Why trust is – once again – the key ingredient to having quality user feedback.
“Everybody lies” is a New York Times bestseller, proposing that social science approaches are basically worthless. Some arguments may even strengthen the theory by author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. For example, people won’t always tell the truth because the answer contradicts social desirability.
Journalism is no stranger to this behaviour. Surveys often conclude that the audience wants longer, in-depth reporting while data shows otherwise. Of course, you’ve to read those surveys always with a grain of salt.
However, is data the “truth serum” Stephens-Davidowitz claims it to be? When it comes to design improvements, it’s probably a viable solution to observe how people use a product rather than to ask actively to avoid a distorted image. This process results in constant iterations of improving and testing. That’s a perfectly fine use of data.
Now, I see two significant pitfalls with the sole reliance on data. First and most obvious: Data is also subject to confirmation bias as soon as it gets analyzed by someone.
Second, data may not give you a deep understanding of people’s needs because you can only observe existing products. A simple example: You don’t know if users want a search functionality by looking at the data if there isn’t a search functionality in the first place.
If we think about asking people about our products, there’s a straightforward rule: Don’t ask stupid questions.
The better you ask, the better answers you get. Also, what I especially believe: You have to make an effort. If you don’t have a good relationship with your users, they will lie to you, especially if you spread some uninspired online survey. Meet with people, talk to them in a relaxed environment, not in an interrogation-like setting. Trust is once again, the key ingredient to having qualitative results.
At best, data-driven research and qualitative interviews are combined to create some amazing products as BBC News Lab did for Gen Z.