A user is someone who has a relationship with your organization. When you say the word “user,” you mean someone who has already reached out to you. When an organization puts resources toward “user research,” they are only covering their own perspective. They risk ignoring all the people think differently and don’t reach out to them, but whom they might want to support.
Because of the definition of the word, all “user” efforts are framed through the lens of your offering or idea. Thinking starts at the point where you already are and radiates out. But the effort gets weaker as it gets farther from the starting point. Design Thinking emphasizes exploring the problem as a first step–which is imperative but difficult. To define the problem, Design Thinking encourages deliberate poking at the edges of what the user is doing. But that’s starting with the solution at the middle, because of that word “user.”
There’s a whole other way of defining the problem starting with a person in the middle. This other perspective starts by identifying people who are aiming at purposes that you have the ability to support, then stepping away from that ability entirely to understand their reasoning, reactions, and guiding principles as they work toward their purpose. Leave tasks and goals behind for a while. It is powerful to understand people as people–not as users, or any variant like “customer,” “member,” “reader,” “patron,” etc. You find out how people reason and act independently of your organization.
Very few organizations are taking this step back to get a better perspective about people. This is your chance to get ahead of everyone else.
User research is only a small part of understanding your business opportunities. Occasionally take off your employee hat and step away from constantly thinking about solving things, so that your mind is open to absorb other perspectives. Then generate your ideas from this knowledge, or at least see if what you’re doing matches what people are aiming for in their own lives. Stepping back to get this bigger picture will inform your organization’s roadmap, spark ideas, and blaze new trails to support the different philosophies people follow to achieve their purposes.