How to Improve Your User Research with this Framework
Frameworks, tools, and examples
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When talking to users — be it car dealers, job seekers, office workers, or remote workers — the one framework that I’ve followed is the Observations, Insights, and Actions.
It’s a flavor of Design Thinking.
Let’s look at a simple example:
Observation: I have a recommendation for a submit button. Even if this just takes you back to the previous page, it would act as a subtle confirmation that changes were recorded.
Observation is nothing but the raw feedback from the user, either through talking out loud, giving feedback or through observing the user while they use the app.
Insight: The user doesn’t know if it’s being saved.
Insight asks ‘why’ and gives it meaning. It focuses on the root problem.
So, in this example, it’s about the anxiety of whether or not the changes are being saved.
Actions: Show a saved toast message
Actions allow multiple options to solve the user’s problem or need.
We could look at multiple solutions, including adding a “Save button”. But the most elegant solution that we went for was to add a saved toast message.
Here’s another example from Northwestern University; this example is about human behavior.
Observation: Fast-food customers throw all of their trash away in the same garbage bin despite the presence of a recycling bin.
Insight: Lack of clarity around what to do with different types of trash makes the fast food consumer feel helpless in how to participate in recycling programs.
Why should you separate these out?
It’s important to listen to customers for problems, not solutions. Going back to the first example, if we just listened to what the customer wanted, we would’ve had to build a save button. But that wasn’t the best solution.
People tend to have an emotional response to feedback. And it triggers System 1 thinking. As explained by Daniel Kahneman in his book, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, System 1 thinking is fast, instinctive, and emotional.
By using this separation, you can be less reactive to raw feedback.
This engages System 2 thinking, which is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. You can interpret the actual problem behind the feedback, use your product thinking, and come up with a better solution.
Why do you need to further break it down into Insights and Actions?
Firstly, insights should not be construed as actions. There can always be multiple solutions for every problem. And every insight might not have clear or immediate actions.
How to use it?
Take feedback from the user without judgment
Ask questions for them to elaborate
Note down raw observations
Categorize the observations into themes
Process the observations for insights later
And from the insights, write down the actions
Here is my Notion template that you can duplicate and use.
When and where can you use this OIA framework?
Tools I use: Zoom + recording + take short-hand notes in Notion
Pre-product or feature:
Before building a feature or product, you should talk to users and ask them about their problems. The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick gives the best framework of questions:
Tell me more about your problem?
What makes this so awful for you specifically?
Talk me through the last time that happened
Have you tried doing something to fix this?
What else have you tried?
How are you dealing with it now?
What will be the perfect solution for you?
Talk me through the last time that happened
Following this format, you are better placed to separate out the answers into observations, insights, and actions.
Prototype or product:
When you have a prototype or product ready, instead of demoing the feature or product, you should ask them to use it themselves and think aloud.
You can run the same OIA framework on this feedback.
Observation: The user didn’t like that no information was provided when the images were being uploaded.
Insights: The user would like to be given system feedback about the state of image upload.
Alternative 1: Show image upload status in the notification bar.
Alternative 2: Show image upload on the app page directly.
Now, you can choose between two solutions to solve the same problem.
Since we now have limited access to in-person user research, in addition to synchronous video user research, you can try async user research through Loom or Userbrain. It could be useful in cases of time difference.
However, Loom requires the other participant to be tech-savvy to be able to do it. So, you can send it to other product people, designers, developers, or makers.
Tools I use: Surveymonkey + Slack groups + Twitter
Surveys are a mix of quantitative and qualitative responses. Usually, you would ask the participant to select one of a few choices, and then explain why they chose it.
You can apply the OIA framework to the subjective part of the answer.
Tools I use: Userbrain
I use online platforms like Userbrain to get a sense of the usability level of a product. While watching the videos, I take down the raw observations first and then list down insights and actions.
Feedback from user testing should be taken with a pinch of salt because this will not completely be your target market unless the tool offers that kind of breakdown into demographics.
Tools I use: Iterate, Typeform
Feedback from the actual users of the product can be weighed more than other sources.
Again, this is processed by the same OIA framework.
You can also drill it down into what kind of user they are, what persona, and what type of user - active, inactive, medium.
Use the OIA framework to trigger System 2 thinking
Observations: thoughts, feedback, feelings, or actions by the user
Insights: the motivation behind the feedback
Actions: multiple options to solve the user’s problem or need
You can use this same framework for user research, surveys, usability testing, and user feedback
🔗 Duplicate my Notion template and use.
That's it for today, thanks for reading! Press the ♥️ button if you liked this edition. Have any questions? Leave a comment below, and I'll be happy to answer them.
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