Thinking Aloud tool of User Research – The Discourse #4

Why it's so much better than just demo'ing to get feedback

Hey there!

In today’s edition of The Discourse, we're going to focus on an often-overlooked process of building products. It’s the way in which we get feedback from users.,c_limit,f_auto,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/

Now once you’ve identified the need, ideated and have a prototype or early version ready – you need to be able to ‘test’ your prototype and get specific feedback from users.

How well you do it, defines the trajectory of your product's success.

When you put the prototype in front of users, there is a temptation to walk through and demo the product rather than ask them to use it themselves and observe their feedback.

Here's where the Thinking Aloud tool comes into play. I’ll give you an example of a time when I understood the distinction.

Demoing the App

Back in 2015, I was building an app for car dealers to file loan applications. This involved selecting the car from a list, entering a few fields and uploading the customer's documents.

I left the comfort of my air-conditioned office to visit a collection of target users who were pre-owned car dealers in the scorching summer heat (40C/100F+).

After a quick introduction and context setting – I demoed the app to them, screen by screen. I asked them what they thought of the product.

They said "this looks great", "I will use it", and generally receptive, which you feel is great feedback. It's a validation of the idea.

But there were no true insights!

Even when probed, they didn’t provide any specific feedback. I didn’t know what the app needed to improve in.

I was a bit perplexed. Was the approach wrong, were they not interested, or were they not listening?

I went back to my team and got a talking to for not collecting usable insights. I knew I had to get more insights when I went out next.

Specific feedback is the fuel for an early feature or product.

Thinking Aloud

After reading up best practices on NNg, I changed up my approach completely.

Instead of demo-ing the app this time, I set the context by explaining the task – to scan a complete loan application, put the phone in his hands and then encouraged the user to talk through actions.

And the result was that I understood so much more! I knew when a screen wasn't clear, certain text felt clickable, or the button wasn’t prominent enough, etc.

Also, few features became obvious, for e.g. A way to calculate and show the EMI (monthly instalments), and system feedback while uploading documents.

I was pleasantly surprised at the large impact caused by a seemingly small difference in approach.

It's awkward at first because there is an uncomfortable silence and an expectation of negative feedback. Setting the context helps with this and inform them it’s completely ok if they don’t understand.

Another added advantage of having users involved like this brings about the IKEA effect - when users partially create something, they value it more.


Steps to follow to make the Thinking Aloud activity better:

  • Set the context and explain the target action required

  • Make the user comfortable – there are no wrong points

  • Ask the user to talk about their actions aloud. Repeat this instruction if missed

  • Take shorthand notes

  • Explain anything that is unclear and unblock the user

  • Thank the user for taking part in the research

  • Involve them as co-creators in the app's development

It's definitely easier to run this activity in person. On a video call, you can provide the link to the prototype and by screen sharing simulate the same process.

A demo can make you feel good, but with the Thinking Aloud tool, you can capture true insights.

Discuss this post with me on Twitter

That's it for today, thanks for making it to the end! Talk to you soon.

— Kavir

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