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"Why do bad products still exist when we know how to make good ones?"

Alexia Ingber

We know how to design.

We can tell the difference between a good and bad product. Our ability to do so relies on decades of content production, trial, and error, etc. But poorly designed products are still out there; even Google has its cemetery (Remember Google+?).

Why is that? We need more than cold data to understand people. Data are, first and foremost, a rationalization, a way to structure information that is very different from what real people living real lives are: irrational creatures of habits.

Whether you are a designer, a developer, or an entrepreneur, doing research will help you build better products faster. And Erika Hall’s book, Just Enough Research, might be precisely what you need.

Scene of a desk with a Desktop and material to work : paper sheets, smartphones, pens and crayons.

A person working at a desk with various research & hardware materials

Research is the ultimate added value.

At any point during a product’s lifecycle, you might find a gap between your assumptions, what you think the product should be, and the real world, that brick wall against which wishful thinking goes to die. The friction between ideas and reality is always risky, as it can waste resources.

A safe way to avoid those risks and build a sustainable product is to start with critical questions instead of answers. However great your ideas may be, think of them as questions and problems rather than answers.

Questions are great; they have a much longer shelf-life than answers: they can be reused, shared, and help you produce meaningful content.

Critical questioning and design research is also about creating a shared reality for your team; terms, concepts, processes, and deliverables must all refer to a common pool of knowledge and act as an internal language for the ongoing project.

Two women during an interview

That sounds great, but where to start?

Erika walks us through a simple three steps process:

Formulating questions. The questions will vary depending on the product and the context. Still, a good critical question should be specific (to the product you’re building), actionable (will bring results), and practical (doable and sustainable). The best questions are about unknown product development aspects that can introduce significant risks.


Gathering data. Now that you have your critical questions(problematics), it is time to confront them in the real world. Depending on the maturity of your team and your product, you can use many methods, from ethnography to usability testing. And yes, it can be overwhelming, so start simple and work with what you have. There is not one right activity or method; there is just one that is right for what you want to find out and the number of available resources. Research is not a one-time thing, so doing it sustainably and throughout the design process is the way to go.

There is one transversal aspect to all of those methods, though. To understand how to change people’s behavior, you first must know how people behave today, as it partially defines their future behaviors.

That understanding relies mainly on soft skills accessible to everyone: empathy, active listening, validation, and awareness of one’s position in the interaction.

Analyzing the data. You will need to create meaning from data to get valuable insights. Analysis and collaborative work will keep you safe from confirmation biases and help you identify patterns and variables. Once you get those insights, implement them into your processes and get a more successful product! It is as simple as that.


Critical questioning is the foundation of good research. It can be implemented at any stage of the product lifecycle and is highly adaptable to any structure with various capabilities Doing research will lower the risk of your product failing, save you time & money and be the perfect bridge between your unique ideas and actual user needs.

All citations in this post are from her book's presentation at the UX Salon in 2016.

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    Alexia
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Meet Alexia, one of our designers

I’m a fierce defender of reducing the tech gap through sustainable and accessible products. During projects, I focus on uncovering meaningful insights through research, modelizing flows, and turning them into wireframes.


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Women In Product Dinner: for the love of food, people and Product

Caroline Verellen

At Smooth Sailing, we enjoy qualitative, yet informal networking. That’s why we love to organise ‘Women in Product’ dinners; small scale dinners where we welcome about 15’ish women that work in the Product scene. In the time span of a few courses, we share our experiences, future career ambitions, laughs and we broaden our network. Last Thursday we hosted the second edition, together with Amplitude.