In a competitive market place, there’s one thing every business is striving to get right - user experience. Yet it’s surprisingly hard to put yourself in the position of the user - as developers and designers, you’re too close to the action to understand a product from the user’s perspective.
Talking to your users is one of the most valuable things you can do as a business, but unfortunately, they don’t always talk easy - let’s take a deep dive into user research to discover exactly what your users want, but don’t know how to ask for.
Why user research is so important
When it comes to design, it starts with an idea. Bringing great products to market requires creativity and innovation, and no amount of research can bring about that spark. However, when it comes to getting a product right, one good idea is never enough. The cognitive bias implicit in any developer’s initial design will lead them down a rabbit hole - without user research, you’re not building a product for your users but for yourself.
Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as asking your users what they want. Every individual out there is suffering from multiple biases. When asked, users are more likely to detail an idealised version of their wants, needs and behaviours. Conducting valuable user research means ironing out these biases, through a fine balance of insightful qualitative methods and brutish quantitivity.
Tips for conducting valuable user research
Know when to start
User-led organizations produce the best products, so talking to your users should always be on your mind. But quantitative and qualitative user research takes time and money, so how often should it be performed? Ultimately, it depends on your product cycle but by integrating honesty and self-criticism within the culture of your team, you’ll be better able to understand when to perform this valuable research. Whenever your team starts developing something new, assess whether you fully understand how a customer would approach the feature. Prevent yourself from assumptions about users that aren’t backed up with research.
Go in with an open mind
User research should never be used to validate design decisions you’ve already made, whether implicitly or explicitly, getting ahead of the process. If you don’t approach user research with an open mind, it’s easy to cast off the opinions you don’t like, harvesting data in a subjective way to come to a predetermined conclusion. User research conducted in such a fashion has no value in pursuing better user experience, and it’s likely to leave your result floundering in the marketplace. Ideally, user research should be conducted before any significant decisions around functionality and design have been made, giving you a blank slate on which your users can sketch their needs.
Identify your interviewees
User experience is all about your users - but there are many external actors that might affect their experience. To really understand user experience, you might want to take a broader look at the ecosystem in which your users are operating. In some cases, you might want to interview non-users who will closely interact with the users. For example, if you’re designing an app for doctors to use when assessing their patients, these patients might become indirect users whose secondary experience is vital to your app.
Alternatively, your product may have two users operating with very different objectives. As a case study, when Lyft came to redesign their app, they recognized the need to speak to both drivers and passengers to build a functioning app for all parties. Throughout their redesign they held weekly question and answer sessions with both sets of users, seeking to integrate the responses into a cohesive design.
Look for anchor phrases
When you’ve collected countless hours of user interviews, it can be difficult to sift through for the gems which will guide your design process. Identifying ‘anchor phrases’ which alert you to valuable data contained within can streamline your process, bringing you closer to the perfect product. Phrases such as “I never,” or “I always” will bring you straight to valuable insights about user behaviour, whereas “I might” and “I would” will bring you closer to meeting users needs.
Superficial interviews with your users might provide you with some direction in your product design, but if you want to build something which has your users raving about it, you’ll need to get deep. When Facebook decided they wanted to support their users suffering from eating disorders, they launched an incredibly detailed iterative user research programme allowing them to get to the heart of how this intersection of their demographic used the social network. By using secondary research and focus groups with topic experts, Facebook laid the groundwork for understanding the specific responses they received in subsequent one-to-one interviews with users.
Putting research into practice
Applying your user research is a vital step, turning abstract data into positive practical changes in your design. To do so, look for patterns across your research that can guide your future steps. Finding ways of communicating your discoveries about user research to the wider design team will enable everyone across the organization to be guided by user research. Visualization tools such as experience maps are incredibly valuable in facilitating the move from abstract findings to material updates in your product design process.
Users are mysterious beings, full of inconsistent habits and unpredictable behaviours, so when design isn’t centred on the user, organizations make assumptions that lead to expensive mistakes. Businesses have to approach user research with your own biases set aside, work to understand the user’s ecosystem and have a system in place for summarizing and strategizing on user research to make full effect of this powerful tool. Set out on your user research journey today - your users might just surprise you.
Bio: Lauren Groff is a writer and editor at Academic Writing Service. She studied sociology and statistics at the University of Manchester.