The Conversation Is the Method: The Importance of User Research

Conversations Over Methods

I’m passionate about Design Thinking, yet I don’t have a preference for which method is best. This doesn’t mean the process isn’t important or valuable. From my perspective, the process can provide a helpful framework, but the most important element is talking with customers and users.  There are enough good Design Thinking methods out there, I don’t want to spend energy debating which is best. I’d rather spend that energy on doing user research.  Plus, having more than one process at your disposal is like having another tool in your tool kit – helping you have the right tool for a particular project or context. A few a really good examples include:


At Handrail, we believe it’s imperative to use research to get to insights. The best way to do so is by talking with and observing people, rather than promoting a particular Design Thinking framework over another. We focus on finding the best way to better understand the problem. We appreciate tools and techniques from many methods and look for ways that each may improve our design practices.


Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

The success of design initiatives comes down to falling in love with a problem rather than a solution, and in turn, doing effective research with customers and users to understand and  address the problem. So, whichever user-centered design method you choose makes little difference, as long as it involves moderated research throughout the process.

As a point of clarification, moderated research isn’t the only way to get to insights. We believe that moderated research compliments other metrics, analytics or big data you may have available to you. Those numbers help illustrate what happened, but they often fail to tell you the story of why. The best way to understand the story of why is to talk to customers and have them tell you their stories and to get their reactions to your products or services as they use them. The Handrail team has a general version of a user-centered design method which serves as an archetype of the Design Thinking process. This guide highlights the intent and objectives of each design phase, along with example research techniques and resources to successfully move through the process.
I encourage you to use whichever design method that works for you; as long as it fits your particular context, and, most importantly, includes user research. Trying different techniques can help you put more design tools in your tool kit.

So, what design methods and tools have you found most beneficial for you and your teams?

If you have a design challenge for us, a problem you’d like us to fall in love with, or would simply like to learn more about ConnectFive or Handrail, please get in touch.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared on


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Matt Arnold

Matt is a researcher and product specialist at Handrail, Inc. He is passionate about human-centered design and helping teams do more effective research. Matt has led strategy and design work for early and late stage startups, as well as some of the country’s most recognized brands.

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