Seeing events, observing intentions

Pomegranate 6 by Kim McKelvey (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

On the window sill in our kitchen, there sat a bowl of pomegranates. I had carefully plucked each seed out of the fruit’s mushy pulp. (Now, I know there are other ways getting the desired part out that are less time-consuming, but I have my way and it works well.)

My four-and-a-half-year-old daughter saw the lid-covered bowl of pomegranate seeds and asked me if she could open it. “Go for it!” I said without a second thought as to her intention. She started to open the lid, and I watched her, as her delicate little fingers ran around the edges of the bowl. When she was done with the enterprise, I told her, “Good, now you can eat them, one by one!” To which she simply and quietly answered, “No.”

She started backing, clearly willing to leave for the living room, as if her mission were accomplished and she had a new endeavour awaiting. Startled, I asked her why she wouldn’t eat the pomegranate. “Daddy,” she answered unapologetically, “I never wanted to eat the seeds. I just wanted to open the bowl, so you could eat them.”

We often think we know what our customers want from us in form of products or services. Just as often, however, we fail to realise that what we think we heard them say is the necessary analysis of their needs on our part. We might have come a long way recognising the importance of basing our supply on the demand rooted in needs and not in desires. But is that enough?

During your user research (or rather user recognition, for lack of a better word), do you simply see them touching your product or do you wilfully look at them interacting with it? Do you deliberately yet passively watch your audience from afar or do you heedfully observe them?

When my daughter asked me if she could open the bowl of pomegranate seeds, I assumed her reason for doing it was to eat them. If only for a moment, my misconception about her intention left me startled.

How often do we assume our customers’ intent is A, just because they exhibit behaviour B? What we think we see our customers do, or sense them express, is an idea that, if grounded in inaccurate speculations and defective conclusions, can yield devastating results to our business.

The valuable, and sometimes vital, discipline of user research is best left to be served by a professional who consigns your audience to scrupulous analysis and not superficial description.