How user research helps to determine the real problem


Humans are strange creatures. We function best on the basis of clear routines; you get up, put on your clothes, eat your breakfast (usually the same), go to work and so on the day goes on. Patterns are extremely important to all of us. And not just in what we do, but just as much in how we think. Present a problem to someone and they immediately jump into a solution mode. Fine for everyday home and garden problems, but when it comes to a new million-dollar innovative project it might be helpful to think deeper. The consequences of building the wrong solution for the wrong problem are enormous. So here’s: What’s your problem? And is that the real problem?

Escape from your normal thinking

Design thinking is a method of escaping the standard linear problem-solving framework. You can call it out-of-the-box thinking, but a better description is that you challenge yourself and others to look for the nooks and crannies of the problem. In other words, why is it a problem? And how are people dealing with that now? Is the solution you envision really what they need once you have a deeper understanding of their solution?

The Real Problem

Do you want to know what that looks like in practice? Watch the 1-minute video below

As you can see, the man in the video is looking for a solution to a seemingly obvious problem. The boy’s head is stuck, how do you get the head off? The real problem? It was not the head that was trapped, but the boy. Then the solution was found within a few seconds. There is a very good chance that you saw it that way yourself.

Test your assumption

The big question here is, of course, how do you find out? A designer actually does exactly the same as the man in the video. You make an assumption, test it to test it and use the result as input for new assumptions. To stick with the example, you only find out that you have to look for another solution after trying the obvious first. Namely to see if the head fits through the bars. You then learn that this is not possible and you use that knowledge to look for a solution that does work.

User research

Designers call this user research. In doing so, a designer tries to empathize as much as possible in the world of the user and to imitate the situation of the problem, including the context, as much as possible. The focus is purely on the problem, not on an already devised solution. This avoids tunnel vision and often leads to creative outcomes. User research can in some cases be lengthy and in-depth. But if the (financial) interests are large, it is an investment that always pays for itself.

User research for IT projects

It is precisely in combination with IT that user research can yield very interesting insights. IT is always a means to solve a problem. As an IT service provider, we regularly see requests for IT solutions where you find out afterwards that the solution is not workable at all in practice. For example, building a system for time registration and then discovering that half a million users don’t mind planning their hours three weeks in advance. The fact that such a thing is possible at all is a sign that no user research has taken place. Otherwise, the application would have been built in such a way that this was not possible.

Lower costs and a better product

By mapping the needs and behavior of the users as early as possible with user research, you avoid time-consuming and therefore expensive adjustments halfway or after the launch. Moreover, it is always better to deliver a product that is directly fit-to-market. User research is an indispensable starting point for this.