User Experience Design — How To Understand Users

Vinny Vics
5 min readJul 6, 2022


An illustration of a guy with his PC surrounded with an imaginative picture of user profiles.

It is not news that User experience (UX) design is user-centered, the same as any other type of design that there is. Therefore, the need to actually get to know and really understand the users; their behavioral patterns in different demographics, and how they react and feel about certain things, is essential to creating a usable product (tangible or digital) because you’ll agree with me that no one wants to invest time and energy in creating or designing a product that eventually will not be used; not because of its quality per se, but because of the irrelevance of the product to users.

This article is geared at basically understanding users and how to relate with them and their values through product design. We’ll also be considering a list of things or strategies that’ll help us achieve this. Let’s get started already.

What we will discuss;

  1. Emotions
  2. Empathy
  3. Don Norman’s three levels of design.
  4. User persona


cartoon image of different emoji reactions

Human beings are emotional beings and will always make emotional choices. No matter how we try to back up our choices with reason, it’ll always have an ingredient of emotion. People make decisions based on how they feel, regardless of right or wrong. As a matter of fact, our emotions drive our knowledge of what is important to us or not. So, if designers must create a usable product, they must collect data on emotions around a demographic of the targeted user. This will help them best relate to what’s obtainable.

Take, for instance, the color of the success and error buttons, usually green and red respectively. The average user clicks the green button instinctively without even reading what the button says. You’ll know this is true if you switch the color of both buttons (i.e let the success button have a red fill and let the error button have the green fill), the user will still instinctively click the green button (which is now the error button) before they realize what it says.

Now let us move on to the next item on our list.


An illustration of a lady showing empathy to a sad young man

Empathy is very vital in problem-solving. it is a skill every designer (as they are also problem solvers) should acquire.

Empathizing with our users as a designer are validating their feelings and trying to fit into their shoes. The best way to solve a problem is through the experience of the pain or at least trying to understand what it feels like to feel the pain through research and conducting user interviews. Empathy isn’t sympathy, it actually is deeper.

Moreso, to help understand users even more, so as to enable designers to create usable products, let’s discuss Don Norman’s three levels of design.

1. Visceral Level: think of this first level as the “first impression”. It is how the user perceives your design upon first sight, even without interacting or using the product just yet; do they feel like they can’t wait to start using your product? Do they feel compelled to check out the features your product has to offer? This first level is basically how you get the attention of your user and make sure they are intrigued. The users, upon first sight, want to be convinced your product is worth their time and energy. So, since the user is yet to interact with your product yet in this level, how you will make a good first impression is to make sure your design has commanding aesthetics and appearance. If your design is beautiful, there is way above a 50% chance the users will want to give it a try.

2. Behavioral Level: Congratulations! Your worry about if the users want to give your product a try or not is over. At this level, your users are already getting their hands dirty with your product. It is basically about the usability of your product; how the users relate to your product upon usage. This is also how a designer checks or measures the performance level of their product through the user's activities on their product and how the user completes a specific task on their product (how difficult or easy it was). Here, designers will learn and know whether the usability of their product needs intervention, or not.

3. Reflective Level: this level of design is where the user weighs up their experiences with a product against their values and personality; can your product as a designer, help a user become more self-expressive? Does it support their lifestyle and ego? For example, someone who cares less about fashion wouldn’t bother about signing up on a fashion app or website. Same for movie lovers who prefer series to single movies, they would rather use Netflix than go on a quest of looking up movie sites online for download. Relating this level of design to a tangible product such as ear pods and loudspeaker music players; users who love to play their music out loud, maybe because it helps them express themselves better, would choose to use the “loud music player” while the set of users who probably are introverts and like to keep to themselves, would rather choose to play their music using an ear pod than to use a loud music player. So, the take away in this level of design is that “users would always reflect on how the usage of a product validates their self-image”

User Persona

A user persona is a fictional representation of the target/ideal users so as to know who you’re designing for. However, it is essential to note that whereas the user persona (identity) is fictional, the data in the user persona are real information gotten from user research and interviews. This information includes the needs, goals, and behavioral patterns of the ideal user. User personas help the designer narrow the focus to the users who actually need their product or who are interested in their product


As a product designer, the ability to understand users is an essential soft skill to acquire, as it will help you create useable and relevant products. I believe that this article has been explicit enough to explain the “what” and “how” as regards the concept of Understanding users.

Leave a comment below and let me know how you find this article useful. Thank you!



Vinny Vics

Product designer, Graphic Designer, Tech Writer