5 Traps in Thinking About the User (and How to Avoid Them)

In UX there’s quite a lot of psychology. But if we, as product creators, want to understand, how our users think, let’s start with the awareness of how the thinking process works. And where the traps are hidden.

UX researchers' role in companies is to be ambassadors of the users. In Tidio, our goal is not only to provide knowledge and insights but also to empower the product team by helping them empathize with users. Because - to be honest - in a product team, everyone should be a little bit of a researcher and a little bit of a psychologist. We all need to be curious about who our users are and put effort into deeply understanding their needs and motivations.

This process should start with awareness. Not only of what we know and what we don’t know about our users but also - of how we think about them. False or unconscious assumptions, cognitive biases, too far-reaching conclusions - these all are thinking traps, that we need to be aware of and try to avoid them. 

#1 User vs. customer - what is the difference?

Let’s start with the most common false assumptions, that we make.

Are the user and customer the same person? - this is the most basic question we need to ask ourselves at the beginning. Sometimes the answer is “yes”. But sometimes, it’s “no” and it makes things a little more complicated. 

The definitions of user and customer cannot be more simple. The user is a person who uses the product, and the customer is someone, who makes a purchase. But the problem is, that it is not always the same person. 

For example - among Tidio customers there are companies of different sizes. In businesses, where there are just one or few people, usually the same person decides about choosing a customer service tool and then uses it. In bigger companies, other people are responsible for decisions, and others are customer support agents. In such cases, we need to remember that the user and the customer are not the same person - and what’s most important, is that their needs and expectation can be very different.

That’s why sometimes companies use two types of personas: buyer and user personas. The first one is used mainly by marketing and sales. In communication, they can highlight, what’s most important for those, who make purchases. But someone, who should be in the hearts of the product teams, is the user. This is the one, whose needs should be at the center of the product design process.   

#2 UX personas - when did you update them for the last time?

User personas are a great way of empathizing with users. These fictional characters (but based on research data) represent our users. Unfortunately, many companies treat creating personas like a one-time job. And that’s the second trap.

Today we live in a world that changes extremely fast. Dynamic technology development impacts people’s needs and behaviors, which then create new expectations. New expectations drive further technology development. It’s like a self-propelled wheel that moves faster and faster.

That’s why user personas need to be revised and refined regularly. It’s hard to say exactly how often - in some businesses once a year, in others even every few months. And also always, when there is a significant change in the market, that can affect our users. For example, in the last few months, Chat GPT changed people’s concerns about AI solutions - many of them became more open and less frightened of AI solutions in general. And for sure such change requires revising personas in businesses developing solutions based on AI/ML.

#3 Rational users - do such people exist?

The human brain is brilliant - it saves energy for really important tasks, by doing other things automatically. This is the way people usually use products. Automatically, with no focus, intuitively.

Daniel Kahnemann, the psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in the Economic Sciences, proposed the theory of two minds: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 works quickly and automatically, with low effort, whereas System 2 is analytical, rational, and activated for tasks that require our full attention. 

So where is the trap? 

Product teams use System 2 while designing the product. Users in most cases use System 1.   This means, that the users won’t analyze the logic of the product or assess it from the perspective of rational arguments. If we want to meet with the users, we need to change our perspective. Moreover, we must assume, that the users are not rational. This way we can design products, that are intuitive and easy to use, as they don’t require the users to put in too much mental effort.

#4 Cognitive bias - what is it and how to avoid it?

Not only users can behave irrationally. Every human does, and so do we as product creators. That’s why we need to be aware of the traps in our minds.

Cognitive bias is an unconscious error in thinking. We make such mistakes using… our System 1. As we need to process a lot of information daily, our minds look for shortcuts.

The most common cognitive biases are:

  • confirmation bias - when we look for information (or interpret data) in a way that confirms our previous expectations or hypothesis,

(for e.g. - we ask suggestive questions interviewing the user, like: “Do you need this feature in the product?” instead of: “What do you need?”)    

  • recency bias - when we focus only on recent events or experiences, which we can easily recall in our memory,

(for e. g. - we make decisions about a product based on the expectations of the last user we have been talking to)

  • framing bias - when we make decisions based on how the information is presented, not just on facts.

(for example - if some qualitative data are presented to us as an “optimistic trend” we focus on this interpretation, not on the numbers themselves)  

There are so many different cognitive biases, that it would be hard to describe all of them. But what’s really important, is to be aware, that our minds sometimes can play tricks. Such awareness is crucial in gathering information from users, interpreting data, and decision-making processes. Asking ourselves from time to time “Is there something, that could affect my thinking?” is the best way of avoiding this trap. 

#5 Conclusions and generalizations - aren’t you going too far?

Here the trap is again hidden in our minds because we all have a tendency to make generalizations. It is also an unconscious thinking strategy, that helps us in the fast processing of information. And sometimes we make it… too fast.

In UX we often conduct qualitative research, like in-depth interviews. The knowledge we get thanks to them is certainly valuable, as it helps us understand the user better - his needs, motivations, concerns, or fears. But even when we discover some patterns, we need to remember, that they are still hypotheses to verify. For statistical generalization, we need to have a really large sample, but not 5, 10, or even 20. In fact, in most cases, we don’t really need it, because finding answers to questions “why?” or “what for?” is much more important in making decisions in product teams. 

What we must remember, is that our findings cannot be generalized to all users. It doesn’t mean, that qualitative research results are less valuable. But just being aware of this fact can save us from the “thinking trap of generalization” and making decisions based on too far conclusions.

Final words

In UX, there’s quite a lot of psychology. We want to understand the user better and know his or her unconscious motivations. We want to know, how he acts and how he makes decisions. So it’s good to know some basics of cognitive psychology.

But it’s also good to remember, that we all - no matter what is our role in the product team - are also humans and the “objects” of psychology. Awareness of how we perceive, think, and make decisions is as much important, as knowledge about how our users do that. 


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