Product Tank: User Research Q&A

By Mairead Quigley

13 Mar 2020

At the most recent Product Tank Edinburgh and UX Edinburgh meetup, our expert panel of speakers came together to answer our members burning questions focused on user research and testing.

In case you missed it, you can check out our previous blog which gives a rundown of the evening.

The panel Q&A session, chaired by Russell Henderson, included Mike Jefferson (Education Scotland), Bobby King (Scottish National Investment Bank), Alanna Innes (xDesign), Duncan Forbes (Heineken) and Jenny Bjorkman (Sustainably).

Here are some of the key questions and insights from the evening:

Do you have any tips or advice for conducting user research with either lack of budget or unwilling participants?

Jenny recommends that if you are on a shoestring budget and are finding it difficult to incentivise the right user types, try and leverage your own personal network and find people that resemble your target market. It could be friends/ family or colleagues. Typically you’ll find people are happy with a box of chocolates or an Amazon voucher as a token of appreciation for participating.

Mike recommends, particularly with bigger and more niche projects, that you allocate a user research budget up front. For example, if you need to interview a group of mortgage specialists or surgeons, the industry norm is around £200-£250 per participant. Budgeting for this from the outset should help erase any hidden surprises.

How do you manage thetensionbetween product efficiency and anticipating the right level of human interaction/ relationship building?

Mike reiterates the importance of understanding the context of the product you’re building. For example, when people make big life decisions such as how to spend your pension, or taking out a mortgage, it is more likely they will require some form of human interaction along the way. That’s a very different proposition to signing up for your tenth bank account, where you know exactly what to expect.

It’s truly about understanding user preferences and not just trying to “automate every process” within a new product.

What are some of you favourite resources/tools if you’re just getting started with user research?

Some of the research tools that the panel recommends include:

  • essentially a digital whiteboard where you can collaborate with other people in real-time. It saves hundreds of post it- notes and time spent trying to organise thoughts into an affinity map.
  • Magic Whiteboard.This is a light weight, portable whiteboard that Jenny swears by especially if you have to change locations frequently.
  • Finding a mentor that you can run thoughts and ideas past. It can be a great sanity check!
  • Reading the free resources and content at It can provide inspiration for new ways of doing user research and you can see what worked/ what didn’t work for others.
  • The panel all agreed that just getting out and speaking to your customers is invaluable and don’t be afraid to do it! If you don’t ask, the end result could be far worse!

How do you ensure you are working in an iterative development environment? Especially where there’s a lot of pressure around resource, time and money?

Jenny stresses that adopting value based thinking and decision making is a great way of prioritising what tasks need done first.

It’s also a good idea to decouple the design and development process. Designing iteratively is important and means that you won’t get too caught up in sprint development lifecycles.

Bobby recommends starting with a deadline and working backwards. Doing this allows you to schedule in the optimum amount of time for user research right from the very beginning of a project.

Attitude is important when it comes to user research. How do you manage this?

The panel agreed that targeting potential users who are enthusiastic, willing and wanting to make a change in the way that they work or currently complete tasks. They also acknowledged that it can also be beneficial to include people that have strong and/ or potentially negative opinions on your product. This can provide another level of insight, perspective and learning.

What research method works better for influencing decision makers? Quantitative or qualitative?

It was agreed that it really depends on the decision maker and the product you’re trying to build. However, there are a few key things to consider when it comes to influencing stakeholders:

  • It’s about trying to close the gap between the user and the decision maker. Qualitative research allows you to make better informed product decisions. The more you can evidence this, the better. For example, video-ing someone trying to use your product is normally very powerful.
  • People are more used to quantitative research in the form of surveys and NPS scores. However, even with smaller more qualitative research methods, you can still make statistically correct assumptions
  • You can conduct qualitative research but you need to keep in mind that the depth of insight will be a lot thinner.

How can you persuade your colleagues to believe it's ok to own mistakes as a team?

Jenny offers some solid advice. She emphasises that making mistakes is a fundamental part of human learning. If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks...and taking risks is vital for success. What you want to do is fail fast and cheap. Test low fidelity prototypes quickly. Build that into your sprint cycles and you can get the team comfortable with reworking designs.

What are your thoughts on User Research? We’d love to hear them - join the Product Edinburgh Group on LinkedIn and share your suggestions for best practice.

Finally, a big thank you to the Product Tank Edinburgh sponsors xDesign, Deliveroo Engineering and Lloyds Banking Group that help make these events possible.

More Articles