User Research: 7 Great Resources

Do you need UX research or design workshops tailored to your organization? Email us at


In a previous post we identified five unconventional resources for conducting user research.  In this post, we list seven resources from basic to more advanced discussions for those highly experienced  in user research.

Refer your junior UX colleagues to these resources and take a peek yourself. These sites and books outline sound methods and best practices for conducting user research.

Customer Journey Maps – Walking a Mile in Your Customer’s Shoes

Journey maps are a good way for newer UX researchers to learn how to uncover insights because the exercise reveals customer attitudes at various touchpoints with your organization.

The author concisely outlines the steps for creating a journey map. Many journeys can be completed in a day. The goal is to gain a shared understanding of the customer and offer UX researchers the chance to learn and contribute to an enhanced customer experience.

User Research: How To Use Personas, Scenarios, & Task Analyses To Design the Best Product

Author and behavioral scientist Dr. Susan Weinschenk is a first-rate teacher who shows UX practitioners how to conduct research that will benefit your users and your organization.

Newer UXers will emerge from this course with a thorough understanding of UX research. Senior UX researchers will benefit from lessons about how to practically apply research findings within the real-world constraints often encountered in business. Such topics include: “How to create personas that your team will actually use,” “How to decide whether to do a “blue-sky” analysis or one with constraints,” and “How to create enterprise-wide personas.”

User Research: Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal

There’s a reason Portigal’s book has become a standard reference for conducting user research. Those newer to user research will benefit greatly from important reminders about the risks of too many interviewers. Portigal also describes useful techniques such as the interviewer sidestep, turning interviewee’s questions back to them “is that important to you?”

Seasoned researchers will appreciate Portigal’s tips for handling tough interview situations such as what to do when the participant won’t stop talking.


Perhaps most enjoyable are Portigal’s assessments of predictions. Seasoned interviewers will likely agree with Portigal’s statement that interviews are not good at predicting future behavior because even when interviewees are discussing the future, their reference point is their current mental model.

That does not mean, however, that considering the future is a waste of time. The key is to avoid focusing on accurate predictions in favor of what the interviewee’s predictions reveal, “These parts of the interview often produce phrases or ideas that the field team will continue to repeat and go back to as they distill complex issues into visionary notations.”

Portigal has written a fun, insightful, and eminently practical book about the art and science of interviewing.

Why Personas Fail by Kim Flaherty

Silos, failed communication, and no buy-in from leadership are among the challenges Kim Flaherty of Nielsen Norman Group cites as she explains why personas often remain literally and figuratively stuck to the wall.

The goal is not to create pretty handouts, “What you really want is to get personas off the paper and into the minds of your colleagues.” To make this happen UX researchers should:

  • Bring personas to meetings
  • Conduct lunch and learns
  • Visit teams, present personas and explain the basis for the personas
  • Teach others in the organization how to use personas as a basis for recruiting usability test participants
  • Show colleagues working on Agile projects how to influence discussion with personas as user-data references.

These techniques might seem like common sense until you pause to consider how few organizations create and truly integrate personas into the product and design process.

The effort to adopt a persona-based mindset is worth the effort as I witnessed recently when a large company in the financial space spent a year developing and socializing robust personas. The result? Developers and product managers asked for copies of the personas and often followed up with questions while executives referred to these same personas during company-wide planning sessions.

Read Flaherty’s article and follow her advice. Your team and your organization will benefit.

Creating a Cultural Fit by Peter Morville

Perhaps best known for his book, Ambient Findability, author and UX thought leader Peter Morville brings the human to human factors. In this excerpt from his book, Intertwingled, Morville writes, “Being exposed to diverse ways of knowing and doing is one of the best parts of my work. But my interest runs deeper than cultural tourism. Over the years, I’ve realized that understanding culture is central to what I do.”

First Morville strives to understand the user’s culture. When running a usability test, for example, evaluating the UI is only half of the job. The other half is uncovering the user’s beliefs, values, and behavior. Understanding the user’s behavior is not a new idea. What distinguishes Morville’s work is his effort to probe in order to understand the user’s worldview, sources they trust, and why they behave in certain ways.

Second, Morville aims to understand his client’s culture. This understanding includes, but also extends beyond, stakeholder interviews. Morville explains the importance of reading between the lines to avoid mistaking surface for substance. Think about it this way. As UX researchers, we don’t simply take users at their word; we examine their performance and behavior. I take Morville to mean that we should do precisely the same with stakeholders.

“In short, the right design is one that fits the company and its customers. A mismatch on either side results in fatal error. We must use ethnography with our users and stakeholders to search for a bi-cultural fit.”

In other words, as UX researchers we must investigate our client’s culture as well as the user’s needs and culture.

A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

This book is not about user research, but it might as well be. Journalist Warren Berger shows corporate professionals how they can leverage his inquiry-driven profession to sharpen their research and interviewing skills.

Tight for time? Read Berger’s account of the amusing and insightful marshmallow story in Chapter 3 (no, not the famous Stanford marshmallow study about delayed gratification). Then turn to Chapter 4 where Berger asks how to create a culture of inquiry. Drawing on Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup, Berger shows how to shift our thinking from what we will build to what we will learn.

Reverse Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble

This book is especially useful for UX Researchers who work in the cross-cultural space. The authors argue that the future is far from home meaning that researchers, innovators, and business leaders have much to learn from their peers in emerging markets.


Of broader interest to all UX researchers are Chapters 5 and 6:

  • In “Chapter 5: Logitech and the Mouse that Roared,” the authors explain how Logitech lost market share by ignoring the needs of Chinese customers in densely populated cities.
  • In “Chapter 6: Procter & Gamble, Innovating the Un-P&G Way: In emerging markets, unfamiliar customer needs trump leading-edge technology,” the authors show why field observation and in-person interviews are essential to understanding customer needs, in this case the needs of Mexican women who buy feminine hygiene products.

Contact UI UX Training

Do you need UX research or design workshops tailored to your organization? Email us at