From Insight to Inspiration with Giles Colborne

When you’re conducting user research, you’ll often be asked for features that are contradictory, convoluted or simply impossible to build. In his session, Giles Colborne showed participants how to make sense of those requests by turning user research into task models that help create user interfaces that are simple, efficient, and elegant.

Giles provided examples of insight-driven ideas and discussed how to manage the conversation surrounding these ideas, including how to know if you have a credible insight and how to demonstrate why an idea might not be a good one.

Anatomy of a Design Opportunity

Giles described what he termed the anatomy of a design opportunity, using the following features to help assess an idea and identify a genuine opportunity:

1. Goal – what do people want?
2. Effort – how much effort are they prepared to put in?
3. Behaviour – what do they do?
4. Influences – what influences their behaviour?
5. Outcome – what does a good outcome look like?


Giles broke goals down into three complexity: practical, emotional, values.

Often, when you are discussing goals with users, you start with practical goals, but you should dig further to discuss how they want to feel and how they want to express their values before assessing whether an idea is a genuine opportunity. The further down you can dig through these issues, the greater chance you have of success.


Giles argued that thinking about the frequency and complexity of a task is a good way to think about effort. Mainstream activities have low complexity and low frequency, whilst other tasks may require higher complexity or higher frequency. However, he advised avoiding high complexity/high frequency tasks, as there is a higher chance of user failure. He also noted the differences between ‘experts’ and ‘mainstreamers’ and the importance of understanding where your audience fits on this scale when considering attitudes to effort.


Giles explained how he uses a combination of experience maps and personas to map out how a task will look for particular user types. Once you have an experience map like this you can start to look at drop off rates and other layers of contextual data, and compare the experience you are offering to the experience the user wants and the experience a competitor might be offering. This is valuable as it allows you to identify opportunities to add features that bridge a genuine gap or fix a pain point where everyone is doing something badly.


An experience map will allow you layer in some of the context as users are going through a task. Giles discussed how to think about contextual issues such as environment and paths, and information and signs.


The user’s intended outcome is often tied very tightly to the original goals.

Applying the Anatomy of a Design Opportunity Structure

The anatomy of design opportunity structure allows us to assess an idea in a structured way to identify opportunities. To put this into practice, Giles challenged participants to look at an existing interaction and come up with something better.


Giles compared how shopping lists look for online retailers, such as Tesco, and what shopping lists actually look like for real people:


Workshop participants were asked to analyse what these handwritten shopping lists tell us about the users goals/effort/behaviour/influences/outcomes, then consider how they could redesign an online shopping list to better match the practices of users.


Ideas included:

  • Using an app (preferably with voice recognition) to allow users to build up their shopping list easily over time
  • Using the list to provide an augmented experience when shopping in store by highlighting the relevant aisles on a store map and including a help button to request staff assistance when finding an item
  • Allowing users to send their list from the application of their choice to Tesco directly so they don’t have to use the complex data picker functionality on the website
  • Allowing users to create top-level lists early on, rather than asking for a specific brand from the outset
  • ‘Shop for me’ style features for time-poor users, who can request recommendations to feed a family of three for £5
  • Allowing users to take a photo of a recipe in a book and send that to the retailer to add the items to their shopping list
  • Using the massive amount of online shopping data to predict suitable products based on previous purchases, and an up sell
  • Ability to build a list by scanning or photographing items as you throw the packaging away (or recycle it!)


Giles concluded by emphasising that thinking through each of the elements of this structure helps to deconstruct poor ideas and interrogate genuine opportunities, based on real knowledge and real data.

About Giles Colborne

Giles is author of Simple and Usable and a frequent speaker on the topics of simplicity and delight at UX conferences around the world. He began his career at British Aerospace, working on the usability of critical systems before creating some of the first commercial websites at Institute of Physics Publishing and creating groundbreaking experiences at Euro RSCG network. Today, he’s Managing Director and owner of cxpartners, one of the UK’s most respected UX consultancies working with clients around the world designing next-generation user interfaces. He’s also active in the UX community as a mentor and as 2013 co-chair of IA Summit.

Follow Giles on Twitter: @gilescolborne