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Listening and Learning

This user research activity challenges you to break out of the designer bubble and talk to other humans. People who you expect to use whatever you plan to create. Maybe not the actual intended users, but a range of people who are at least representative of them. You will need to take an open and careful approach to discussion together and apply keen listening skills. The aim of this research is to clarify ideas so that the design process moves in the right direction. Initial conversations with potential users can provide a good foundation for wider research using other methods.

A bright red vending machine on a street

There’s a world outside the studio. Photo: Oskar Krawczyk.


You may already have a potential app design to discuss. Alternatively, here is an idea to get you started:

"An existing soft drink company is planning to create a smartphone app that guides customers to their nearest vending machine so that they can purchase from an exclusive range of drinks and snacks. Proposed features for the app include remote viewing of product availability, remote vending, payment by smartphone and the facility for customers to provide feedback to the company."


  1. User Characteristics
    Your first task is to find people who are likely to use the app. Write a short description of their characteristics and use it to select potential participants for discussion.

  2. Environment
    Identify a place where you can find participants and write yourself a short script that introduces you and the purpose of your enquiries. A good place could be in the vicinity of a vending machine.

  3. Engagement
    Without asking direct questions, chat about the app idea with at least five people in individual face-to-face discussions.

    Be alert to clues about their routines and what they think about the idea. Be neutral when you present the scenario, perhaps by saying “I have been asked to talk with you about an idea for a new smartphone app” rather than “My team are designing a new smartphone app and we would like to hear what you think of our idea”.

    The latter would indicate that you are personally invested in the idea and the interviewee may then be guarded about making any negative comments.

    Assure participants that their responses are anonymous. Be careful to avoid straying into topics that are personal or irrelevant to your research.

  4. Findings
    After each conversation make notes to record what the participant had to say. Try not to structure responses as answers to questions. At this stage you are looking to discover sentiment, suggestions and to reveal potential problems. If the idea is received positively then the team can move forward in some confidence.

    Alternatively, negative sentiments may suggest flaws in the idea. In either case the benefits of early research are clear. As a bonus, because the style of this research was discussion rather than questioning, participants may have contributed new ideas and solutions for the design team to consider.

    Talking with potential users from the very start of a new project is a surprisingly simple way to expand the thinking and horizons of a UX Team.

The Bloomsbury Logo

Allanwood, G & Beare, P (2019)
User Experience Design - A Practical Introduction
ISBN: 9781350021709
(Basics Design Series) Bloomsbury Visual Arts
Cover illustration by Romualdo Faura.

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