The Curious Case of User Zero

I’ve often said that every research study reveals some hidden gem of understanding about the users — and, because I’m a total research geek, I call them Christmas presents. Earlier this year, I found a hidden gem of understanding that was comparable to a 6-year old getting a horse for Christmas!

The discovery of user zero

In the discovery phase of a project, I was brought in for a qualitative research effort on a company product that had never had true UX or research oversight. The product team had “advisory boards” with some customers and annual satisfaction surveys and thought they were doing user research. They insisted that I include one member other advisory board. I resisted but, in the corporate world, you don’t always get your way. During my discovery research session with him, it became clear that his usage and needs in the current app far exceeded the rest of the users I had interviewed. In fact, he was to only one that was happy with the direction of the app and used all the bells and whistles the product team had added over the years. I would go so far as to say that the app seemed tailored to him. I had discovered “user zero.” Like patient zero in viral outbreak scenarios, user zero was the source of all the clutter and feature creep in this application that made it difficult for the rest of the user base to complete their work without frustration and workarounds.

So, how did they get there?

As I mentioned earlier, the product team worked for years without proper UX and research capabilities.
  • They had identified two user types—a basic user and a managerial type user. Our user zero was lumped into the latter group. He should have been the basis of a third group identified as super users.
  • Without understanding their users’ workflow, they just kept offering features to the advisory board and creating what they liked. With just one round of research, I was able to map out the three different users’ workflows so that the Interaction designers could create appropriate experiences for each user group to match their workflows.

Understanding the difference between marketing research and user research

I believe the heart of the user zero problem lies in a misunderstand of what marketing research can do and what it cannot.

Marketing research tells you what is happening but provides no context or reason. User research is about why something is happening, or not happening. Both types of research have their value and are generally compatible together. The problem starts when you’re using only one or the other. Below is a small  sampling of each type of research. read more

Iterative Research: My Journey into Agile User Testing

As more software project teams are moving into Agile, it’s more important than ever that UX design methodology fit into the Agile process. User research is one of those tools that is often hard to fit into the Agile workflow but it can be done—and done well. read more

Virtual Design Wall: UX for the Product Team

What is a Virtual  Design Wall?

A virtual design wall is basically a UX intranet site where your product/project team can view all the UX deliverables. It can be as simple or complex as needed by the product owner and stakeholders.

My virtual design wall process evolved over four years. When I started working on the American Airline’s self-service kiosk (as a UX team of one), I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with the sheer volume of requests from my immediate and extended product team. The only reasonable way to deal with it was to make all my deliverables available on a UX intranet. It works so well that I’ve included that in my process since. read more

The “In a Perfect World” UX Mission Statement

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re wading through user research. The pain points, user personas, survey data, etc… can be shouting so loudly that you forget the point of it all. So I invented the “In A Perfect World” statement to bring it all home in my user research presentations. read more

UPS Customer Service Channels: A CX Failure

I’ve already covered this experience as a customer but now it’s time for me to step back and look at the situation as a user experience and usability professional. I’m usually on the user research and interaction design side of SAAS but the enterprise-level, systemic failure across all UPS customer service channels could not be ignored in this incident. read more