User research – the gentle art of not asking users what they want

Following on from some email discussions, some of my EMBL-EBI colleagues asked me if I could give a general talk on the topic of user research.

They work on Ensembl, one of the joint flagship projects of both the Sanger Institute and EMBL-EBI. It is described as “[a project that] produces genome databases for vertebrates and other eukaryotic species, and makes this information freely available online”. It is a complex system that supports the activities of thousands of scientists around the world.

There were a couple of specific questions that they wanted to explore, and I tried to cover them. I also made the general point that to gain value from user research, we need to dig below the surface, to have articulated goals, and to have a mechanism for reporting findings and acting on them.

A big thank you for the invitation.

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