Steve Jobs on User Research

by on 08/11/10 at 11:06 am

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
— Steve Jobs

Getting feedback from users is an important part of the process when it comes to UX design. What’s equally as important is being able to interpret the feedback the correct way. When you conduct usability tests or user interviews you will often ask users how they feel about the website, as they try to complete a specific task. You might watch them and listen to them as they interact with your website.

As you go, users might tell you

1)  what’s wrong with the site

2)  what works well on the site

3)  what to do to fix whats wrong with the site

One of these things you should pay little to no attention to and that’s number three. What Steve means when he says, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them” is that when you present your proposed design solution to users they will often tell you whether it works for them or not. But if you present to them a problem and ask them for a solution, you will often get a solution that doesn’t work despite what users say. Users will tell you they want all sorts of things, but you can’t listen to that. Users are not trained in design to come up with a solution. What they are most useful for are pointing out the problems. Listen to them when they tell you what works and what doesn’t work, but when they start suggesting solutions you should try to pay no attention.

As the trained designer, it’s your job to discover a solution to the problems your users are pointing out for you. After you have a new solution you can send it back to your users for another round of testing, and let them point out what works and what doesn’t work. Usability testing is not a method to use so that you can do less work, but rather a method to cut guesswork and make sure objective solutions get implemented. Objectivity is important when you’re designing. You have to listen to your users, but in the end, when it comes time for a solution, you should listen to yourself.


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Author and editor-in-chief of UX Movement. Finds beauty in clear, efficient design and loves fighting for users.

3 Responses to “Steve Jobs on User Research”

  1. Craig S

    Sep 2nd, 2010

    What if your users are as smart, or smarter than you are? Are you going to miss out on their suggestions? I’m referring to individuals of course; crowds are indeed dumb

  2. John Z

    Jul 15th, 2011

    I agree that observing the user is the key to determining a sites/ application usability. However I think it is important to note the solution proposed by the user as it might offer an alternative perspective on the problems that they encounter. I’m not suggesting you go away and then slavishly implement the users proposed “design”. As humans we want to solve problems that we encounter and the users proposal is just a manifestation of this. As a designer the question I would ask myself is “Why is the user proposing this solution?”.

  3. pm

    Aug 16th, 2016

    user research and user feedback/usability feedback are NOT the same thing. As a human factors researcher who has been in PD for the last 12 years I continue to find this confusion. User research is the study of user behavior, use context, knowledge of human cognition/perception, ergonomics, workflows, organizational context of the workplace (things like status, hierarchy, etc), collaboration, and so on that should be understood going into the design process. Usability evaluations are for getting feedback on prototypes up to finished designs– and should not be all about likability and user OPINIONS on things– you should be gathering objecting performance measures on how well users actually use your product/interface. It’s amazing how (and there’s tons of research) users will say they like one design over another or that they feel they did better with one over another and yet actual PERFORMANCE data (errors, rework, time on task, whatever) shows that they are wrong (and theres a ton of published research on humans’ ability or lack thereof for evaluating their own performance– and even explaining why they did what they did). And focus groups? That’s marketing.

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