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Undercover user research

14. August 2018 | User Research

Reading time: 5 minutes

As we all know: UX – U = X . But, unfortunately, as we all also know: sadly it’s often difficult to get a buy in to conduct user research at the beginning of a project or even establishing an ongoing research culture.
Often we have a hard time convincing clients to set apart some time for research, even when explaining that the amount of research can easily be scaled, depending on the project, according to the principle that a little bit of insights is even better than no insight at all. If you are confronted with these user research blockers – don’t let it get you down. There is still hope out there. Here’s what you can do:

1. Talk to people in your organization

Find out who does the content writing for the website/app or product. Block off one hour to interview those folks or go to lunch with them. Try to find out what is difficult to communicate from their perspective and why it is difficult. Were there any blockers for descriptions of certain things in the copy in the past? If so for which content and who blocked it and why was it a blocker?

In addition, try to find out if there was any research about customers/users conducted in the past. If so, request all of the reports, read them carefully and try to find out if there are any known issues or user voices collected.

If you work on a product which has existed for a while and your organization has a customer support department, go there and talk to these people. You can really learn a lot there. Block off two hours or go to lunch with individual people from customer support, or bring two of them to one table and do a group interview. Let them do the talking. Ask them what the most frequent questions are of people calling them. Ask for recurring topics which come up. Most of the time customer support people are quite willing to support you. In best case make this exchange a habit and begin working closely with customer support to see trends and patterns of questions and difficulties people have over time.

2. Browse the web and look out for social sentiment

Today, many people use social media (see data: Also:; for Europe see

Today, many people use social media (see data: Also:; for Europe see
This means people are probably talking about your brand/product on social media. And you definitely do want to know what they are saying about you. You can search those social networking sites for voices on your organization by searching for specific terms, hashtags twitter’s advanced search tool and be on the lookout for patterns and collect them somewhere. There are also a lot of tools out there (so-called social sentiment analysis tools) that can do this work for you. They can help you learn about what people say about your company and where people are talking about you. If your organization has a social media presence it is even better to reach out to the community managers who are typically the ones who have to deal with comments about your customer or user base. Also, web forums are a good place to go to for getting people’s voices concerning specific industries and products.

3. Evaluate web analytics

Ask your IT department if you can have access to server logs (for very basic information: ) and analytics data. This might also give you some great insights about your users, e.g which operating systems, viewports, and browsers they use. Evaluating web analytics might also give you insights into search terms people use on your website to find content. You should return to this valuable information again over time to see if there are recurring patterns, which might be a hint that there are difficulties in finding specific content and then to work on that.
Analytics also give you access to data like time spent per page and at which point people leave the page and also in best case click paths and so on.
However, that data cannot tell you why something is happening as it’s missing context and also does give us no information about people’s motivation behind a certain behavior. Therefore you have to go out and talk to people! But this data research might help you to convince your boss that you need to know these things.

We hope this small list of undercover hacks helps to get you motivated to keep the U in UX. However, please keep in mind all these things do not serve as a substitute or fallback for talking to your (prospective) users or customers or representative people out there to explore goals, motivations, and concerns. But it might be a good starting point at the very beginning of a project before you go out and talk to users/customers.
It could also serve as a better-than-nothing approach when you really aren’t allowed (for whatever reason) to have any direct interaction with customers or users and cannot talk to them directly.
However, especially in such circumstances, you should consider to get a seat at the management table to make yourself heard, tickle out the allover attitude towards user experience and then also discuss the organizations’ priorities and have the courage to question existing structures and also attitudes within the organization.

Image source: Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

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