Notes on Customer Research & Persona Development by Will Evans

Based on a slideshow from Will’s presentation at the NYU Entrepreneur Challenge Edition/Lean Startup Machine weekend 2012, posted on the Semantic Foundry website here.

Before doing interviews:

  • Identify who you are interviewing
  • Articulate customer hypotheses
  • Craft a topic map
  • Write down your prompts

9 keys to customer research:

  1. One customer at a time
  2. Pair interview if possible
  3. Introduce yourself
  4. Record the conversation
  5. As general, open-ended questions to get people to open up
  6. Ask questions around the problem space like “Do you often encounter Problem X…”
  7. Then ask, “Tell me about it…”
  8. Listen more than talk
  9. Separate behavior from narrative


  • Empathize! Listen even if people go off-topic
  • Context is king–document it and make sure the context of research maps to the problem space
  • Start with the assumption that everything you know is wrong

You need to gather:

  • Facts
  • Behavior
  • Pain points
  • Goals
  • Use photos, video, audio, journals etc

During the interview, do:

  • Take notes
  • Smile
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Get their story
  • Shut up and listen


  • Talk about your product
  • Ask about future behavior
  • Sell
  • Ask leading questions
  • Talk much

5 common biases in customer research:

  • Confirmation bias–the tendency to search for or interperet info in a way that confirms your preconceptions or hypotheses
  • Framing effect–When team memebers draw different conclusions from the same data due to preconceptions
  • Observer-expectancy effect–Unconsciously manipulating experiments to produce expected results
  • Recency bias–The tendency to give more weight to the most recent information/observations
  • False consensus–The tendency to overestimate the degree to which other people agree with you

Analysis: Single customer storyboarding leads to multiple customer analysis:

  • Write all insights on post-its
  • Affinity map into facts, behaviors, needs, goals
  • Identify types of potential customers
  • Name them
  • Fill out the persona validation board

Insights about your customers were never discovered sitting at your fucking desk.–Will

Will Evans is a misanthrope in the UX and design thinking communities; his website is


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