User research or user experience research is vital in the creation of usable (and thus, successful) products. This digital, age of experience has substantially changed the consumer landscape. Previously, companies quite literally told consumers what they needed to buy. Today, with a marketplace flooded with a plethora of products and services, the user holds majority of the cards. As strategic designers, we understand that user experience is the only thing that sets your product or service apart from the rest. Consequently, the best way to ensure that your product provides an excellent experience for your user is by studying them. By doing solid user experience research.
When should you conduct user experience research?
In sum, from the get-go. It is vital that the insights you gather from your research inform the entire innovation process. By conducting user research before the creation process, you are able to identify a variety of issues that users are currently facing with similar products or services. This includes what they desire or what they imagine to be the ‘perfect version’. For example, if your project involves the creation of an online retail store, you could figure out 1. What kind of deals entice users to open the app, 2. Whether discounts should be delivered as notifications, and 3. What kind of payment process would be the most seamless without being too intrusive. In addition, kickstarting innovation with research is a fundamental step of the design thinking process. As designs and prototypes would be informed by research, this saves the organisation both time and money.
It is imperative to note that user experience research occurs at multiple points and not just at the beginning. For example, once you create your prototype, you would have to conduct usability-testing with users.
Empathy informs experience
Depending on the goal, user research includes both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. With user experience research, broad insights are usually the focal point. Hence, a qualitative approach is appropriate. With methodologies like open surveys and user interviews, we are able to empathise with end-users holistically. Nonetheless, the entire innovation process should involve both qualitative and quantitative research in order to understand both the big picture and more specific details.
How do you conduct user experience research?
First and foremost, you’ll need users to research. Identifying the correct target demography helps you collect usable data that properly informs innovation decisions. If you’re conducting user research before innovating, you’ll need to ask: Who is my product/service for? In contrast, if you’re user research is for an existing product/service, you might ask: Who is currently utilising my product/service, or who might potentially use my product/service? As we are focussing on qualitative research on user experience, the required sample size is quite small. Due to this, the few participants that you potentially study have to be excellent representations of your end-users.
Creating persona profiles can really help you narrow down the best representation of your end-users. Some basic questions that you should consider is the demography (age, education, job, SES, gender) and the level of expertise or familiarity regarding your service/product. For example, when Chemistry Team redesigned the support page for a telecommunications company, we built personas around familiarity with the services available and tech-savviness. Once your personas are determined, you can start the recruitment process of finding real people to fit the bill. This can be done through any form of pre-test screening.
User experience research methodology
Determining which methodology would fit your project the best depends largely on which part of the innovation process you’re at. If the project is in its infancy, methods like card sorting and tree testing would be ideal in figuring out how many moving pieces fit together. User interviews, open surveys, and focus groups can also help provide deeply empathetic insights regarding the product/service. If user experience research is needed during the ideation phase, tools like prototyping and workshopping can help spark creativity. At the tail end of the process, Usability Testing is excellent for evaluating prototypes of your product/service. These tests help identify certain gaps in the user experience that you might have missed during the process. At this point, you might even opt to return back to earlier research methods to help inform the reiteration of the product/service.
Now that you’ve got insights…
Make sure you use them well! The synthesis portion of the innovation process is just as important as the research. During this, make sure all stakeholders are present to cover all perspectives and convert your findings into actionable insights.