Daily UX Crash Course: 4 of 31

Ah, users. The sun in the UX solar system and the thorn in our sides. One of the Sacred Laws of UX is “never blame the user” even though — let’s be honest — sometimes it is really fucking tempting. However, if you feel that way, it is because you don’t understand your users, so today we will learn:

What is User Research?


(Are you new to the UX Crash Course? Start here.)

Different people will say that User Research happens at different stages in the process. Some say you do it first. Some say you make some drawings and do it then. Some say you do it after building a working product.

They are all right. There is never a bad time to do user research. Do it early, do it often.

The important question isn’t when. It’s what. As in: what are you trying to learn about your users?

There are two main types of information that you can get from research that involves people: subjective and objective.

Subjective Research:

The word “subjective” means that it is an opinion, or a memory, or your impression of something. The feeling it gives you. The expectations it creates. Not a fact.

  • “What is your favorite color?”

  • “Do you trust this company?”

  • “Does my ass look fat in these pants?”

i.e. — There is no right answer.

To get subjective information you have to ask people questions.

Objective Research:

The word “objective” means a fact. Something true. Something you can prove. Your opinion doesn’t change it, no matter how hard you wish.

  • “How long did you spend using our app?”

  • “Where did you find the link to our site?”

  • “How many people visited our website today?”

If people had perfect memories and never lied (especially to themselves) we could ask them about this stuff. If you find someone like that, let me know.

Objective data comes in the form of measurements and statistics. But just because you can count something doesn’t make it objective.

For example: If 102 people say something is good and 50 people say it’s bad, the only objective information you have is the number of people that voted. Whether it is “good” or “bad” is still subjective.

With me so far?
(If not, I will blame myself for explaining badly, not you for reading badly.)

Sample Size:

As a general rule, more people makes more reliable information, even if it is subjective. 1 opinion could be completely wrong. If a million people agree, it is a good representation of the crowd’s beliefs (but could still be false, objectively). So collect as much info as possible for your research.

Lots of subjective info can become… almost objective?!

If you ask a lot of people to guess the answer to something objective — like jelly beans in a jar — the average guess will often be pretty close to the real, objective, answer.

But the “wisdom of a crowd” about something subjective can also cause riots and get George W. Bush elected, so… yeah. Be careful.


Tomorrow we will learn about different ways to ask people questions (so you don’t screw up your own research)…