There are no short cuts to creating lovable products.

Businesses are eager to create lovable products and bring those lovable products to market faster than their competitors. The pressure to be first to market often tempts businesses to accelerate product design. And although tools such as design sprints offer excellent ways to rapidly prototype an idea, doing in-depth customer research requires you to put away the Post-It Notes and Journey Maps, get out of the office, and spend time with customers in their environment.

Getting out of the office and spending time with customers forces a design team to understand how customers actually live and allows you to learn about the context in which they may use your product. And you cannot rush this process. Being with customers in their living spaces means experiencing their lives on their terms and at their own pace, not yours – which is a necessary part of gaining empathy.

At Moonshot, we typically get out of the office as part of research, observing and experiencing personal routines first-hand and talking with the people who we are designing for about their wants and needs as we design and test ideas. We employ approaches ranging from ethnographic research (observing customers) to master-apprentice research (where we ask research participants to teach us how to do what they do) to personal immersions (where we put ourselves in the context and situation of our users). Here are our three tips for getting out of the office:

Immerse Yourself in Their Environment

Spending time with customers in their own personal spaces uncovers nuances in their behavior that you might otherwise overlook. Let’s say you’re a consumer packaged goods company researching a new breakfast energy bar geared toward busy parents on the go. It’s definitely important to interview customers to understand their preferences for breakfast energy bars, ranging from taste to nutritional value. But observing them during their morning routine will uncover a wealth of information that they may not share with you in a traditional interview either because they didn’t think to tell you something you haven’t ask about or they might have considered the information unimportant.

For instance, observing a customer during their breakfast routine would help you understand contextual information such as how they eat breakfast (are they sitting at a table or do they take their breakfast with them around their living space), what additional tasks they may be trying to manage during breakfast (are they checking email and negotiating schedules with family), or where they store their energy bars (is it in a cabinet next to cereal or is it in the garage so they can grab it as they enter their vehicle) – details that may inform the product design and packaging.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

You can watch your customers and appreciate their environment. But you also need to experience what they experience, such as the challenge of squeezing in time to eat an energy bar while you’re preparing breakfast for a family, or the many decisions a busy parent needs to make before 8:00 a.m. Experiencing what they experience may uncover some unspoken wants and needs, such as how annoying it can be to open a granola bar package and have bits of granola scatter all over the counter while you’re trying to get something done. People put up with daily annoyances and don’t think to tell you about them. But addressing those unspoken needs make a customer feel like you anticipated a problem before they “knew” they had one. Your experiences feeling what customers feel will help you make smarter decisions about how to bring ideas to life. You will have felt their challenges and learned what tradeoffs to avoid.

Let the User Lead

As noted, it’s important to observe your customers – preferably in their own environments – to enrich your research with their first-hand perspective. Be careful, though, to let the customer guide the observation session. Avoid leading questions such as “Tell me how this product would improve your life. Couldn’t you just do this? Would you say that…?” Customers will politely answer those questions as best they can, but their perspective will be narrowed by the way you’ve worded your question. In addition, customers might be reluctant to criticize your product. Better questions would be, “Tell me how you feel about your breakfast routine? Can you explain why you do things that way? What parts would you never want to change? Why?”
Notice how the above questions never mention an energy bar. Instead, we suggest focusing on contextual information that will uncover essential clues about their wants and needs. You will flesh out more clues in richer detail during your observational and participatory research. For more insight into asking the right questions, check out Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test, a book that discusses the pitfalls of customer interviews and how to overcome them.

How to Get Started

Designing a program for doing real customer research in their own environment may create some pushback. Common objections may include:

  • “We don’t have time.”
  • “How much will this cost?”
  • “How much will this cost?”

These are fair questions. Having a plan for customer research is the best way to answer them. We employ an approach called FUEL, which creates structure around product design and roll-out, including customer research. A methodology takes intuition and guesswork out of research and helps you validate your approach. The alternative to not doing customer research the right way is to design and launch a product that fails to inspire customer love and costs you money and wastes time and resources.

Don’t take short cuts – especially with your customers. To understand how to incorporate customer research into product development, contact Moonshot. We’re here to help.

Ben Hillson

Ben Hillson

Experience Strategist