Case Study: Whole Foods User Research

Who is a Whole Foods customer, really?

Assumptions vs Facts

I know how users experience my software. In my role as a project management software project manager, I knew how to ask good questions and build a case for the feature we should design next.

You can do design without research. You can also drive blindfolded. But both have expensive consequences and usually end in being upside down in a ditch. ~Dylan Wilbanks

Once I learned to backfill my knowledge of my product with my knowledge of my user, solutions start to present themselves at the end of the first diamond.

Double diamond thinking from Dan Nessler

Six Steps toward User Insight

Step One of Six: Research planning and observations

The team consisted of four of us User Experience students. Our research started with research around the Whole Foods’ brand and what our user likes about our brand. My team visited the Whole Foods location in Irvine to see how customers interacted with the store:

[User using the hot foods condiment bar] & [So many water bottles!]

This led us to see patterns in our audience and what sort of trends show up between our users and the Whole Foods brand.

[Research planning and Affinity Diagrams (finding themes)]

This will narrow down either our key users or who our demographic should be:

Step Two of Six: User Prototype

These activities led us to each build our own user prototype (my version displayed below). This is our best guess at who our user is based on our brainstorming. It was enlightening to see who each of us built. Even though we did the same brainstorming activities, our prototypes were very different from each other.

[User Prototype] Our “best guess” at a Whole Foods user

This is who we THINK the Whole Foods user is. Many design teams building User Personas confuse the User Prototype with the User Persona. Who we THINK the Whole Foods user is is only a starting point for User Research.

Step Three of Six: User Interviews at Whole Foods

We individually returned to a Whole Foods location to verify our prototypes. Our goal was to understand who the real user was compared to this prototype. After observing Whole Foods users and their interaction in the store, we brainstormed questions we wanted to know about our user.

Who are your users?

What do they care about?

How do we best give them what they want?

What do their feature/product complaints/requests really mean?

How do they use your store’s amenities?

How do you want users to use your store’s amenities?

Once I formulated questions, I conducted three user interviews.

[Photo of Cecile Wong and her co-worker]

It was a very interesting couple of conversations (transcripts available upon request) where I learned about the individuals who I thought matched my user prototype and their thoughts about their Whole Foods’ experience. These interviews lead me to the fully formed User Persona.

Step Four of Six: User Persona

In my finished User Persona, Jack is quite a bit older than I originally thought. He is also more interested in his impact on the wider world than his personal health.

[Jack Brewster’s User Persona]

Step Five of Six: User Empathy

Once I understood Jack as a person, the next step was to see the world through his eyes. I engaged in a user empathy map to understand what Jack may be thinking, feeling, wondering, needing, etc.

[User Empathy Map]

Most importantly, through building empathy for a realized person, I was able to build an insight to really capture what we were trying to build for Jack. How can we best help Jack?

Step Six: Insight

At this point in the process, we could brainstorm potential solutions for Jack. This was the point we created scenarios for Jack to visit Whole Foods and map what Jack’s experience would be like at Whole Foods. No stereotypes. No judgment. Just understanding Jack and his needs/wants/his point of view.

[User insight]

Through implementing user research and creating user personas, my next steps in the design process are more realistic and based on my user persona’s pain points. I can see the user from the point of pain that brought them to my product in the first place; and through User Insights, I have evidence to tell me which design choice will empower the biggest victory for my user.

What’s next?

You can see my passion for User Empathy in my follow-up project for my next group’s application for the Natural History Museum App.

Back to Maggie’s site

Software designer, constant curator, confidence builder, joy cultivator, forever tinkering, weeknight warrior, chronic over-thinker, deficit levels of attention

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