When we say User Research, what comes to your mind?
As a Product Manager, you may say it’s the usability test of a product or application. But while the intent is to determine if the design is user-friendly or not, UX research as a discipline is made up of both generative and evaluative UX research. It is one of the most significant and crucial activities of the product design cycle, helping us in aligning the product and business strategy with the core needs and goals of end-users. But first, let’s understand what UX Research is.
What is User Research?
User Research is engaging with the perceived target users, understanding their expectations, behaviours and pain-points in terms of the product or application being designed through methodical qualitative and quantitative approaches.
It basically focuses on ensuring the user insights are useful in every stage of the decision making of product design. While it’s acceptable to say that UX research for design is done keeping in mind the end-user, it’s also necessary to understand that user research pushes us to come up with simplified, useful and productive design solutions.
Throughout the design process, the research focus keeps shifting based on the usability and empathy of the end-user. Which is why all the valuable information that helps Product Managers design in an informed, contextual, user-centered manner is based on few focal points like:
- UX research empowers product design to be logical and helpful for users
- Eliminates unwarranted assumptions and errors from the design process
- Makes it easy to learn and use for the end-user
- Understanding and implementing Return On Investment (ROI) from the UX design
- Validate the concluded hypotheses by performing UX research
Remember the three vowels – OUA
Clouded by unconscious biases, interviewees from diverse groups of people showcase nervous tics, stress, uncertainty, and reflections of long-term beliefs and thoughts that can be further explored. UX researchers are trained to make these observations and come up with well-defined patterns.
Understanding is a tool that is based on mental models of the people being interviewed or tested. A mental model can be defined as the image one has in their mind when they think of a particular line or situation. UX researchers recognize these mental models of the interviewee to be deduced and help the design team in accommodating them into the design.
Analysis can be termed as the next step after understanding the mental models to make rational recommendations and give possible solutions for the pain-points. Techniques like creating scenarios, clear descriptions and statistical representation of the user behaviour are used as valuable insights.
Now let’s explore the Cornerstones
In the process of completing a given set of tasks that explains user behaviour, usability is tested with traditional or modern methods. Using methods like live versions a site, app, prototype or clickable wireframe, usability of a product or application is tested.
- Moderated Usability Tests – Under this usability test, an unbiased researcher guides the user by reading the tasks aloud and prompting the user to think aloud while executing the tasks. This test basically is useful in evaluating the design assumptions and understanding the effectiveness of it.
- Unmoderated Usability Tests – Also known as Asynchronous research, this test has the interviewer delivering tasks and instructions via video or recorded audio. The users click a button to start and record the test including answers and their thoughts they say out loud. This test is affordable and available on multiple online sites.
- Guerrilla Tests – A modern form of a usability test that does not require infrastructure like usability labs, guerrilla tests are done outdoors where the interviewer finds users in coffee shops, stations and streets to complete basic tasks on a website or application either in exchange for money or for free. This type of usability test is perfect when there is a limited budget.
A/B tests are conducted to determine the appropriate option between two competing elements of a design. For conflicting elements like home page designs, buttons or links, and content styles an equal number of users are shown both the options and the results are analyzed to choose the appropriate option. This test is also useful in comparing prototypes or new versions with old versions.
With the most common sort being Direct Interview, interviews can be categorized into three types that contribute to an effective understanding of the user groups.
- Direct Interviews – Useful with diverse groups of users, direct interviews are the classic question and answer method with user-specific questions that deliver diverse answers.
- Indirect Interviews – Indirect interviews comprise those questions that the user avoids to answer in direct interviews. The interviewers tactfully set up guided conversations, that prompt users to add inputs to the conversations and the interviewers are absorbing the inputs.
- Ethnographic Interviews – As the name suggests these interviews are conducted in a user’s comfort zone or natural habitat. These interviews help in understanding how the user executes given tasks in their work or home culture, further giving the researcher an idea about the user behaviour when they are most comfortable.
Surveys and Questionnaires
Another great tool for understanding diverse user groups, it enables the researcher to gather large and diverse information in less time. These surveys and questionnaires can be created using tools like Google Docs, Wufoo or emails.
In card sorts, users are given a set of terms to be categorized accordingly. Divided into two sub-categories, when users are given category names it’s called closed card sort. When users create their own categories, it’s called open card sort. This tool explains the hierarchy user perceives of the given content.
Tree Tests are useful in gathering information to evaluate and validate the application architecture and design assumptions. While the users say the whole process of task execution out loud, they do not however select actions on a screen. They instead will keep moving to the next level of the site map. This test helps in evaluating if the defined categories and information under them are correctly placed.
Should you do it on your own or outsource?
While most companies have internal researchers, outsourcing UX agencies with desired knowledge and experience will help give exceptional and reliable design solutions for Product Managers.
Outsourced UX agencies bring in a new perspective to the project and company. They provided a specialized plug into your company that includes specialized analytics and information collected from diverse groups of users. This fresh perspective gives unbiased results of the user behaviour and improves creativity and expertise.
Research deliverables and artifacts are to be well defined based on company goals and needs. Communicating this clearly the UX agency sets the standards and deadlines straight with the internal team as well as the agency. Outlining the needs and goals will also help in determining a UX agency whose competencies can match the desired output.
Expert and Extensive Insights
UX research insights can be disruptive and unexpected that can be hard to integrate into the design process. Outsourced UX researchers through their unbiased methods identify these unexpected insights and validate the concepts with real users. This will create a strong data to rely on for design and development.
Apart from quality, growing the business is an important motivation for conducting UX research. The inability to handle the growing workload and training the internal teams on the latest UX trends will affect the business interactions of the company. Outsourcing a UX agency for research not only saves overall costs but also adds long term value to the company.