Good design starts with thorough user research. Without sufficient research, it is impossible to distinguish between a product that merely looks good and one that solves a real user problem.
Whether you are launching a brand new product or redesigning an existing one, it is essential to engage with real users before you do anything else. If you skip this crucial step and dive straight into design and production, you are essentially basing your decisions on guesswork – a costly game to play.
What if you bring your product to market only to find that you guessed wrong? You will have to go back to the drawing board, having unnecessarily wasted time, resources and money. User research conducted in the right way, at the right moment, is the only way to avoid this.
In this article, we will introduce some key user research methods and show you how to extract maximum value from your UX research.
What Is User Research?
As explained on usability.gov: “User research focuses on understanding user behaviours, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies.” Mike Kuniavsky, a UX designer, researcher and author, describes it as “the process of understanding the impact of design on an audience.”
Before we begin, in this article we will discuss UX research, not user research. While both terms are very often used interchangeably, there is just a slight difference in that UX research does not necessarily assume an iterative process.
In the user research phase, the UX designer (or UX researcher as this may also be split out into a separate role) employs a range of different methods and techniques to get to know the end user.
UX research methods fall into either the quantitative or qualitative category. Quantitative research yields measurable, numerical results, while qualitative research focuses on the reasons and motivations behind the user’s behaviour.
For example, you would conduct quantitative research to see how many users clicked on a CTA button on your website. To find out why some users clicked and others did not, you would need to carry out qualitative research.
In a nutshell, quantitative research can tell you what is happening, while qualitative research can give you insights into why it is happening. Read more here: UX Designers: Do Not Be Scared of Quantitative Data.
You can learn about UX research techniques in detail here. However, understanding all the different methods is only half the battle. Here is how to get maximum value from your UX research.
How To Get Maximum Value From Your UX Research
We have touched upon how important it is to not only conduct user research but to get it right. Now you need to make sure it has a real impact on your organisation and your end product. Follow these five tips, and you will reap the rewards of your UX research efforts!
1. Conduct UX Research Right At The Beginning
User research is valuable at every stage of the design process. However, the earlier you do it, the more impact it will have on the final product. The biggest mistake a design team can make is to neglect the UX research phase altogether. Equally, if you start too late in the game, you risk missing out on crucial insights while you have still got time to act on them.
Do not start designing before you know your audience. Conduct extensive user research right at the beginning of the process and use the information you have gathered to make logical decisions. This way, you reduce the need to go back and make changes while ensuring the end product is user-focused from day one.
2. Define Concrete Goals
You know you need to conduct user research, and you are familiar with the methods and techniques at your disposal. To extract the most value from this research, you need to define a clear mission with concrete goals. This means formulating the right questions and setting up the scope for your work. Ultimately: What are you trying to solve and why?
The questions you ask will depend on the specifics of the project. If you are redesigning an existing app, you will ask different questions than if you are designing a new app from scratch. Whatever the brief, it is essential to ask clear-cut questions that lend themselves to definitive, measurable answers. The clearer your questions and goals, the easier it will be to find the answers. You can learn more about focused vs unfocused research questions here.
3. Choose Your UX Research Methods Wisely
With your goals and desired outcomes in mind, it is essential to pick the UX research methods that will drive the most useful results. Do not just stick to a few tried-and-tested tricks that you use every time; choose wisely based on the context of your project.
So how do you go about identifying the best methods?
According to the Nielsen Norman Group, it helps to consider each possible method along with a 3-dimensional framework with the following axes: Attitudinal vs behavioural; qualitative vs quantitative; and context of use. You can explore these dimensions in more detail here, but let us consider them briefly.
The attitudinal vs behavioural dimension distinguishes between what people say and what they actually do. Attitudinal research explores the user’s beliefs and existing mental models, that is, how they think they would behave in certain contexts. Behavioural research methods, on the other hand, move away from self-reported behaviour and actually observe the user in action.
As mentioned earlier, qualitative research methods will show you why the user behaves in a certain way, whereas quantitative methods will give you concrete numbers and statistics to work with. Context is all about whether or not the participants will be using the product or service as part of your research, and if so, how. This can include the natural or near-natural use of the product, scripted use, not using the product at all, or a mixture of each.
Do not just rush into your user research. Consider whether the methods you are using are indeed the most effective for your specific project.
4. Share Your Findings
It is one thing to conduct user research and gather everything you need to know about your target audience. The next challenge lies in communicating these findings and ensuring they provide value to key stakeholders, including fellow designers, product managers and developers.
Once you have analysed the results of your user research phase and drawn conclusions, you need to find the best way to present these to your colleagues. It is crucial that anyone involved in the design process not only understands your findings but believes in them and knows how to act on them.
Make sure you document your research thoroughly. This way, it will be easier to turn the whole process into a deliverable presentation or file that other stakeholders can refer to. When it comes to delivering your results, consider whom you are giving them to, and in what context. A brief email summary or presentation might suffice for the C-level executives, but the designers and developers will need much more detail.
Whichever delivery method you use, and whomever you are presenting your findings to, be ready to support your hypotheses with facts and to justify your reasoning. The more convincingly you show your results, the easier it will be to get the rest of the team on board!
5. Remember: User Research Never Stops
We have already explored why UX research is so crucial at the start of any design project, but the truth is, user research never stops! As a UX researcher or designer, you are the bridge between the customer and the brand. You should never stop learning from your users; as the market evolves and technology changes, the product also needs to keep up. Even your audience might change over time, so it is crucial to ensure that you are not relying on outdated insights that are no longer relevant. Maintain constant dialogue with your users and make UX research a part of your long-term design strategy.
If you want to learn more about the relationship between products and users and where user research fits into the UX design process, learn the fundamentals of UX design here.
(Lead image: Adobe Stock)