Insights vs Observations: how to turn user feedback into game-changing statements

Research, as a fundamental part of UX, enables us to test hypothesis and guide the process of eliminating assumptions, with reason and focus on what really matters — user needs.

I’ve done this process many times

UX research process

The value of research here is irrefutable, as now design decisions can be based in real numbers or direct quotes from the user. But how do you connect the dots and dig deeper to solve the problem — how do you move from observations to insights?

First, we need to understand what each one is.

An observation is a truth about how things are and a direct product of research. Observations describe behaviours and attitudes.

An insight is a revelation that surfaces after a deeper understanding of a complex situation. Insights inform us why something is happening so we can take action about it.

Example of an observation (left) describing one behaviour of solo travellers and an insight (right) a revelation about why solo travellers behave in a certain way

What are the key differences between the two?

Observations tell us that users are acting a certain way, while insights tell us why they are doing it and the motivation behind it.

Key characteristics of insights:

  • They are a construct of various observations
  • Surprising statements that aim to provoke change
  • Lead us to see users in a different lense by understanding their motivations for a certain behaviour

How do you get to insights?

  1. State the behaviours and attitudes you learned about the user
  2. Give the context of the situation
  3. Explain the root of the problem that justifies why the user is responding to it in a particular way
  4. Describe the goals users are trying to achieve and the motivation behind

What are the benefits of presenting insights to your stakeholders and clients?

Evolving observations into insights brings a level of story-telling that makes your stakeholders understand the position of your users, by realising why users act a certain way.

This is also a more succinct format of providing light to different observations in a way that is more memorable than raw data, as insights have already been analysed and synthesised.

The back story of this article

This question came up on a recent project, where I was asked to construct insights from observations. My team and I had interviewed a segment of the target audience, with the goal of identifying the fears and hopes of users. The client’s argument was that insights provide points of tension and those, if addressed correctly, can leave an impactful experience on users. In the end, through this structured feedback, we were able to deliver those recommendations in the format of insights and meet the point of view of the client. However, that left me wanting to know more so, here I am sharing my additional research on the topic of observations vs insights.

UX Designer focused on UCD principles, accessibility and inclusive design