December 12, 2016


Get close to your users to unravel valuable product ideas

Whenever a new product is to be developed or an existing product is revamped, most of the teams try to cram every feature provided by various competitors into their product. But, to stay ahead of the competition, we need to add value to our product by generating new ideas. Yet, very few teams generate new ideas, perhaps because Ideation is a risky business. New ideas can either turn out to be “Game Changers” or end up being shelved. But this does not mean that we play it safe and include features that are “tried and tested” by the competition.

The secret behind spawning effective ideas is to extract them from our users. By “extract”, we don’t mean that we go ask users to come up with ideas, rather we study our users, their behavior, intentions, motivations, and frustrations. Using this knowledge, we can generate effective ideas to solve problems faced by our users.

The “User Centric Design” process allows us to come up with creative design solutions by following these phases:

  • Research
  • Ideation
  • Prototyping
  • Iteration

There are multiple research methods that play a role in user centered design process such as Interviews, Contextual Inquiries, Focus Groups, User Testing, etc. The most effective technique to generate user centered design ideas is to talk with users and identify existing problems and opportunities. We need to gather as much information as possible from real users. Additional information such as Business goals, Technical Feasibility, Constraints, etc. can be gathered from Business Stakeholders, SMEs, Technical Architects, and other support groups.

Empathize with your users

Interviews help us empathize with users and generate user experience designs. Empathy is the ability to put our self in someone else’s shoes to start “seeing” things from their perspective.

Interviews are done to investigate existing workflows, how people think, the environment in which they work, their pain points, expectations and more. Interviews can be conducted with local users (face to face) or with remote users using applications such as Skype, WebEx etc...

It is ideal to have two people while conducting Interviews. One person can play the role of an interviewer, who probes the user, while the other can play the role of an observer / note taker, who takes notes of user responses.

Tenets of Interviews

  • It is important to be neutral during interviews and to be curious to learn more about your users.
  • Follow the strategy of establishing good rapport, a strong and friendly connection with the interviewee
  • Do not influence users by asking leading questions to get the answers you want. Rather ask open questions and let the users speak out.
  • Consider a Master-Apprentice model, where the user is the master who teaches you, the apprentice, how to do the job. This will allow us to see their experience based on the context.
  • Look out for concrete data rather than a summary or an abstract data.
    • For E.g. we work from 9 am to 6 pm. This is abstract data. To get a concrete data, the better question would be, when did you arrive in the office today?
  • Events which are captured in the interview need retrospection, to gather as user stories.
  • Share your interpretations with the users to validate your reasoning. This allows us to consolidate our findings and build a design based on an agreement of the design problems.

Involve your team

Once the interview is done, we will be left with a handful of raw data, which needs to be organized and consolidated. With help of a cross-disciplinary team, the consolidation of data can be achieved by using affinity mapping.

Affinity mapping and Generating Ideas

We consolidate by inductively reasoning out based on multiple inputs from a variety of users. We build up an Affinity diagram out of the findings by using bottom-up approach starting from key observations to grouping them into one category.

While creating an affinity map,

  • Differences and contradictions in the data need to be managed.
  • A rational discussion needs to be done among the team based on user practice and needs rather than product features.
  • Prioritize critical aspects.

Summarize the findings, make them manageable and presentable. Affinity maps show problems, opportunities, goals, constraints, and Key quality requirements to address. Thus, helping the team to generate more ideas.


  2. Contextual Inquiry - IDC - IIT Bombay