In the current landscape, designers must be data-agnostic and discover human insights in any data source

The empathic process can be described in three steps: cognitive empathy, emotional convergence and empathic responding. For designers, this offers us a great path from discovery towards actively designing a solution that responds to the user’s emotional states.

Along their journey with services and products, the end user leaves behind digital footprints. The job is to collect the information that can help us to empathise with customers. It’s that simple. A series of targeted interviews can be used to validate those insights, refute them or expand them. 

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in-depth & video interviews

Why to use it

Discover different behaviors among your selected target group, and discover nuances in what motivates them, what else interests them, have a glimpse into their lives.​ All this information is quite important when you want to tackle the problems effectively. 

Who to talk to

Project manager (for time and budget).

What to look into

It is important that you are able to navigate your material, because interviews are either very volatile (that is, you lose the information because a lot happens live and you cannot write it down), or too opaque (five recordings of 50 minutes each will take you a long time to process).

To avoid that, keep in mind:

  • Code the interview. This means: create some sort of 1-5 or 1-10 metric for several aspects you are investigating. You may ask the interviewee for these numerical assessment, and also have some of your own.

To the interviewee:
From 1 to 10, how bothered are you about your commuting time?

Your own assessment:
From 1 to 10, how concerned does the subject seem to be about the matter discussed?

  • Invite new subjects in, until answers start repeating. That is the "saturation" technique. Say, urban teenagers that have bought at least three headphones in a year. When enough of these subjects start giving out very similar answers, you may see you have reached insight saturation, and can stop prospecting more interviews.

  • Use one interview to compare and contrast one with another. Avoid bias, rule-out outliers and confirm behaviors that seem to be at the core of your target.

  • I tend to use the n of 6 for general purposes. That is because it is a very solid number in discovering problems in UX design. This number was established in 1993 by the Norman Group, and challenged in 2000, and still it stands. I apply this confidently to the discoverability of problems in real life experiences, as well. If your target is very heterogeneous, then, of course, increase the number of interviewees.

  • Personas? Well... why? Or why not? I prefer to use an essential customer journey to tackle the most important target. You don't need a little story character for that. But if you want to address several profiles inside the selected target, and if they are based on behaviors, go for it.

Pro tip

Do not select your target by small samples, saturation or interviews. The selection of your target is a business and strategic matter. It should be made based on statistical data about number of consumers in an area, potential of your market, number of customers who have purchased your product before and so forth. After the segment is established, interview subjects so that you understand the nuances inside it.

Identify the early adopters within your target group and use them as your sample.


Discussion groups, forums, communities, focus groups and other joint discussions

Why to use it

Use it ​to stimulate discussion and collect conversational impressions of your product or service. The insights are rich in detail and the community is maintained over time, becoming even a potential marketing hub of influencers and brand advocates.

Who to talk to

Social media team, content marketing team, specialized vendors.

What to look into​

  • Stir the community like a host, not so much like a researcher. Be personal and less formal. You want the group to feel comfortable.

  • Consider that, over time, users will influence one another, create bonds and develop their own community bias. 

  • Explore different tools that you may make available, such as polls, games, card sorting and voting activities.

  • Reserve a somewhat significant budget for rewards (consider products of your client as gifts, even).

Image by Daniel Korpai
Image by freestocks

Social media listening

Why to use it

Discover what people talk about your brand, either with statistical tools and big data, or diving deep into the "stalking mode" of certain segments, to get a real glimpse of the scenario your target customers live in.

Who to talk to

Social Media marketing companies, Insight companies, Analytics team.

What to look into

  • Look for automated tools that harvest hashtags, if your brand is known. Your marketing team probably does that, but what you want to look into is the level of conversation people have, and the type of people that engage.

  • Your personal gaze and subjective observations will be the perfect complementation to the big data stats.

  • Look into different forums than the obvious social media platforms, such as review websites, commerce websites, and so on.

  • Use 5-star reviews to find your major differential. Use 1-star reviews to see if there is a repeated problem.

  • The most valuable reviews: the 3-star reviews, which are offering a fair balance of things they actually liked and how you may improve your offering.


Heatmaps & screen recordings

Why to use it

Identify focal points in your service and easily see which links grab more attention. You may also run quick surveys on your website. 

Who to talk to

Analytics Team, Insights Team or Data Team. 

What to look into

Ask for a heatmap and a scroll map of your main pages.

  • A heatmap will tell you where people make micropauses with their mouse cursors when browsing desktop. This may seem trivial, but it usually works as a statistically significant sample of your users. If their mouse cursors are stopping over certain parts of the text, it's because they are more attentively reading it. If it hover over certain images, there is more interest over that spot, and so forth. Use the signs to generate new hypotheses that explore the learnings.

  • A scroll map will, quite simply, tell how deep your users scroll. It's an extremely useful tool to understand until when you can sustain engagement. Switch the order of elements on your page to compare if a new sequence works best, and aim as taking the users, at least, until your conversion point.

  • Screen recordings. These are anecdotal events, because the sample is low, but you can learn quite a lot from the recording. Furthermore, seeing is believing: when it comes to a client meeting, the best way to tell their UX is broken is actually showing someone trying over and over to make it work.​

Pro tip

The free version offers a lot of resources, and if you get the workflow really working for you, the corporate prices are not prohibitive.

User Data Analytics

Why to use it

Discover how customers are behaving online when using the current service. 

Who to talk to

Analytics Team, Insights Team or Data Team. 

What to look into

Ask for a general report on the targeted audience:

  • Location, gender, age group, time of the day they access the site

  • Bounce rate, Time spent on site, Number of pages visit, Exit page, Frequency of visits

  • Most visited pages

  • Ecommerce information: who buys the most, who buys more frequently, who buys various types of products, what is the average order value, what is the customer lifetime value.

Pro tip

Open a continuous conversation with the Analytics team. Don't try to make them hands that pull reports so you can do the thinking. Involve them into the insight thinking process, because they are smart. 

Image by Luke Chesser

Don't ask for reports from the Analytics team. Ask for their brains. They will be interested in contributing with insights, not generating more reports.

Search Behavior and Keyword Analytics

Why to use it

Search behavior is perhaps the most rich source of insight into your customer's mind. Reason being, it is access to data that users are not likely to share with anyone — not even themselves, as people rarely elaborate very well how they search for content online. Keywords tell overlooked motivations and adjacent needs customers may have.

Who to talk to

Analytics Team, Marketing team or Data Team. 

What to look into

  • Have a look at Search Behavior of keywords related to your product. How are users formulating questions using that? How are they formulating searches, in general? What other products show? What kind of doubts they have?

  • Observe the keyword volumes (how many times the search is performed per month on a given market) so you can make strategic decisions as for: is there a market? Is there enough people looking for this kind of product or service? This information is worth gold.

  • Use search behavior to generate content for your product, answering the highest volume questions users have.

  • Use search behavior to discover your value proposition, informing it as potential needs customers have and you may want to fulfill.

Pro tip

SEM Rush has a fair price tag, and you may pay it for a month only, during research phase.

Test campaigns​ with digital ads

Why to use it

This is how​ you test a concept in the open, without telling people it's just a test. This gives valuable information on what demographic shows interest, which features spark interest, and from those who see your ad, how many are actually visiting your site.

Who to talk to

Analytics Team, Insights Team or Data Team. 

What to look into

  • It's not a marketing campaign, is just a test — you can get statistically relevant results with €100-1000 budget and move to the next phase towards launch with much more confidence. 

  • Create several groups of ads, but change only ONE line in each ad. That will give you enough contrast among the ads to understand which is really the differential.

  • Consider Google Ads for quick tests, due to the simplicity of the ads: three lines, no photos.

  • Compare and contrast the demographics with your qualitative research to see if you have interviewed the right group.
  • Use the ads data to select the best sample of your next interviews. 

Pro tip

People at times won't make decisions right after clicking a Google Ad, but you will be able to see, in the least, which of your value propositions is the most promising, and to which demographic.


Why to use it

Surveys are​ important to start the groundwork of the field you are working with. Surveys are numerous enough to get statistically relevant, and in-depth enough to point you to the direction you need to go. 

Who to talk to


What to look into

  • Make sure you are identifying your audience with a demographic set of questions.

  • Asking the questions is an art, you will notice. A lot can be misleading when asking. Avoid ambiguity at all costs.

  • Make use of logic processes in the tools. That is, if the respondent answers A, they are moved to question X. If they answer B, they are removed from the study, for example.

  • Beware that recruiting respondents is a very important part of the process. At times it's hard to get responses.

  • If you have 10 respondents or less, do not use percentages to report your findings 😂 Simply focus on the strengths of the information you have brought to the table, and reason with the team how you can increase confidence in the results when moving forward. 

Pro tip

An open field can give you a broad range of fresh ideas, and if there is repetition in those, you may realize you are onto something.


A/B Tests​

Why to use it

Here is the last listed tool, and the most underutilized. Why? Because researchers/designers are often unfamiliar with it, and scared of the implementation process. This is the only way that you can prove​ to a leadership team that your design is worth X amount of euros.  

Who to talk to

Analytics Team, Insights Team or Data Team. You will need a CSS front-end developer for light work.

What to look into

Create a second version of a webpage or a set of pages that compose a flow. Half of the people will see one layout, half of it will se another. It's really that simple. And you can then see which page is most successful.

  • Seeing which layout is more successful: there'a a catch. You need clear goals in order to measure that.

  • Hence, I have created the KPI Canvas, exactly to tackle this problem. "If you can't measure, you can't manage!"

  • Let the software reach the result. Google Optimze, VWO or Optimizely use solid statistical models to tell you which version is the best.

  • Always ask the developer who installed the tool to verify the setup, so you are sure the results are accurate.

  • Play with models of gain over time and customer lifetime value in order to add price tags in the winning layouts. For example, if in a month the winning version acquired 10% more new customers than the old one, you may calculate how much that means in 5 years of the monthly increase, and multiply it for the customer lifetime value of these customers. Powerful rhetorics.

Pro tip

Get your create juices flowing when designing the version you want to test. Use the tests to create strategic hypothesis, not only tactical ones. Most teams test "should this button be blue or green?", but your insights can reach further. "Our people respond best to pictures showing animals in the field, should we test a nature-oriented campaign based on this insight?". That's an example I experienced myself.