Watch “Great User Research (for Non-Researchers)” with Steve Portigal 

In this talk, Steve Portigal explains how to do great research for non-researchers, and tells us how to be more effective in the three main elements of research: planning research, conducting research, and acting on research.

Researchers often have concerns about what will happen when “other people” go out and do work with users. But the demand for research far outweighs the supply of researchers, and everyone wins when more people are enabled to do research themselves. At #mtpcon San Francisco, Steve Portigal, tells us how to quickly level up our research skills as product managers across the lifecycle of a research effort.

Steve tells us how to be more effective in the three main elements of user research: planning research, conducting research, and acting on research.

Great User Research for Non-Researchers

My Takeaways

In my practice I’ve also observe the same trends that Steve noticed that there still seems to this misunderstanding that “testing” and encompasses all kinds of users research (I’ve even referred in my presentations the same visualization that some methods are most suitable for strategy, others are better for optimization): in research we are trying to deeply understand behavior, needs, meaning, desires, and we are not just validating!

When considering research, we should not look only at the people that are currently using our products! Ideo has famously focused on early adopters as means to draw insights for innovation, and Steve is pointing that things we can learn from lead users can illustrate by contrast the kinds of behaviours can help us gain new perspective on what we are trying to learn from research.

Steve points to the importance of spending face-to-face time with users in their environment (Karen Holzblatt is pretty adamant about it in her Contextual Inquiry framework). Since this presentation was before the Pandemic, unfortunately our options are limited.

Steve also elaborates on a lot of tips on how to ask questions — in particular how important to make the person being interviewed feel they are the expert — so it’s totally worth watching!

I had the privilege of participating on a workshop with Steve Portigal back in 2011 in Hong Kong, and I had a great time! Since then, I’ve been following up with work up close! I was supposed to meet him again in 2014 for the IxDA South America conference, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it!

About Steve Portigal

Steve Portigal is an experienced user researcher who helps organizations to build more mature user research practices. Based outside of San Francisco, he is principal of Portigal Consulting, and the author of two books: Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries and Interviewing Users

He’s also the host of the Dollars to Donuts podcast, where he interviews people who lead user research in their organizations. Steve is an accomplished presenter who speaks about culture, innovation, and design at companies and conferences across the globe.

Recommended Reading

Rohrer, C., (2014), “When to Use Which User-Experience Research Methods”, retrieved 26 March 2021 from

Holzblatt, K., Beyer, H., (2016), Contextual Design: Design for Life, Morgan Kaufmann; 2nd edition (December 28, 2016)

Medeiros, I., (2012), User Research and Scenarios, retrieved 26 March 2021 from

Reichelt, L., (2020), The Five Dysfunctions of Democratising Research, retrieved 26 March 2021 from

Sharon, T., (2020), Flying Cars, UX Research, Attitude, and Behavior, retrieved 26 March 2021 from


Great User Research (for Non-Researchers) by Steve Portigal – Mind the Product

By Itamar Medeiros

I'm a Strategist, Branding Specialist, Experience Designer, Speaker, and Workshop Facilitator based in Germany, where I work as Director of Design Strategy and Systems at SAP and visiting lecturer at Köln International School of Design of the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, I've helped truly global companies in several countries (Brazil, China, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, The United Arab Emirates, United States, Hong Kong) create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles.

During my 7 years in China, I've promoted the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai.

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