Skip main navigation

Understanding Your Users

As a human-centred approach to design, modern UX takes its users seriously; to produce quality user experiences, you need to understand your users. In this step, you’ll learn the value of being in the right mindset to understand users over time. Specifically, you’ll see how UX designers benefit from being in ‘scout mode’ during the design process – particularly during the research phase. The right mindset will ensure that you build the best journey map based on the current state on your way to optimising the user experience.

As a human-centred approach to design, modern UX takes its users seriously; to produce quality user experiences, you need to understand your users.

Optimising the User Experience (UX)

In this step, you’ll learn the value of being in the right mindset to understand users over time. Specifically, you’ll see how UX designers benefit from being in ‘scout mode’ during the design process – particularly during the research phase. The right mindset will ensure that you build the best journey map based on the current state on your way to optimising the user experience.

Understanding Your Users

You and your team are not your target users and will always have incomplete knowledge about them. UX design today also involves continuously iterating a product in response to ever-changing user inputs and preferences. The best UX is a result of a design team’s commitment to understanding their users over time. Being motivated to create (and recreate) an accurate picture of users is vital. There’s a valuable mindset to adopt throughout the UX design process that can help: a scout mindset.

The scout’s job is not to attack or defend; it’s to understand. The scout is the one going out, mapping the terrain, identifying potential obstacles. Above all, the scout wants to know what’s really out there as accurately as possible. – Julia Galef, author of ‘The Scout Mindset’ (2017) [1]

The Scout Mindset in UX Design

In her 2021 book, The Scout Mindset, Julia Galef argues that we should adopt what she calls a scout mindset if we want to make better decisions (in our case, research and design decisions). The key idea is this: ‘the scout wants to know what’s really out there as accurately as possible’. [1] The opposite of the scout mode is a soldier mode.

Image shows a screenshot of a soldier and a scout. Source: Long Now Foundation [2]

UX Design and Soldier Mode

UX designers acting in soldier mode during the design process are less likely to produce insights that result in great experiences because of one inconvenient fact: people change over time. A UX designer with a soldier mindset is more likely to be overconfident in their current assumptions about their users and what they want. Thus, when confronted with new information that goes against their current understanding, the soldier might think, ‘Must I really believe the takeaways from this new set of user interviews?’

In contrast, the UX designer in scout mode knows the landscape they’re designing for is constantly shifting as users’ needs and preferences change over time. Therefore, UX designers with a scout mindset remain curious and are genuinely motivated to seek out evidence for their future design decisions. When presented with new evidence, the scout is more likely to think, ‘Well, that’s interesting! We haven’t considered this before – let’s explore this further and take it on board when we design.’

The following table captures further differences between the scout mindset and its opposite, the soldier mindset.

Soldier mindset Scout mindset
Reasoning is like defensive combat. Reasoning is like mapmaking.
Decide what to believe by asking either ‘Can I believe this?’ or ‘Must I believe this?’ depending on your motives. Finding out you’re wrong means revising your map.
Seek out evidence to fortify and defend your beliefs. Seek out evidence that will make your map more accurate.
Related concepts: Directionally motivated reasoning, rationalising, denial, self-deception, wishful thinking. Related concepts: Accuracy-motivated reasoning, truth-seeking, discovery, objectivity, intellectual honesty.

Source: Galef (2021) [3]

Optimum UX From Clearest User Understanding

If you want to create the best value for your users and customers, you need to see them as they are. Having a clear picture of your users lets you design the best possible products, services, and experiences for them. In other words, you want to be in scout mode!

Now that you’re in the right mindset for mapmaking to understand your users, we’re going to take a look at two types of maps that are in every UX designer’s toolkit. But first, let’s read and discuss an example from Galef’s book about the value of being aware of the mindset you adopt when seeking feedback from users.

References

  1. Galef J. Why you think you’re right, even when you’re wrong [Video]. TED Ideas; 2017. Available from: https://ideas.ted.com/why-you-think-youre-right-even-when-youre-wrong/
  2. Galef J. Soldiers and Scouts: Why our minds weren’t built for truth I Julia Galef [Video]. Long Now Foundation; 2019. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/embed/yfRC8ZgBXZw
  3. Galef J. 2021. The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t [Book]. Portfolio; 2021.
This article is from the free online

Introduction to UX Design

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education