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My colleague is working on a project with a client who wants to build a B2B digital product for a very specialist function/sector.

The subject matter is exceptionally specialist/revolutionary so there really aren't any other products out there that deal with the subject or an existing user base.

We want to do discovery work, but i'm really struggling to think of what to do!

Activities we have been able to do;

  • Stakeholder interviews - done
  • Service design blueprint - done (with only stakeholder input)

Activities we want to do but can't*;

  • Competitor analysis - There aren't any!
  • Data analysis (From GA or something similar) - There isn't any as nothing digital yet exists
  • Interviews with existing users - There aren't any
  • Interviews with potential users - Client is resistant to us doing this as they're concerned about IP
  • Usability testing sessions with potential users - Client is resistant to us doing this as they're concerned about IP
  • Survey - no one to send it to/Client is resistant to us doing this as they're concerned about IP

*Please feel free to say "oh but you can, and this is how you should do it..."

Could do;

  • Follow best practices for UI design, UX, interaction design...
  • Do Comparator analysis - For inspiration and ways certain aspects of a digital product can be dine well
  • Test micro aspects of the proposed solution, like form interactions and navigation etc... that don't require domain specific knowledge, with any 'humans' to make sure they are user friendly

Once the product is launched;

  • Implement something like GA so that quantitative data can be gathered
  • Run regular usability testing sessions as soon as there are enough users to do so.
  • Spin up some opportunities for users to provide feedback independently - Forum, feedback surveys, feedback mechanism visibly accessible within the tool, support hotline...

Any suggestions of what we can do to better identify and then meet the potential user needs? Or advice on the things i think aren't possible if you can think of how they would be achievable.

TIA

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(In a nutshell: Do research with people who do what your system supports, not on "users.")

You say there are no current users. But there are people who do the tasks that your system will support, right? (Otherwise, what's the point of your system?) If your system helps people buy lawn darts, then you can shadow * lawn-dart buyers to see how they do that. (How do they research products? decide on a product? decide where to buy? etc.)

Their whole process might even be done offline. But understanding their tasks and processes gives you a good sense of how your system could help with that.

Finding and recruiting those people might be tricky, but recruiting is pretty tricky in any case.

[* UX Researchers trust observation more than interviews and surveys, which rely on recall so they fall short of truth. Shadowing is getting out of your office and observing people do their work in their own space (with minimal interruption from the researcher). It reveals the tasks they work toward, the processes they follow, the shortcuts they take, the types of interruptions they deal with, etc. From that data you can create a system that supports that supports the users as they work toward their goals.]

  • Thanks @kenmohnkern, thing is, as i said, there really aren't any prospective users we can talk to/that the client will let us near. That's why i was trying to source other methodologies. – H Carlisle Feb 23 '18 at 17:25
  • The sector is so new that our client is the only one working in that space, and they are only currently working with a handful of clients themselves – H Carlisle Feb 23 '18 at 17:27
  • There's big bucks in it, but as it's so revolutionary, the clients is understandably security conscious... – H Carlisle Feb 23 '18 at 17:28
  • Any similar customer types? (If you're selling motorcycles, go see how people who buy cars behave.) A little knowledge about tasks and processes is better than none. – Ken Mohnkern Feb 23 '18 at 17:47
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I think that one possibility is to turn your approach upside down. Rather than doing a product related approach, I'd go with solved needs research.

As you say, this is a ground breaking product and nothing like this exists yet. There were many cases of this, basically each ground breaking product or service that ever existed had someone wondering about it. Happily, in UX we still have ways: you test concepts and ideas.

Now, while your product doesn't exist, it will solve one or more needs. Unless you're creating the need, your prospective users are those that are solving those needs in some other way. So THAT is what you need to research: not the specific product(s), but the specific needs solved.

Some methods

There are some methods to do this. I have found a pretty comprehensive list which I'm quoting below:

Identify the Users

First, identify the type of people who you think will use your new product or service. What characteristics and behaviors define them? You should have at least some idea of the types of people who might use it. If not, perhaps you should consider whether there’s an audience for the product.

Identify the Tasks

Second, identify the tasks that they will be performing with the future product or service. What current tasks will this product replace or enhance? What do they do now that is somewhat similar? At the least, you should know what domain of their lives that this new product or service will fit in. That’s what you want to observe.

Identify the Tools and Technology

Third, identify the tools and technology that they currently use, which the new product or service will replace or complement. You should understand how they currently use those tools.

Identify the Environment

Fourth, identify the environment that the new product or service will be used in. Your research will help you understand the environmental factors that you’ll need to consider in your design.

Conduct Research

After identifying these elements, visit these people to observe and interview them to understand their characteristics and behaviors, their current tasks, the tools and technology they use, and the environment in which they perform those tasks. For example, when designing a future banking product, you would want to understand how the target user group currently uses banks and manages their finances. Seeing their problems and successes will show you how your new product or service will fit into their lives. In fact, it may give you inspiration for additional innovations.

Don’t Ask For Opinions of Your New Idea

Finally, one thing not to do – don’t ask people for their opinions of your new product idea. It’s very difficult for people to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist. People are very inaccurate at predicting what they might or might not use in the future. Wait until you have a tangible prototype that people can use, to get their feedback.

Of course, you can take parts of this, you can dive into pretotyping, emotional design and many other strategies, it will also depend on your possibilities and the product to research. A final note would be to perform digital research strategies using data mining, but again, it will depend on product and resources (not only budget, but expertise)

Additional Reading:

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