When you come up with a brilliant idea for a future product, you have no doubt about its success. You present it to your team, they tell you what you want to hear – and you think you’ve already won. If that’s exactly how it happens, we have bad news for you – the outcome may be way different from what you expect. But if you’ve done extensive research on your target audience and they liked your idea, then, your concept has a decent chance of being a hit. After all, it’s the end users who should define how your product should function and what it should look like, not your team or friends. When you stop assuming, but start asking what the users actually want and need, your ideas will lead to success.
According to the 2017 UX and User Research Report, 22% of surveyed companies announced that in 2016 their usability tests became much more frequent compared to 2015. Apart from that, the report shows there is a clear tendency to get and analyze user insights as early as possible, often even before a product concept is created. All these numbers and facts speak to a shift in the main purpose of user experience research, which is changing from the question “How good is my interface?” to “What does my user actually need?”
If you take UX research seriously, you’ll be surprised at how much value and benefits come with it. Let’s take SalesHacker, for example – this year a sales and market development resource conducted user experience research to determine the direction of future planning and strategizing. The experts learned that SalesHacker users spend most of their time on the blog. They found out that the audience consists mainly of male visitors aged 25-34, who click more on templates and checklists. This information is collected to shape SalesHacker policies the way its users want and need them to be.
Another great illustration is HubSpot’s main page redesign. The research team analyzed data from Google Analytics and other metrics and built certain assumptions about the their users’ behavior. They plunged into various testing, interviews and prototyping. As a result, they designed a new homepage that generates more trial sign-ups and user engagement.
Yes, UX research does work. In fact, it influences not only separate products, but whole businesses based on their relationships with clients. The formula for a successfully delivered service consists of understanding the users and their needs, and the UX study is exactly the tool that helps to gain that knowledge. But what is it, and how to do user research in UX?
Well, let’s find out.
What Is User Experience Research, And What Does It Go With?
User experience research is a batch of different methods used to improve a product with the help of end-user insights. This analysis makes it possible to place customers at the center of your development process and account for their needs during the actual designing. As a result, you may improve your product in the early stages and avoid costly changes in the future, after the product is released. This process is not limited to the digital world.
If you want to understand the nature of UX research, it is necessary to realize that this concept is much more global than you would have ever thought. It goes far beyond web design and development. UX research is used to plan city navigation, choose locations for street signs and build restrooms. Donald Norman, in his book The Design of Everyday Things, mentions a case when he used user experience feedback to organize trash cans in the research laboratory. The readjustment helped people avoid throwing away important notes and led to a neater arrangement of personal items. These examples show that collaboration with end users has been used for ages, but has received due attention only in recent years.
UX research comes with many explorative methods. All of them can be categorized through 2 main characteristics: qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative methods are aimed at establishing why users behave the way they do and not in some other way. Quantitative techniques determine how many users do this and that. In a word, the latter method helps measure different situations numerically.
As you can see, UX research is a pretty broad concept with many uses, but with one major goal – to find out what’s best for the end user. To achieve that objective, researchers usually rely on 3 key approaches that shape the whole process of user experience study:
- Observation. In most cases, your clients have no idea what they want or what they need. When conducting research, asking them questions is not as effective as you would want it to be. That’s why it’s important to observe and note the user’s behavior and reactions if you want to get useful data.
- Understanding. Gathering the information isn’t even half the battle. It’s also essential to interpret it properly to get the maximum benefit from the users’ insights. This approach includes understanding people’s mental models and identifying the gaps that need to be filled.
- Analysis. To come up with a relevant solution, the research findings must be analyzed. Analysts should organize them into a certain pattern and present them to team members in a form of a scenario, chart, statistic, graph, etc.
These 3 concepts are something you do every day without giving much thought to it. But here they are your entry point into UX research, so it’s key to concentrate on these approaches instead of taking them for granted. What’s more, various smart methods can scale up the results of these operations. To know which one to use, you first need to determine exactly what you want to find out.
How to Select a Suitable UX Research Method
Tomer Sharon, the VP and Head of User Experience at WeWork and a former Senior UX Researcher at Google, suggests that you asking several important questions before selecting an investigative method:
- What kind of information do you want to learn?
- Why do you want to gather that data?
- What gaps do you intend to fill with that knowledge?
- What solutions do you wish to present based on the research findings?
- What current assumptions do you have about your users?
These questions are used to define your goal. It can be a web page redesign, improvement of a certain product function, color choice for a button, etc. To answer these questions, you need to do internal research. Use the information you already have – for example, data from Google Analytics, info about your target audience, current issues you need to deal with, and so on. Right after you determine the goal of your future UX research, consider how Tomer Sharon categorizes all research techniques by using 3 simple questions:
- What do people need?
- What do people want?
- Can people use it?
For example, if you want to launch a completely new product, you should find out what people need. If you wish to choose the right design for the homepage, it implies learning about users’ preferences. However, if you want to test a readymade application, it’s a question of whether they can use it. It’s as simple as that – and now we’re going to categorize the main and most important user experience research methods using these questions.
Core UX Research Methods and Their Essence
At this stage of your UX research, you should focus all your resources on observation. Why? Because, as we’ve seen, what people say quite often differs from what they do – and this isn’t done on purpose. It is hidden in our basic psychology. There is even a name for such a phenomenon – the Hawthorne effect. It presupposes that research participants have an unconscious desire to satisfy the interviewer/experimenter. Users evaluating your product will most likely give you the answers you want to hear, not the ones you really need.
Although this is a great obstacle on the way to obtaining rational and reliable information, the problem can be partially solved. Choose the right research method for the UX investigation and use several methods to collect the findings. In our guide, the UX tools and techniques are categorized according to the different questions they help to answer, so let’s dig deeper into this part.
What Do People Need?
This technique involves observing people, as they say, “in the wild”. You visit the place where they work or live and keep your eyes on how they go about doing everyday things. You notice how individuals solve different tasks in their natural environments, and ask questions about the reasons for people’s actions.
During this type of exploration, it’s best to minimize your interventions into processes and engage several observants so you can receive more weighed data. This is a perfect method for understanding the natural behavior of your target audience and what they need.
Asking questions you require answers to is a tried and proven way to get information. Of course, the risk of bias interference is high (the Hawthorne effect is not going anywhere), but it’s possible to deal with it. There are 3 main types of interviews; each aims at different results:
- User interviews. They are usually held at user’s home or in a location relevant to your project (e.g., interviewing people in a café to ask about the types of coffee they prefer). The main point of such one-to-one sessions is to walk in your user’s shoes – understand their needs, world outlook and their ways of solving problems.
- Expert interviews. This implies that you interview people with high competency and qualifications in a sphere relevant to your product’s concept. This way you obtain information from an authority/influencer – it is also very valuable for helping you develop the right idea in the right way.
- Extreme interviews. Here your participant must show the “extreme” qualities of your users. For instance, if you create a running app, think about interviewing marathon or Ironman runners. They will help you to avoid creating idealized concepts that usually appear as a result of regular interviews.
In a perfect-case scenario, you will create a list of questions to help you control the time allotted for the interview, as well as its direction. If you get distracted, the guide list will remind you where you should head with the participants.
What Do People Want?
In this type of UX research technique, you create two versions of something you want to change/create. You present them to your target audience and let the users choose whatever they like best. For example, design two different templates for a newsletter. Then, divide your subscribers into a group A and group B. After that, send each version to the corresponding group and analyze the click rate/user behavior to choose the best variant. There are many elements you can test this way – style, images, content, buttons, etc., and for more than 2 versions.
Group Sessions/Focus Groups
The process for focus groups sessions involves interviewing 3-6 individuals simultaneously. There are a lot of pitfalls in such a research method. For instance, collective thinking can arise when stronger personalities suppress the voices of the weaker ones. Among other issues, there is also the inability of people to predict what they desire when interviewed outside the real context. And don’t forget about the Hawthorne effect.
However, when conducted in the proper environment, focus groups sessions may help to:
- Decode what kind of attitude the users have towards your product;
- Determine its most significant features;
- Get to know the language of your target audience;
- Trigger some ideas/memories that may not be mentioned if the participants are interviewed separately.
If you wish to get results with using a focus group, you need to take precautions. Avoid asking guiding questions, because they may give away the issues you really care about. Just specify a few leading topics related to your cause, but without concentrating the participants’ attention on a specific element.
Can People Use It?
This is a UX research method that centers around grouping, categorizing and systematizing. Using this technique, you may find out how to structure your website, name the menu sections or organize your blog content. This way you’ll create a familiar and conventional environment for your particular users.
It is usually done with simple paper cards distributed to the research participants. They, in turn, must arrange the cards into categories. However, you can also use online tools to help with the matter.
Usability tests require users to complete a certain set of tasks prepared by the UX research team. This is one of the most powerful UX research techniques. If you plan to use just one method to test your product, Nielson Norman Group advises you to choose usability testing.
There are 3 ways how to do user experience research of this kind:
- Moderated testing: This is usually carried out in specially equipped labs. Independent facilitators, who explain the process, lead the users and ask follow-up questions. It is efficient because it allows the gathering of the maximum amount of information.
- Unmoderated testing: This is organized online, using special software that records the screen activity and audio. The instructions are sent in a form of a video or audio, and the users complete the tests whenever they like.
- Guerilla testing: This is a relatively new form of usability research, which is conducted outside of any labs or user’s homes. It is done in public places (cafes, bus stops, etc.) where users are asked to do some tasks for free or for some small payment. But if the target audience of your product is limited, randomly selected people on the street won’t be of much help.
According to research by Jakob Nielsen, a Co-Founder of Nielsen and Norman Group, it is possible to detect 85% of core usability problems using only 5 people as participants in the experiment.
Why You Should Conduct UX Research
You design products for people. It means that all your decisions and solutions should be driven by their desires and preferences. User experience research allows you to develop user-centered concepts and solve most potential problems in the early stages, when making changes will not be not so time-consuming and expensive. Use this opportunity and UX numerous resources to deliver better services to your clients and make your business more successful.
It’s all about the users. Appropriate this as the unofficial slogan for your business!