UXD720 Week 3: Who Are Our Users?

Image credit: Jonas Jacobsson

Typological and topographical analysis.

Before I ask myself ‘who are my users?’, I need to update you—dear reader—on my progress on last week’s challenge activity.

Fig. 1.

Neil Leonard and Gavin Ambrose, 2012 pp. 128-129, describe two approaches to categorising; typology and topography. Typology refers to the study of groups of things, and typography describes the relationship between the components of the work in focus. I have attempted to consider both in my synthesis.

With my concept aiming to solve multiple problems, it felt important to consider how those problems influence one another. Applying both typology and topography helped me give consideration to each problem individually, and the state-of-play of all the problems, holistically. I’m hoping that my double-pass approach will carry forward to mitigate the risk of a disjointed user experience. I’d rather my app delivers one experience that is valuable on multiple levels than multiple divergent experiences that try to solve their respective problems in isolation.

In the typological, first pass of my synthesis, I was able to categorise my insights into 34 groups. In the topographical, second pass, I was able to identify ten themes, treated as taxonomical families, in which the 34 groups related to one another.

Fig 2.

I have boiled my data down to six main learnings and translated them into How Might We statements, in line with the guidance set out by Design Kit (IDEO, 2014).

  • Interviewees had two main motivations for using fitness tech; personal progression (tracking their fitness metrics) and social media sharing (posting their fitness metrics). How might we balance tracking fitness metrics with sharing fitness metrics?
  • Convenience was an important, often primary, factor for finding routines in fitness, commuting, using reward schemes, and helping the environment.
    How might we make exercising, commuting, saving money, and helping the environment more convenient, all at the same time?
  • Exercising could both be enhanced and diminished by the presence of social interactions.
    How might we make exercise social and/or solitary at the user’s discretion?
  • Routines were most regularly kept when they had minimal impact on the individual’s other commitments.
    How might we keep users’ routines for exercising, commuting, saving money, and helping the environment from impeding one another?
  • Interviewees wanted to be given more ways to help the environment, without making drastic changes to their usual routines.
    How might we inform users on how to help the environment?
  • The perception of train services (particularly in UK) was overwhelmingly negative.
    How might we make train services better for users?

Problem statement reflection.

At the time of writing my HMW statements, they felt more inline with my personal code of conduct than problem statements. A mentor in a previous role used to often tell me ‘come with solutions, not problems’. I knew he hadn’t coined that phrase, but I wasn’t sure of its origins, so I googled it.

To my surprise, I found more literature in oppose to that phrase than in support of it. Sabina Nawaz, 2017, reports Professor Adam Grant’s statement that ‘solution-only thinking creates a culture of advocacy rather than one of inquiry’.

Now that I have stopped to think, I agree with the Nawaz and Grant’s points. ‘Bringing solutions, not problems,’ falls apart when the problems being brought are considered problem statements instead of blurry complaints. To an extent, that new perspective invalidates my decision to reject the problem statement method.

That’s not to say I feel obligated to bin my HMW statements and start afresh. Without becoming overly tangental, I just think it’s interesting that my decision to opt for one statement form over the other was made on such fragile ground. It seems I had accepted solutions-not-problems as truth earlier in my working life, without giving it any critical thought.

For future projects, I’d like to give more consideration to how I should deliver my post-research statements. I imagine, when new opportunities for ideation arise, I’ll start to develop a preference one statement type over the other— or I’ll find a new method entirely. For now, I can accept that my workflow will change and refine in years to come. There’s no immediate demand for me to decide on a set of methods to champion.

Introducing personas.

Taking the synthesised insights from my research (and a bit of imagination), I was able to build a set of personas.

Fig. 3.
Fig. 4.

As much as enjoyed I creating my personas, I’m concerned that my enthusiasm for creative writing has made me stray too far from my data. Kim Salazar, 2018, refers to personas as “human-like snapshots of relevant and meaningful commonalities in your customer groups” that are “based on your user research”. My worry is that I’ve missed the balance of commonalities lifted from my research and ‘flavour’ narrative to tie the persona together.

To better convey my point, let’s consider my secondary persona as an example. The idea of Ali wanting to run with his brother despite differing locations is a frustration that I have imagined. But, it has been inspired by the prevalence of social media, and social-versus-solitary exercise in my interviews. It has informed my second HMW statement, ‘How might we make exercise social and/or solitary at the user’s discretion?’.

Perhaps a case could be made that the details I have added are gratuitous. Raven L. Veal, 2020, comments on adding detail, “if it does not affect the final design or help make any decisions easier: omit it”. However in the same article, Veal also recognises that personas make users memorable by building empathy and focusing the product team’s efforts. If the objective is to facilitate empathy, then maybe the story I have created is valuable.

Paula McDonald et al., 2015, presents a new narrative genre (clinical realism) as a means of developing empathy in medical students. Whilst some students initially reported struggling to relate to the characters they had created, they became more empathic as they completed more writing assignments. If fictitious writing could help promote empathy in those delivering “person-centred care”, it’s not unreasonable to believe it could do the same in human-centred design.

List of Figures

Fig. 1: A screenshot of my user research data, pre-synthesis. Each post-it colour denotes a different interviewee.

Fig. 2: A screenshot of my synthesised user research data.

Fig. 3: My primary persona, Steph.

Fig. 4: My secondary persona, Ali.


GRANT, A. 2017. ‘Adam Grant: Encourage a Culture of Inquiry’. Stanford eCorner [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biw-JUum8YI [accessed 16/05/2021].

IDEO. ‘How might we’. Design Kit [online]. Available at: https://www.designkit.org/methods/3 [accessed 16/05/2021].

LEONARD, N. & AMBROSE, G. 2012. Basics Graphic Design 02: Design Research: Investigation for successful creative solutions. AVA Publishing SA: Worthing, 128-129.

MCDONALD, P., ASHTON, K., BARRATT, R., DOYLE, S., IMESON, D., MEIR, A., & RISSER, G. 2015. ‘Clinical realism: a new literary genre and a potential tool for encouraging empathy in medical students’. BMC Medical Education, 15(1), 112.

NAWAZ, S. 2017. ‘The Problem with Saying “Don’t Bring Me Problems, Bring Me Solutions”’. Harvard business review [online]. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-problem-with-saying-dont-bring-me-problems-bring-me-solutions [accessed 16/05/2021].

SALAZAR, K. 2018. ‘Why Personas Fail’. Nielsen Norman Group [online]. Available at: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-personas-fail/ [accessed 16/05/2021].

VEAL, R. L. 2020. ‘How to Define a User Persona’. Career Foundry [online]. Available at: https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/how-to-define-a-user-persona/ [accessed 16/05/2021].

Published by Josh 'Skoob' Brough

Experience enthusiast. UX/UI designer. Father to (little) one. Currently studying MA User Experience Design at Falmouth University. Here’s the chronicle.

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