When a finding met an insight


I recently realized that, sometimes, two very important terms in UX research are accidentally mixed: Finding and Insight. Academically the differences between the two might be obvious. But in the day-to-day life of a researcher, sometimes these differences are blurred and terms are used interchangeably. This causes the research itself to lose value and applicability. That’s why I’d like to share the key differences and how these terms relate to each other.

Differences between Finding and Insight

A finding describes facts and behavioral patterns, i.e. older people prefer to buy a new insurance in person rather than onlineTo extract a finding, it is necessary to observe, analyze and organize the information in a way that describes patterns of user behavior or attitudes. But a finding, individually, does not lead us to understand the “why” of these patterns (i.e. why do they prefer to buy insurance in person?).

Insights give us a deeper understanding. They answer why these behaviors occur and open the door to potential opportunities, i.e. The fine print of an insurance policy is difficult to understand without assistance. It is usually actionable information.

"Insights must be informative and actionable, and straightforward enough that our non research peers can easily digest them"

Marsha E. Williams | Insights vs Findings. Lessons learned from the trenches. Tweet

A well-formulated insight should help our client to quickly and directly understand the following: the context (why it is interesting), the implications (identify patterns of behavior and predict trends) and how to apply this information to the stakeholders’ objectives (what opportunities exist). An insight, therefore, contains one or more findings.

The problem with insights

Extracting insights from findings requires time, experience, the ability to detect the true motive behind each behavior and to know how to read where the opportunity lies.  One thing is what users say and another is what they think or do.

What they say vs what they do

Sometimes, lack of time, poor choice of research techniques, or the pressure to meet our clients’ expectations of insight volume, causes us to treat findings as insights and vice versa. This could make the reports less actionable (findings are not actionable, only informative), less supportive of our client’s decision making and, consequently, the research loses effectiveness. 

How to go from Finding to Insight

If there is one thing that characterizes researchers, it is their ability to question and search for the roots of everything. When we extract findings from a study, we cannot/should not stop there. It is essential to offer our clients or stakeholders the “why”. 

To do this, we must place special emphasis on the design of the study and field phase. It is important to choose the most appropriate technique or methodology for the product we are going to analyze and its temporal context (interview, usability test, diary, etc.). This way, we ensure that we ask the necessary questions and/or perform the most appropriate tasks. 

It is also essential that, during fieldwork, we make an effort to get to the bottom of a response or problem. There are several techniques, such as the 5 whys rule, which consists of asking “why?” iteratively to explore the underlying cause and effect of the problem. For example:

  • I prefer to go to a branch office to buy a new insuranceWhy? (1)
  • Because it gives me more confidenceWhy? (2)
  • Because I might miss details buried in the fine print onlineWhy? (3)
  • Because the fine print is difficult to understand and I prefer someone I trust to help me understand everythingWhy? (4)
  • Because they use complex terminology and there are always surprisesWhy? (5)
  • Because all financial products have “hidden” conditions that can affect me negatively in the future and they are not usually very visible on the webHere is our insight! 

Finally, I would say that it is critical to understand the objectives of the study and the client’s expectations of the research. The client may want to discover unmet needs of a segment, validate a new architecture, detect usability issues to improve conversion, and so on. We must tailor our research and insights formulation toward that goal. It is also important that we are aligned with respect to the report (format, volume, type of finding and insight, etc.) so that there are no surprises when it comes to delivering the results and we do not feel obliged to force insights. 


We must maintain a clear differentiation between finding and insight during the analysis and synthesis phase. Finding is the information that helps us to identify behavioral patterns. Insight, on the other hand, explains the reasons for these patterns and provides us with possible opportunities.

Remember that all insights are findings, but not all findings are insights. 



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