The Secret To Innovation: Solid User Research

September 18, 2018

If you ask someone where they imagine product innovation comes, they’re likely to imagine a sterile laboratory. A place where scientists, wearing goggles and lab coats with pocket protectors, stare pensively into liquid-filled beakers.

Yet, that’s not how fantastic innovations come about. Here are a few great innovations that caught our recent attention that didn’t get cooked up in a lab:

  • When the Apple Store opened, they installed a customer appointment system to schedule time with their “Geniuses.” Apple’s customers didn’t wait in line like at other stores.
  • When weather causes flight delays and cancellations, American Airlines offers customers the option to be called back instead of having to wait on hold for by a reservations agent. Every other airline makes you wait and listen to their horrible music, interrupted by a repeated message telling you how important you are.
  • When a Chipotle customer wants to order for a group, Chipotle’s online order system lets customers invite group members to enter their own orders. Other restaurant order systems require each party member to relay their order to a single person and hope it won’t get screwed up.

No Technical Wizardry Necessary

Nothing was invented to implement these features. They are not technically complicated or remarkable.

However, their customers see it as an innovation. It separates their business from their competitors. The design teams exceeded the customer’s expectations with simple, straightforward solutions.

Those teams didn’t get to these innovations by donning their goggles and staring into their beakers. They got there by getting out of the building and learning what was most frustrating in their customers’ lives.

It’s All In The Research

The science behind these innovations was simple: pure observational research. Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Yogi had it right.

The teams watched and listened to their users and customers. They saw things their users wouldn’t see because standing in line or taking orders for your friends seem normal.

The teams could see which things created frustration and friction. Once they understood their customers’ problem, the potential solutions were obvious. All that was left was to pick a solution and implement it.

The crazy thing is many teams shortcut their research efforts, because “they can’t afford the expense.” The truth is they’re shortcutting their innovation efforts by skipping the research.

Great research doesn’t have to be expensive. It only needs to be insightful. That’s what helps teams deliver innovative products and services.



You need to do research. You need to get out of the office. You need to bring your team with you. And we know just the person to help you learn the simple, inexpensive techniques to do just that: Cyd Harrell.

At Cyd’s UI23 full-day workshop, Low Cost Guerrilla User Research, you’ll learn how to get the most out of your research efforts. Spend a little time reviewing her detailed workshop description to see exactly what you’ll learn.