Tips + Tricks

What potato chips can show you about your users

By Mary Mahling
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How do you ensure you are designing products or software that will resonate with your target user? By spending the time to discover what your users want before starting your design process. As I mentioned in my previous post, you are doing this so you don’t design things that won’t resonate with your target users.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that designing products is much more than a concrete design. When you start the interview process to build your personas, things may pop that have nothing to do with a product design itself, but rather about the products in the context of their usage. Finding such user behavior patterns is crucial to any design process; it ensures that you are not designing anything in a vacuum but considering a user’s complete experience.

There are two keys to a successful user interview experience: be open-minded about what you observe and objectively find patterns in your user’s behavior. Before interviewing, you will have your provisional personas and an interview script. Keep in mind that although these documents will help you find your way as you do your research, as I mentioned, you are likely to be surprised at what you will discover in the interview process.

To demonstrate the concept of discovering these behavior patterns, I want to show you an example using an everyday object that you may consider mundane, but gets complex once you consider its usage context: consider the user experience of a bag of potato chips. The experience of eating a bag of chips is much more than the bag and what is inside it, including:

  • Will the chips be eaten by themselves or with something else like a sandwich?
  • Will the chips be consumed with a drink?
  • Is the chip consumer near a sink for when they get their hands dirty?
  • Is there more than one serving in the bag? If so, is there an available method of closing the bag that will keep the chips from getting stale?

Keeping these possible behaviors in mind, you can design interview questions that point people towards answering these larger questions, such as where they eat chips and if they have any other food and drink along with the chips. You’re trying to find out why they do things, not just what they do.

When you start getting answers to your carefully designed questions, you will want to have some kind of tracking system in order to help you define user patterns. Tracking can be difficult when you are talking to your users, as opposed to just polling them, because you will not be collecting simple metrics you can quickly put in a spreadsheet.

Make your own treasure map

This is where your provisional personas can help you. If you recall from the previous article, provisional personas give you an educated guess as to how your users behave. Not only can provisional personas get you thinking in a good direction, you can also use them to gather a subjective version of metrics.

Think of two major behaviors that you would most like to find out more about. You will most likely find out much more than two things, but choose two major ones to focus your research. Choosing two things you know the least about is a good way to filter. Let’s go back to the potato chip scenario the two things you would most want to discover are:

  • Whether or not people prefer flavored chips over plain
  • If people are eating chips in one location or if they eat while they are on the go

You can now take these questions and build yourself a spectrum diagram template that you can use during your interview process to establish trends and patterns. You can use any drawing program or just use paper for this. Here is an example spectrum based on the chip scenario described above:

Sample Quadrant
Sample quadrant for Personas

As you talk to more people, fill out on a diagram like this where you think they fit best on your spectrums. This will provide you with valuable information later when you get to analyzing your data and start creating your personas, which will be featured in the next article.

Read the other posts in this series below:

Read Part One Here

Read Part Three Here

Read Part Four Here


Want to learn more about how to create the write user interface for your business intelligence and analytics applications? Check out our UI for BI webinar on-demand.


Originally published September 28, 2015; updated on August 9th, 2017

About the Author

Mary Mahling is a User Experience Designer for Logi Analytics, where she is responsible for user research and designing new products. She previously was on the User Experience team that was behind the award-winning responsive website for She has a Bachelors in Humanities from Harvard University Extension.