Book review: “Just Enough Research”

Back in 2013, Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule Design, wrote “Just Enough Research”. In this book, Hall explains why good customer research is so important. She outlines what makes research effective and provides practical tips on how to best conduct research. Reading “Just Enough Research” reminded me of reading “Rocket surgery made easy” by Steve Krug and “Undercover UX” by Cennydd Bowles, since all three books do a good job at both explaining and demystifying what it takes to do customer research.

These are the main things that I learned from reading “Just Enough Research”:

  1. What is research? – Right off the bat, Hall makes the point that in order to innovate, it’s important for you to know about the current state of things and why they’re like that. Research is systematic inquiry; you want to know more about a particular topic, so you go through a process to increase your knowledge. The specific type of process depends on who you are and what you need to know. This is illustrated through a nice definition of design research by Jane Fulton Suri, partner at design consultancy IDEO (see Fig. 1).
  2. Research is not asking people what they like! – I’m fully aware of how obvious this statement probably sounds. However, customer researcher is NOT about asking about what people do or don’t like. You might sometimes hear people ask users whether they like a particular product or feature; that isn’t what customer research is about. Instead, the focus is on exploring problem areas or new ideas, or simply testing how usable your product is.
  3. Generative or exploratory research – This is the research you do to identify the problem to solve and explore ideas. As Hall explains “this is the research you do before you even know what you’re doing.” Once you’ve gathered information, you then analyse your learnings and identify the most commonly voiced (or observed) unmet customer needs. This will in turn result in a problem statement or hypothesis to concentrate on.
  4. Descriptive and explanatory research – Descriptive research is about understanding the context of the problem that you’re looking to solve and how to best solve it. By this stage, you’ll have moved from “What’s a good problem to solve” to “What’s the best way to solve the problem I’ve identified?”
  5. Evaluative research – Usability testing is the most common form of evaluative research. With this research you test that your solution is working as expected and is solving the problem you’ve identified.
  6. Casual research – This type of research is about establishing a cause-and-effect relationship, understanding the ‘why’ behind an observation or pattern. Casual research often involves looking at analytics and carrying out A/B tests.
  7. Heuristic analysis – In the early stages of product design and development, evaluative research can be done in the form of usability testing (see point 5. above) or heuristic analysis. You can test an existing site or application before redesigning. “Heuristic” means “based on experience”. A heuristic is not a hard measure; it’s more of a qualitative guideline of best usability practice. Jakob Nielsen, arguably the founding father of usability, came up with the idea of heuristic analysis in 1990 and introduced ten heuristic principles (see Fig. 2).
  8. Usability testing – Testing the usability of a product with people is the second form of evaluative testing. Nielsen, the aforementioned usability guru, outlined five components that define usability (see Fig. 3). Hall stresses the importance of “cheap tests first, expensive tests later”; start simple – paper prototypes or sketches – and gradually up the ante.

Main learning point: “Just Enough Research” is a great, easy to read book which underlines the importance of customer research. The book does a great job in demonstrating that research doesn’t have to very expensive or onerous; it provides plenty of simple and practical to conduct ‘just enough research’.


Fig. 1 – Definition of “design research” by Jane Fulton Suri – Taken from:

“Design research both inspires imagination and informs intuition through a variety of methods with related intents: to expose patterns underlying the rich reality of people’s behaviours and experiences, to explore reactions to probes and prototypes, and to shed light on the unknown through iterative hypothesis and experiment.”

Fig. 2 – Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design (taken from:

  1. Visibility of system status – The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
  2. Match between system and the real world – The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
  3. User control and freedom – Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.
  4. Consistency and standards – Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
  5. Error prevention – Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
  6. Recognition rather than recall – Minimise the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
  7. Flexibility and efficiency of use – Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
  8. Aesthetic and minimalist design – Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.
  9. Help users recognise, diagnose, and recover from errors – Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
  10. Help and documentation – Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

Fig. 3 – Jakob Nielsen’s 5 components of usability – Taken from: Erika Hall. Just Enough Research, pp. 105-106

  • Learnability – How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they come across the design?
  • Efficiency – Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability – When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors – How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction – How pleasant is it to use the design?


App review: Curve

I recently heard Shachar Bialick – Founder and CEO of Curve – talk about how the new Curve app will make it easier for small businesses to manage their financial lives. It prompted me to have a first play with the Curve app in iOS, which is currently available as a Beta release. This is what I learned:

  1. My quick summary of Curve (before using it) – I expect Curve to be able to aggregate all my (business0 credit and debit cards – and related account / transaction data – into a single place.
  2. How does Curve explain itself in the first minute? – When I open the Curve app, I’m presented with two key messages: “Welcome to Connected Money” followed by “Curve combines all your cards into one smart card and smart app”. When reading these messages, “data” is the first thing that comes to mind. How will Curve combine and display all my bank data into a single place (and in way that lets me understand at a glance what’s going on)?
  3. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – When I tap the “Get Started” button on the app’s landing screen (see Fig. 1), I then need to enter my email address. By continuing through the rest of Curve’s onboarding journey I automatically agree to its terms and conditions as well as its privacy policy (see Fig. 2). I like the sound of the “magic link” – Curve sending me an email which lets me sign in with one click – over having to add yet another password (see Fig. 3).
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – The screen which shows me the different Curve packages to chose from is great. It’s a clear overview, no frills (see Fig. 4). However, I’m unsure whether I’ve got sufficient data or information to decide which package is most appropriate for me. Also, can I switch from one package to another? If so, how easy is that?
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (3)? – From providing more detail about my business to entering my card, the user experience feels very seamless and intuitive. I did, however, wonder why I did not need to enter then name of my business after stating that I’m a business owner. I expected some link to the Companies House details of my business, similar to Tide Bank’s onboarding process. Overall, the Curve app does a good job in trying to keep the onboarding process as simple as possible and the process of adding my first card feels straightforward too (see Fig. 5-6).
  6. Getting started, what’s the process like (4)? – The messaging around the card verification process is ok, but I’m nevertheless not entirely as to why my card issuer needs to provide security and I’m unsure as to how long this will take (see Fig. 7). I wonder what I can (not) do whilst I am waiting for my card to be verified? Will I need to go through a similar process when I enter an additional card that has been issued by the same provider?
  7. Getting started, what’s the process like (5)? – I’m massively intrigued by Curve’s new “Go Back in Time” feature (see Fig. 8). Curve lets its users swap purchases paid on one card to another. It lets users select the purchase(s) that they want change the payment method for. By tapping “Go Back in Time” under “Transaction Features” to bring up the menu, users can choose their preferred card for that purchase. This feature is available for any purchase under £1,000 with the Curve Mastercard within 14 days from purchase. I’m not 100% sure how long Curve will be able to hold one to this feature, as I can imagine the different credit card schemes getting up in arms about e.g. delayed payments or not being able to recoup initial payment transaction costs.
  8. Did Curve deliver on my expectations? – Yes. Although I haven’t yet been able to add multiple cards and see a combined view of transaction data for those different cards, Curve does a great job at explaining the onboarding process at every step of the way and uses some simple, but nice UX practices along the journey.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Curve’s iOS opening screen


Fig. 2 – Entering my email into Curve and agreeing to Curve’s T&Cs and privacy policy


Fig. 3 – Screenshots of Curve’s sign in process


Fig. 4 – Screenshot of ‘Which Curve are you?’ screen on Curve iOS


Fig. 5 – Information to enter during the onboarding process on Curve’s iOS app


Fig. 6 – Adding my first card in the Curve iOS app


Fig. 7 – Card verification steps on Curve’s iOS app


Fig. 8 – Welcome screen and Curve’s ‘Go Back in Time’ feature


Related links for further learning:



My product management toolkit (23): customer empathy

A few weeks ago I attended the annual Mind the Product conference in San Francisco, where David Wascha delivered a great talk about some of his key lessons learned in his 20 years of product management experience. He impressed on the audience that as product managers we should “protect our customer”; as product managers we need to shield our teams, but ultimately we need to protect our customers and their needs.

Dave’s point really resonated with me and prompted me to think more about how product managers can best protect customers and their needs. I believe this begins with the need to fully understand your customers;  “customer empathy” is something that comes to mind here:

  1. What’s customer empathy (1)? – In the dictionary, empathy is typically defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” In contrast, sympathy is about feeling bad for someone else because of something that has happened to him or her. When I think about empathising with customers, I think about truly understanding their needs or problems. To me, the ultimate example of customer empathy can be found in Change By Design, a great book by IDEO‘s Tim Brown. In this book, Brown describes an IDEO employee who wanted to improve the experience of ER patients. The employee subsequently became an emergency room patient himself in order to experience first hand what it was like to be in an ER.
  2. What’s customer empathy (2)? – I love how UX designer Irene Au describes design as “empathy made tangible”. Irene distinguishes between between analytical thinking and empathic thinking. Irene refers to a piece  by Anthony Jack of Case Western University in this regard. Anthony found that when people think analytically, they tend to not use those areas of the brain that allow us to understand other people’s experience. It’s great to use data to inform the design and build of your product, and any decisions you make in the process. The risk with both quantitative data (e.g. analytics and surveys) and qualitative data (e.g. user interviews and observations) is that you end up still being quite removed from what the customer actually feels or thinks. We want to make sure that we really understand customer pain points and the impact of these pain points on the customers’ day-to-day lives.
  3. What’s customer empathy (3)? – I recently came across a video by the Cleveland Clinic – a non-profit academic medical centre that specialises in clinical and hospital care – which embodies customer empathy in a very inspiring and effective way (see Fig. 1 below). The underlying premise of the video is all about looking through another person’s eyes, truly trying to understand what someone else is thinking or feeling.

Fig. 1 – Cleveland Clinic Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care – Wvj_q-o8&

I see customer empathy as a skill that can be learned. In previous pieces, I’ve looked at some of the tools and techniques you can use to develop customer empathy. This is a quick recap of three simple ways to get started:

Listen. Listen. Listen  I often find myself dying to say something, getting my two cents in. I’ve learned that this desire is the first thing that needs to go if you want to develop customer empathy. Earlier this year, I learned about the four components of active listening, from reading “The Art of Active Listening” . Empathy is one of the four components of active listening:

Empathy is about your ability to understand the speaker’s situation on an emotional level, based on your own view. Basing your understanding on your own view instead of on a sense of what should be felt, creates empathy instead of sympathy. Empathy can also be defined as your desire to feel the speaker’s emotions, regardless of your own experience.

Empathy Map – I’ve found empathy mapping to be a great way of capturing your insights into another person’s thoughts, feelings, perceptions, pain, gains and behaviours (see Fig. 2 below). In my experience, empathy maps tend to be most effective when they’ve been created collectively and validated with actual customers.

Fig. 2 – Example empathy map, by Harry Brignull – Taken from: “How To Run an Empathy Mapping & User Journey Workshop”

Problem Statements – To me, product management is all about – to quote Ash Maurya – “falling in love with the problem, not your solution.” Problem statements are an easy but very effective way to both capture and communicate your understanding of customer problems to solve. Here’s a quick snippet from an earlier ‘toolkit post’, dedicated to writing effective problem statements:

Standard formula:

Stakeholder (describe person using empathetic language) NEEDS A WAY TO Need (needs are verbs) BECAUSE Insight (describe what you’ve learned about the stakeholder and his need)

Some simple examples:

Richard,who loves to eat biscuits wants to find a way to eat at 5 biscuits a day without gaining weight as he’s currently struggling to keep his weight under control.

Sandra from The Frying Pan Co. who likes using our data platform wants to be able to see the sales figures of her business for the previous three years, so that she can do accurate stock planning for the coming year.

As you can see from the simple sample problem statements above, the idea is that you put yourself in the shoes of your (target) users and ask yourself “so what …!?” What’s the impact that we’re looking to make on a user’s life? Why?

Main learning point: Don’t despair if you feel that you haven’t got a sense of customer empathy yet. There are numerous ways to start developing customer empathy, and listening to customers is probably the best place to start!

Related links for further learning:



App review: Toutiao

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of homepage 

When I first heard about Toutiaou I thought it might be just another news app, this coming one from China. I learned, however, very quickly that Toutiaou is much more than just a news app; at the time of writing, Toutiao has more than 700 million users in total, with ore than 78 million users reading over 1.3 billion articles on a daily basis.

Toutiao, known officially as Jinri Toutiao, which means “Today’s Headlines”, has a large part of its rapid rise to its ability to provide its users with a highly personalised news feed. Toutiao is a mobile platform that use machine learning algorithms to recommend content to its users, based on previous content accessed by users and their interaction with the content (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Toutiao iOS app

I identified a number of elements that contribute to Toutiao’s success:

  1. AI and machine learning – Toutiao’s flagship value proposition to its users, having its own dedicated AI Lab in order to constantly further the development of the AI technology that underpins its platform. Toutiao’s algorithms learn from the types of content its users interact with and the way(s) in which they interact with this content. Given that Toutiao users spend on average 76 minutes per day on the app, there’s a wealth of data for Toutiao’s algorithms to learn form and to base personalisations on.
  2. Variety of content types to choose from – Toutiao enables its users to upload short videos, and Toutiao’s algorithms of will recommend selected videos to appropriate users (see Fig. 3). Last year, Ivideos on Toutiao were played 1.5 billion times per day, making Toutiao China’s largest short video platform. Users can also upload pictures, similar to Instagram or Facebook, users can share their pictures, with other users being abel to like or comment on this content (see Fig. 4).
  3. Third party integrations – Toutiao has got strategic partnerships in place with the likes of WeChat, a highly popular messaging app (see Fig. 5), and, a local online marketplace. It’s easy to see how Toutiao is following an approach whereby they’re inserting their news feed into a user’s broader ecosystem.

Main learning point: I was amazed by the scale at which Toutiao operate and the levels at which its users interact with the app. We often talk about the likes of Netflix and Spotify when it comes to personalised recommendations, but with the amount of data that Toutiao gathers, I can they can create a highly tailored content experience for their users.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of video section on Toutiao iOS app 

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of user generated content feed on Toutiao iOS app


Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Toutiao and WeChat integration on Toutiao iOS app

Related links for further learning:





App review: Vipps

I’m always on the lookout for new payment apps and I recently came across Vipps. Vipps is a Norwegian peer to peer payments app, currently only available to Norwegian users.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Vipps – Taken from:

These are the main things I’ve learned about Vipps:

  1. Use the recipient’s mobile number – Similar to the way the likes of Monzo and Uber work, with the Vipps app all you need is the mobile number of the recipient. If you need to send money to someone else, your friend needs to download the Vipps app and the amount will be sent to his/her account registered with Vipps. Select the person you want to pay from your phone’s contact list or enter their mobile number.
  2. Use Vipps to split bills – For example, when you’re eating out with a group of friends, you can ask your friends for money when splitting the bill. Create a group name – e.g. Nando’s on Friday – and add the names of the group members. Now people in your group can enter all expenses that are to be shared between the group members. Once all the amounts have been entered and everyone has confirmed that there are no more outlays, it is easy to see who owes what.
  3. Personal account registered with Vipps – Vipps doesn’t have it’s own current account. Instead, users can send money through Vipps from any Norwegian bank, provided that they have a bank debit card and a bank account with the bank in question.
  4. Getting started with Vipps – To be able to use Vipps, users need to enter a Norwegian national identity number, a Norwegian mobile number, the details of their payment card (Visa or MasterCard), their Norwegian bank account number and an email address. Once you’ve created a four digit code, you can start paying or receiving money. When logging into Vipps, you can use your personal code or Touch ID.
  5. Vipps’ charges – Vipps doesn’t charge for amounts below NOK 5 000. For payments of NOK 5 000 or above, the charge is 1 per cent of the total amount. There is no charge for receiving money.

Main learning point: Love how apps like Vipps are making it easier and easier for people to pay and receive money. The splitting bills functionality is very welcome!

Vipps 3

Fig. 2 – Vipps’ peer-to-peer payments – Taken from:

Vipps 4

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of Vipps’ Android app; making a payment – Taken from:

Vipps 5

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of Vipps’ iOSapp; selecting a contact or a company that you want to pay – Taken from:

Related links for further learning:


App review: THEO

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of THEO – Taken from:

I recently came across THEO, a mobile, Japanese investment service offered by Money Design. THEO acts as a ‘robo-advisor’; enabling users to invest using their smartphone, and applying machine-based learning to offer users investment suggestions. The service allows users to start investment from 100,000 JPY. By answering nine questions (see Fig. 2 below), Money Design’s proprietary robo-advisor’s algorithm selects an optimum combination from about 6,000 Exchange-Traded Funds (‘ETFs’) in about two minutes and provides discretionary investment management to the user.

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of questions asked to THEO users to create their investment profile 

The user’s answers will trigger THEO’s underlying algorithms to deliver the most optimal money management plan for the user (see Fig. 3). At this point, we’ll need to consider the artificial intelligence aspect of THEO. This is where the accuracy of the proposed plan, as generated by THEO’s algorithms, comes into play (see Fig. 3 below). As one Japanese investor commented: “I am an aggressive investor with a long timescale so I was surprised to see how conservative the allocation ended up.”


Fig, 3 – Screenshot of sample diagnosis results based on answering THEO’s questions

Main learning point: The key point with apps like THEO is going to be the accuracy and personal fit of the investment plan its algorithms will suggest to investors. I wonder whether any manual ‘tweaking’ is involved in assessing investment profiles and subsequent recommendations.

Related links for further learning:


App review: Tide

How did Tide come to my attention? – I vaguely recall receiving an email from Tide a while ago about signing up for Tide, and a chance to learn about this new service before launch.

My quick summary of Tide (before using it)? – I expect a bank account exclusively geared towards to small to medium size businesses. A bit like Varo Money or Simple, but aimed at SMEs.

How does Tide explain itself in the first minute? – When I googled Tide, the top search result has “the Business Current Account that saves you time …” as its byline (see Fig. 1).


Fig. 1 – Screenshot of top search result for Tide Banking

When I then go to Tide’s website, the homepage’s key messaging explains how Tide provide a small business current account (see Fig. 2). Speed and costs are the main things I take away from looking at Tide’s homepage at a first glance. I’m immediately intrigued to learn more about Tide’s “powerful tools that save you time and money.” This perception is reinforced by a “Sign up in 5 minutes” call to action button, just below the fold on Tide’s homepage.


Fig. 2 – Screenshot of the homepage of

Getting started, what’s the process like? – I click on the “Sign up in 5 minutes” button and a popup appears, telling me that Tide is available on Google and Android (see Fig. 3). I (wrongly) assumed that Tide’s services would also be available on my desktop, but I’m happy to go the App Store and download the Tide app.


Fig. 3 – Screenshot of Tide’s popup message, directing me to Google Play and the App Store to start creating a Tide account


Fig. 5 – Screenshot of the opening screen of the Tide iOS app

I click on the “Get started” button and land on a delightful screen that shows me upfront what I need to open a Tide account. I like how the app informs me upfront of the documents and information I need to open a Tide account (see Fig. 6). As a user, there’s nothing more infuriating than starting the account creation process and learning halfway through that I don’t have the right documents.


Fig. 5 – Screenshot of the second screen of the Tide iOS app


I use the camera to take a picture of my driving license. Doing this makes me realise again how my passport is still registered to my old address, and I wonder if and how that’s going to impact my application for a Tide account.

Clearly, something isn’t right and I see a popup message which explains how Tide was unable to verify my details automatically. I now expect a phone call or an email from Tide about my identity verification. The good thing is that I can still continue with the account creation process, by simply clicking on the “Continue” button.


The bit where Tide links to Companies House feels very seamless and it automatically picks up my company.






This is the point where I hit a spanner in the works as the app doesn’t seem to accept the security photo that I’ve taken of myself. There’s a circular type button which enables me to take my picture again … and again … and again. Meanwhile, I’m unclear as to what I’m doing wrong and there’s no tooltip to explain what I need to ensure my picture meets Tide’s criteria. Clicking on the “next” button in the top right hand corner of the screen doesn’t help unfortunately, so I feel a bit stuck here.

After contacting Tide, the issue gets resolved and I continue the onboarding process. “Terms And Conditions” is the next step I’m presented with. The calls to action are clear and I like how I can easily read through Tide’s “Member Terms” and “Account Agreement” if I wish to.


After clicking both tick boxes, I receive a notification stating that my account has been opened, but that Tide needs to do some extra checks before creating a sort code and account number for me. I suspect this is due the fact that my driving license is still registered to my old address and doesn’t correspond with my company address.

The additional checks get carried out pretty swiftly and I can see a confirmation screen within the app, containing my account number, sort code and balance.


Did Tide deliver on my expectations? – Yes, apart from the issue with my security photo, onboarding with Tide felt intuitive for the most part. I believe that the app and the overall user experience would benefit from some simple tooltips (e.g. when submitting security details) to further simplify things.