observations should be well planned, one should take time to prepare well for observations. The plan should essentially contain the following points:

For example: Say you are conducting user observation for an ed-tech project. The project is aimed to make the exam preparation of university students easier.

So, let's prepare a plan for user observation for this ed-tech project:

​Target Users

​Target Platform

Action Plan

​​Who will i observe?

Who are the stakeholders?

​​Where can i find the users?

Where do the users engage?

​​What is the user doing?

What assumptions will i validate?

Primary Users: Engineering Students

Stakeholders: Professors, College Administration.

Lecture Halls, Online Classrooms, Learning Management Systems, Online Forums, Libraries

Group Projects, Clearing University Exams, Placement Examinations

🪰 Be a fly on the wall


Now as a solid action plan is created, we exactly know what to observe and infer. Before entering the observation room, we must remember that observation is all about watching and listening. Thus we should resist the temptation of interrupting our target users. One has to be a fly on the wall and ✅ Just Observe! Don't interrupt your users.


📝 Take notes


User observation is an extensive exercise, there are so many insights that one can gain from this process. Thus to gain the best from the findings, it is helpful to take notes during the process. Taking notes structures your findings and helps in gaining meaningful insights. If the users allow, you can also record the process and take pictures to help you gain better insights.


🙃 Observe emotions

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See what part of the process the user most

enjoys, and find where the user is facing discomfort or uneasiness. This process can help in understanding users and empathizing with their intrinsic needs. These insights can be really powerful in optimizing user experience. For example in the ed-tech project, one can observe what part of exam preparation is most stressful and which part is most welcoming to students. The process where you find the building solutions where the uneasy parts of the process can be reduced, while the emphasis could be put upon processes where the user enjoys the most.


😎 Look for alternative solutions


While observing, look for innovative and creative workarounds that users implement to solve the problem. The workarounds could be a great way to brainstorm more creative ideas in the future. Moreover, many solutions can be created by improving, automating, or scaling user workarounds. ❌ Do not brainstorm ideas at this stage.


✍🏻 Create a user journey map


Create a user journey map by sketching all the steps which a user goes through in the process. Add all the stakeholders with which the user interacts in this journey and create multiple pathways through which the user ends its goal. This technique is super useful as it simplifies the process and helps us understand different pathways through which the user goes in the process.


Concluding the Observation! 🧑🏻‍💻


Post observation, you will gain insights into user behavior, needs, and solutions that you never expected before. These insights will be helpful in understanding the user persona and pain points. Once, you complete user observation, you must compile all the notes, video interviews, and audio clips, and start analyzing patterns in user behavior. These patterns will be very helpful in segmenting the end-users and developing different point-of-views.


Towards the end, you will be able to understand the user very well, by empathizing with the user and understanding its intrinsic needs. You will also explore workarounds and alternative solutions that users employ in the process. All the insights will help in gaining valuable information will help in further steps of product development.

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