You can’t learn a thing about users when you’re operating under your own assumptions.  

We all make assumptions. It is a very human, natural thing to do, and it helps us navigate our day-to-day life. Each day, we assume our alarms will go off, that we will get off work at a certain time of day, and that we’ll eat dinner later that night. These assumptions might be proven wrong, but there isn’t a day where we don’t make them.

This is all well and good for the motions of daily life. But when it comes to engaging with and learning about your users, your assumptions can ruin your research. Your assumptions about your users, the product you’re building or improving for them, and what the problem is and how to solve it are in your human nature. To engage with users in a way that will help you create something they can actually use, you’ll have to do a very un-human thing and clear your mind of all assumptions. 

8 Assumptions That Will Ruin Your User Research

Your site or app’s success depends on cleansing your mind of the following assumptions forever. If they ever come back, your product’s success will be in jeopardy. If you have trouble, try a meditative approach. Find your internal happy place. Turn on some soothing music. Take some deep breaths. Sage the bad assumptions energy out of the air. Whatever you need to do to kick these assumptions about users out of your brain for good.

1. “I Already Know What Users Want”

Yes, you probably know who uses the site or app. You might even know them personally—they could be a co-worker, someone you supervise, or even yourself. You might have talked with them about the site or app at the company happy hour or sent out a survey for them to give feedback. None of this means that you know what your users want or need from your digital product. You’re not sitting with users every day while they try to navigate the site or app. You’re not in their heads while they struggle or succeed to interact with your digital experience. To get valuable input from your users, you need to feign ignorance. Go in as if you’ve never heard of the digital product before. Your perspective on the product will change drastically and that’s how you’ll know you’re doing it right.

2. “I Need to Talk to Users to Prove MY Point”

This defeats the purpose of talking to your users. You are trying to get their point of view, not trying to find your own in their words. Thinking like this will contort your research to fulfill your gains and you’ll ultimately waste time, money, and efforts to learn nothing about what your users need.  Your users are the ones who will decide whether your digital experience is successful. Ignore their perspective at your own peril.

3. “I Am the User”

This is dangerous thinking. The real people who use your site or app everyday are not like you, even if you are one of them. You might use the digital product, but your needs, problems, and understanding of the experience are not the same as that of normal users. If you engage with users under the assumption that you are one of them, you will seek to solve your own problems and to create a product that conforms to your way of thinking. At the end of the day, you pull the purse strings and pave the path forward. You choose the fate of the digital product and your users’ success.

4. “I Know What the Product Should Be”

No, you don’t. You have no idea what your product should be – yet. There is virtually no way for you to know how the experience should look, behave, or solve problems without talking to users. Imagine going to a restaurant and instead of asking for your order, the waiter brings you a meal they thought you should eat. There’s no way the waiter could know what you want without asking you and they most likely won’t bring you what you wanted. They might even bring you something you’re allergic to or have sworn off forever. The same goes for you and your users. If you take the time to do user research and speak with real people, your team will then—and only then—know what your site or app should be.

5. “We Already Talked with Our Users”

How did you talk to them? Did you go cubicle to cubicle and have small, informal chats about it? Did you put a survey on your site or app for users to fill out? While we would never tell you not to do these things, there is a huge difference between this kind of information collecting and organized, objective, methodical user engagement and research. Don’t speak to your users on the fly and assume that it counts. And remember that sitting and talking isn’t even half the battle. Truly understanding your users and their needs involves observing and pulling information out of people in ways that just chatting never will.

6. “Our Users Are Everyone and Anyone”

This is a common misconception. It’s highly unlikely that your site or app is trying to serve the general public. Likewise, your executive suite and decision makers are almost certainly not actual, frequent users of your digital product either. Specific groups of people use your site or app, and the range is not as wide as you think. During your research, focus like a laser pointer on those who do business with you and those whom you want to do business with online. Then work to make those people happy.

7. “Our Users Are Smart. This Site or App Doesn’t Need to be Super Easy to Use”

Sure, your users are smart. But even the most big-brained genius on the planet is a dummy online. Everyone online is distracted, lazy, hurried, frustrated, and stupid. That includes me, you, and every member of MENSA. If you go in thinking that your users will quickly understand complex information and interactions, you won’t be able to pinpoint the places where they will struggle. And they absolutely will find a way to struggle. Go ahead, give them a site or app that’s not super simple. You’ll see how quickly your users start cursing its existence.

8. “Training and Help Will Solve Any Lingering UX Issues”  

Training doesn’t do much to help the usability of your product – at all. Users dread training. The second their training begins all they will hear are the adults from Charlie Brown speaking: wahhh wahh wahhhhhh. They will retain none of the information and they will do everything in their power not to refer back to the training. The training might as well not exist.

Help sections are just as non-useful as training. By the time a user has arrived at your Help section, they are already sensing their impending doom. Help is where the hopelessly lost and confused go in a last-ditch effort not to have to pick up the phone. As a last resort, users will ask a co-worker for help or figure out their own backwards way of accomplishing their tasks. Anything to avoid revisiting the training or the Help section.

Go Forth with an Open Mind

Your assumptions will cripple the success of your digital product. Approach your users with a mind free of assumptions and then take the resulting input with a grain of expert salt. When you remove your worldview from the picture, you make it all about taking in what your users reveal with an open mind. That one change in perspective will boost your success for every decision you make going forward, enough for everyone to notice—your team, your boss, your CEO, and especially your users.


About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

We keep our minds so open, sometimes we’re afraid our brains will fall out.

Author: @ItsDLarry
Graphic: @djosephmachado