Lab Zero

Painless, Repeatable, Profitable: a Continuous Research Cycle to Enable User Insights

You’ve already done some market research and run some customer surveys. Your product or feature idea meets a real need. Your data supports your decision to build the thing. We’re glad you got this far. When you work with us, we help you tune into the insights and anecdotes that keep your design and development aligned with the needs of your users.

A System for User Testing

No matter where you are in a design cycle, you can benefit from listening to the actual voice of your user. But there are three times when it’s critical:

  1. During Discovery.  When you’re trying to find out what your users’ problems are and determining whether you can solve them, you speak to users in a more open-ended way.

  2. When Prototyping. When you have an idea for how to solve the user’s problem, you want to find out whether the solution works for them.

  3. Around Launch. When you have a complete design or a working product, you perform more detailed tests with the user to see whether the solution works for them intuitively.

The simple process we use is painless, and applies to User Testing during all these phases.

The Lab Zero Approach to User Testing

We use a concrete, lightweight, repeatable process for organizing the effort of gathering anecdotal feedback and making use of it. We use this process to help organizations of all sizes tune into the signal coming from their users.

A Cyclic Process

The process consists of four steps in a cycle.

Hypothesis. Develop a small set of hypotheses around a problem space or solution space, and create questions (or an open-ended script) to test hypotheses in the problem or solution space.

An example of a hypothesis in the problem space is “Users can’t export their data for use in a complementary service, and this makes them less likely to sign up.” This hypothesis could be tested by showing to prospective users a short list of the features of your product and its competitors, and asking which they would pick, and why.

An example of a hypothesis in the solution space is “Users want to be able to export their data to Salesforce.” This hypothesis could be tested by mocking up a single page interface that shows an ‘Export to Salesforce’ button and asking users which features they see that would be valuable to them, and why.

An example of a hypothesis in the solution space of usability is “Users who need to export their data to Salesforce can navigate to the download button, export the data to CSV, and successfully upload it to Salesforce.” The hypothesis can be tested by mocking up the clickable flow, and asking users to show you how they would export their data and import it into Salesforce.

Find Users. Identify users who match the characteristics of your defined customer segment. Your partners in customer support and operations can help. Solicit their participation, and schedule the interviews.

An example of a request for a selection of users to test the second hypothesis above is, “We need to find five people who are prospective buyers of our software who also use Salesforce.”

Interview. Conduct the interviews. During each interview, use a script to make sure that you manage time effectively. If you know very little about your customer’s needs, you can start by asking the most open-ended questions at the beginning, and then ask more detailed follow-up questions.

For example, “Why do you use our product?” followed by “What is it about our product that makes it easier to do that?” followed by “And what happens when you import the data into Salesforce?”

Record your observations in sufficient detail that you can share your notes with others. Differentiate between your raw observations and your conclusions.

Synthesis and Analysis. Talk with others about what you heard. Weigh evidence for and against your hypotheses. Does any of the feedback, in combination with feedback from other users, allow you to draw a conclusion?In light of those conclusions, determine next steps.

Recall the Salesforce export usability example and consider the business decision that flowed from it: “Four out of five users navigated quickly to the download button and predicted accurately what the downloaded file would contain. A fifth user tried to download using a different button, but eventually found the correct button. We will include more specific differentiated confirmation text for the two different button cases so that users will not confuse them. We feel comfortable going forward with this design.”

Here's a table that shows the activities and results that belong to each phase.






Develop hypotheses.

Create question tree to test.

Create resources (prototypes, mockups, simple diagrams) to create context for the test.

A focused hypothesis and the question tree with supporting assets which will provide an actionable validation or invalidation of the hypothesis.

Find Users

Identify users.

Solicit participation.


Pre-screened list of participants, and a schedule for interviewing them.


Conduct interview.

Debrief with other participants.

Publish observations.

A business-readable report with key takeaways and the play-by-play of the test.

Synthesis and Analysis

Weigh evidence.

Draw conclusions.

Determine next steps.

A supported business decision which informs your next round of exploration or development.

What makes it painless? If you know you will repeat the cycle, then you always have user interviews scheduled. That way you don't have to 'reboot' the cycle every time because it's already moving in progress.

The People

Our system is based on a culture of learning about the user. When we assemble a team to interview customers, we make sure we have the following skills and attributes among us:

Facilitation. We keep the group focused and moving, making the most of our time.

Attention to Detail. There is somebody present who takes notice of the environment and facets of the interview beyond the words spoken. For example, this person might note a customer’s body language or their repeated reference to a competing product.

Empathy. We all dial into the customer’s wants, needs and desires.

Subject Matter Expertise. Among us, we have knowledge of the customer’s world, including what all the acronyms mean.

We purposefully engage you and model these skills and values so that they stick with you. This allows your team to seek out and tune in to useful signal after the end of a Lab Zero engagement.

How Is Your User Research Going?

We approach your customers with an open, receptive, helpful frame of mind. We dress up! We arrive early. We stay late. We let them have the last word. We say good things about you, and we spread the goodwill around so that it gets all over everything. We raise our game to keep these standards even if the conversation becomes difficult. We never lose our cool. We are part of your team. We stay committed to everybody winning.

Can we help you establish a painless, repeatable, profitable user research process? We welcome your contact.

Continue the conversation.

Lab Zero is a San Francisco-based product team helping startups and Fortune 100 companies build flexible, modern, and secure solutions.