Daniel Harvey – User Research When Your Customers are not Your Users



The trash heap of history is littered with the corpses of unicorns.

Most companies talk a good game of customer centricity and design, but aren’t doing the hard part: user research.

The Cult of the Designer

‘Design’ as a concept is now widely discussed and debated without real understanding of what it actually means. At the core of this disconnect is business’ “Henry Ford mentality” of not asking what the customer actually wants. But the truth is that the best design companies do user research – lots of it. Even Apple!

Businesses are Wildly Optimistic About the Experience They Provide

80% of companies’ C-suite executives say they provide a superior service. In contrast, customers believe only 8% of businesses provide a superior service – a factor of 10 difference! This suggests a significant misunderstanding on what qualifies as “understanding the customer problem / experience” between most solution providers and the people who actually have the problems they’re trying to solve!

Some Real-Life Examples

Daniel used a couple of real-life past projects to exemplify the importance of user research. One was RBS GetCash. This was spun out of an existing product that RBS had – Emergency cash. The company fraud team wanted to shut it down but by talking to customers, they realised they had, with a couple of small technical changes and some proposition work, a valuable service for their customers.

The second was a Mexican Telco. Using customer co-creation in a modified Design Sprint, the company was able to kill a pervasive existing idea and come up with features more aligned to what their users wanted.

As product people, especially as product people who are working for people who are not themselves the users of our products, it is essential that we remember that the best insights into the problems that actually need to be solved will always come from our customers. Filtering those insights through the lens of a business – which may already be predisposed to a particular shape of solution – is always a risk, and likely to lead to “cargo cult” design efforts.

Jayson Robinson


Jayson is a product manager in Marks and Spencer’s digital product team and co-organiser of ProductTank London. Most recently he has launched Marks and Spencer’s new online food delivery service; food being an area he cares deeply about. Jayson started his career in consulting at Deloitte Digital, before joining Reevoo – a late stage startup – as a product manager. When he is not doing product things, Jayson is mainly failing at teaching his new puppy not to chew furniture and to do tricks