This is the beginning of an article series of learnings from the AnEventApart conference I attended, it will be broken down into topics about ux research, accessibility, voice design, SVGs, and offline sites. Let’s get started with UX research and understanding the problem space.

Understanding The Problem Space

Indi Young gave a talk on paying better attention to the problem and how to determine the problems without assuming. Correlation in statistics can often be mixed up with causation, she talked us through how to gather problem space data.

If you look at this data about airport visitors, you could easily start to make some assumptions.

average per day: 332,982 passengers, 209,548 checked bags, 137,981 female (66%)


You might think:

"Females check bags because they have more to pack. All those shoes! And they can't take makeup through security."

However, correlation is not causation. You have to stop and ask yourself, do you know why? If you don’t have an answer, you either have to accept the risk or go find out.

She went and interviewed people at the airport, and found people fell into four categories:

  • “Never Again” carried on a bag because they worried they would lose their checked bag, assume their bag would be trashed again, or wonder what the powder was on their bag.
  • “My Previous” carried on a bag to keep expensive medical device with them to make sure their guitar was not damaged in baggage, carry on a computer, or so their camera was not stolen.
  • “Had to” checked a bag because some items cannot get through security like beer, bulky gifts, posters, or scuba gear.
  • “Hassle Drag” checked a bag through a connecting airport, or realized picking up a checked bag only adds five minutes.

People can get caught up in the solution space where we miss perspectives, we forget to understand, and miss opportunities.

So, how do you gather problem space data?

With an empathic listening session. In a listening session, you are not representing a certain company or product, just a person listening to another person’s inner thoughts:

  • Recognize a person is having emotion or a deep thought
  • Recognized their perspective is their truth
  • Communicate your recognition
  • Stay out of judgement

Making Research Count

Cyd Harrell gave a talk on making research count, it was tips for researchers, designers and other team members.

Open up your practice to those outside of research so research can be better understood. Don’t mystify the work, put as much effort into communicating as into doing the research. Create opportunities for people to ask questions and learn. You can accomplish this by having office hours, open Slack channel, lunch and learn, newsletter, posting things physically to walls.

Find people that are curious about research, they will advocate for research when you are not present in a meeting.

Curious people with power are the most useful ones to influence.


Make sure they want to come back to future research efforts, spend time designing the experience of observing live research, make sure everyone has the tools they need, give everyone a responsibility. When a team is observing, give everyone a job, i.e. take note of big surprises, any apps mentioned. Allow observers to ask their own questions at the end, they will buy into the results more.

People who get to ask a question buy in to the results.
"Spend as much time on communicating outcomes as you did on executing the work." - Paul Andre, Facebook

Remember to share you can explain oddities in analytics, weird feedback from customers, unexpected uses of products, strange hunches with research and statistics can’t do all that.

More info on AnEventApart

AnEventApart has held a conference four times a year for fifteen years now and is still ongoing, the topics range from design, code, and content and are mainly intended for those in UX and front-end experts. You can watch past talks, read their articles, and more resources are listed, and find out about future conferences on aneventapart.com.