CHAPTER 1

User Research and Its Importance

Quick question — what do you do before you shop for anything?

Yes, asking Alexa to open the Amazon app is an option, but it's not the answer we are looking for.

Research

You research the product, its alternatives, competitive prices, and so on.

Now, imagine an opposite scenario — You want to create a product or a service. Here as well, the first logical and natural thing you will do is research about the product and gauge its demand and the popularity of its niche.

Everything that you will do to understand the targeted market, audience, product design, and user experience design is User Research.

Of course, user research is much more complex and sophisticated than the above example. As an entrepreneur, it is pivotal to understand what user research entails and what it means for all businesses.

In this guide, we’ll cover this topic end-to-end, journeying through all the essentials in the easiest way possible to help you get the grasp of user experience research.

What is User Experience Research?

By definition, user research or UX design research, as it’s called, is the process of understanding your user or personas via different research methods to center their needs in the design process.

While it may be particularly crucial during the prototyping process, this practice should be an ongoing one, employed at every stage of the design process.

UX research covers a broad spectrum from conducting ethnographic interviews with a small targeted group of users, quantitative analysis on ROI of your UX design, to usability testing, and more.

One of the crucial objectives of user research is to place the users at the center around which you create your design process. It inspires the overall design to come up with excellent solutions.

User experience research is applicable to all the development stages in the agile process.

What is User Experience Research?

There are different types of user research that businesses use, but what’s the hurry, right?

First, let’s quickly go over why user research is deemed imperative for businesses.

Importance of user research

Companies often waste money in building something nobody needs, let alone wants to buy.

This phenomenon has been called the “build trap” by the product thinker Melissa Perri.

It refers to companies’ tendency to rapidly release features or products without analyzing why they’re releasing those particular features or products.

As Perri puts it, “building is the easy part of the product development process. Figuring out what to build and how we are going to build it is the hard part.

So, here are the top reasons why user research is a no-skip for any business.

Reason #1: An entrepreneur is not a user

Of course, entrepreneurs are born out of a need for innovation to solve specific problems. As much as they have an idea about what kind of product they want to develop and cater to a particular need, they are not the users themselves.

People often postulate that their line of thought is the same as the users, so they assume whatever they theorize for their product will bear fruits.

But one thing to keep in mind here is - Your experience is not going to be the same as your users.

This notion is known as availability bias. So, as a business, make sure not to be tempted and explore your users’ minds to create user-centric design and business models.

Reason #2: Save a lot by avoiding mistakes

User research is the only way to improve the user experience and design products that are useful because that’s pretty much impossible to accomplish without input from users.

From another perspective, user research will inevitably save you time and money by identifying design mistakes and usability issues. The bottom line - user research ultimately helps teams become more profitable.

CHAPTER 2

User Research: Types and Benefits

There are several types of user research. In this section, we’ll overview a few options and how they work.

But before we dive in, the graphic below from the Nielsen Norman Group can help give you a sense of the many different methods for lean user research.

The graph is organized based on two axes as well as a key for context.

Scenarios

Types of User Research

  • Generative Research
  • Generative research is famously called “next level” research.

    Why?

    Because it allows us to explore and discover the context of users’ experience. Its focus is beyond the calculated inquiries, unlike usability testing, and concerns with strategic user understanding.

    Generative research is like a light lamp guiding the way of innovation for businesses. Nonetheless, it is quite challenging to hone the skills needed for this research.

    Businesses generally employ this type of user research methodology when there is little to no information about a particular area. Yet, they need to come up with an innovative solution.

    In essence, this research helps businesses create solutions to problems that users are not aware of yet but need an answer to.

    Benefits of Generative research

  • Helps set priorities effectively
  • Assists in making product roadmap
  • Provides insights into why people do what they do
  • Encourages us to empathize with users
  • Enables us to start the process from the problem-space and then move towards the product-space.
  • Takes us out of the product and into users' lives to analyze what else needs improvement in the solution.

Bonus Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Guerrilla User Research

  • Evaluative research
  • Evaluative or evaluation research pertains to a UX research method that assesses your product’s specific problems or areas concerning customers’ needs.

    It answers the questions ―

    “Does my product serve customers’ needs?”

    “Do users find it easy to use?”

    “Do users enjoy using our products?”

    Successful businesses keep evaluative research in a loop throughout the development cycle and make it a part of their iterative design process. Moreover, even though usability testing is an essential part of evaluation research, it is not all.

    Benefits of Evaluative research

    • Allows you to provide designs to the users ASAP to boost the experience.
    • Enables businesses to assess how usable their product is, how users found out about it, and what made them use it.
    • Makes it easy to evaluate your product’s relevance and features via low-fidelity prototypes.
  • Quantitative research
  • Quantitative user research, more or less, can look like conducting surveys or measuring usage statistics. This research focuses on obtaining results presented in numerical.

    For instance, it answers - how much, how often, and how many.

    It is considered to offer the “what” part of the data since businesses use it to add context to the research.

    You should look at your website’s analytics to have a clearer understanding. The sessions, page views, bounce rate, visits frequency, etc. - all are quantitative data reflecting what happens on the website.

    Some examples of quantitative data in the UX are completion rate, Net Promoter Score, ease of use, brand perception, mouse clicks, time on task, to name a few.

    Benefits of Quantitative research

    • It provides results faster.
    • The data is easy to collect since it is not a time-consuming process.
    • Easier to assemble the quantitative data into sets of respondents.
    • Great for justifying investments since the numerical results are easy to track; they track the UX improvements back to the business’ KPIs.
    • It is objective in nature, hence less susceptible to human bias.
    • It’s a great representative of a large group of users.

    Qualitative research

    Qualitative research procures results of feelings, comments, observations, and thoughts - anything that represents the quality of emotions.

    It allows us to paint a picture of users’ experiences as a whole. Some forms of qualitative user research would include user interviews or observations.

    This form of user research can be further dissected into two other types of user research - Attitudinal and Behavioral (which we will cover shortly after).

    Benefits of Qualitative research

    • It gives you deep insights into the mind and hearts of the customers.
    • Instead of just giving numbers, it shows the context behind the results. For instance, quantitative research will show you the bounce rate, but qualitative research will tell you the reason behind it.
    • Some users prefer to express their feelings rather than just assign a number to them.

    Also, this is something crucial to remember - the obvious difference between qualitative and quantitative research is - “ If quantitative answers the “What” then qualitative is the answer to “Why.”

  • Attitudinal research
  • As we discussed above, attitudinal research is a branch of qualitative research. It aims at exploring the emotional response of users towards your services/products.

    Creating focus groups is a traditional way to practice this type of research. Some important pointers to keep in mind while conducting attitudinal research are keeping ‘herd behavior’ under check. It is recommended to avoid users getting influenced by each other.

    Businesses use this research to collect anecdotal information, which is later used for product/service redesigning purposes.

    Benefits of Attitudinal research

    • It allows you to gauge product performance and relevancy against users’ needs, satisfaction, and experience.
    • It makes it easy to identify under-performing product or service ideas.
    • Provides insights into customer information that businesses had no idea was missing.
  • Behavioral research
  • Apparent from the name, behavioral research pertains to how customers act, what their instincts are, and what tasks they perform, to name a few.

    Unlike the former, behavioral research is a bifurcation of quantitative UX research methods offering quantitative data about customers regarding how they interact with the business’ website and app.

    Data analysis and A/B testing are part of behavioral research methodology. Its techniques can be conducted in a lab setting as well, for instance, emotional response analysis, usability studies, click-stream analysis, and eye-tracking research.

    Benefits of Behavioural research

    • It helps cross-check the difference between how customers respond to a business and how they interact with the website.
    • Analyzing customers’ behavior gives untold insights to businesses to provide users what they want without asking them.

    Moreover, in the image above, the first axes are attitudinal vs. behavioral. According to Nielsen Norman, you can think of the difference here as ‘what people say’ versus ‘what people do.’

    Behavioral correlates with what people do (think A/B tests), while attitudinal correlates with what people say (think surveys).

  • Context of use
  • The final portion of the graph covers the context. In this case, context describes “if” and “how” users are interacting with the product at this point.

    The categories listed include:

    • Natural use of the product
    • Scripted use of the product
    • Not using the product, or
    • A combination.

    This information is vital as it may inform the quality or kind of insights that are provided. A note about a specific feature may be more valuable when it’s given in the context of using the product than when not using the product, as it could be misremembered in an interview.

  • Moderated research testing
  • As evident from its name, it is a UX research process where a moderator observes participants. The observation can be both remotely or in-person. Businesses opt for this method to experience what the participant does in a live setting.

    This method is more interactive since you can converse with the participant while they are testing. Connecting with the users on such a personal level helps businesses get to the root problems that are not always expressed by users otherwise.

    Benefits of Moderate research

    • Allows you to improvise your script on-spot to identify discrepancies and correct them with an ad-hoc follow-up questionnaire.
    • You can also have your stakeholders and teammates observe the session anonymously and also participate by sending in their questions.

    Bonus Read: The Marketer's Guide to Surveying Users

  • Unmoderated research testing
  • As the name suggests, unmoderated tests are surveys that are conducted with a participant without observation by a moderator. The unmoderated test sessions are recorded for later observation as a part of qualitative research.

    Also, the feedback or information acquired from the participants can also be used for quantitative research too.

    Under this research, a participant uses a digital product while answering a few questions or performing tasks. It will be followed by an analysis of results by a UX professional to pinpoint the participant’s bottlenecks.

    Benefits of unmoderated research

    • It is cheaper, quicker, and easier as compared to moderate research.
    • You can have access to platforms dedicated to unmoderated research testing.
  • Likert Scale (Qualitative and Quantitative)
  • Irrespective of the polar nature of qualitative and quantitative research, there is one method that comes under both spectrums - Likert scale.

    For instance, a survey aimed at gauging users’ feelings and point of view about the product/service but uses a strategy that procures quantitative outcomes which are more on the statistical side of things.

    Thus, a Likert scale computes (quantitative) how users feel towards a certain thing (qualitative data).

    Benefits of Likert scale

    • It brings context to your research questions.
    • Adds complexity to how one might assess or postulate the research data to derive unpredictable results.

Bonus Tip: Channels

Online vs. Offline

While this isn’t explicitly covered in Neilsen Norman’s diagram, it’s important to note that user research can be conducted both online and offline, depending on your approach and toolset. Which option is preferable really just depends on your product and your goals.

Offline user research consists of things like in-person interviews or observing testers use your product.

However, many of these tactics can now happen online.

Screen recording tools (such as Qualaroo integration with FullStory) let you see what users see and the actions they take. Video conference and calling software make in-depth interviews possible as well. Online surveys allow you to interview a broader set of audiences and collect both quantitative and qualitative data which is easy to analyze with survey tools.

Of course, there are pros and cons to both channels. Also, their usage differs depending on what you need:

online

Depending on your product, goals, and budget, both types of user research have their place. In fact, online and offline efforts are not mutually exclusive.

Watch: Building a Brand Using Feedback and User Research

CHAPTER 3

Conducting User Research

In the above two chapters, we navigated through why businesses should conduct user research and kinds of user research suitable for different purposes.

With all the basics out of the way, it is time for us to answer the most anticipated question― how to conduct user research?

Steps to Conduct User Research

Here, we have laid out the whole roadmap for practicing user research in an elaborate yet simple manner.

Step 1: Set Objectives

Setting objectives for everything you do should always be done at the beginning. With a clear path in mind, it is easy for businesses to sidetrack from the goal.

For instance, if you are designing a digital product, you should be clear on every aspect of it. Step aside from code and wireframing, and discuss within the team what they think the collective goal is.

The easiest way to do this is to ask your team to frame questions they think are still unanswered about the product. Once you know what information is missing, you can actively fill out those knowledge gaps.

These questions should revolve around “5 Ws and an H”― Who, What, When, Where, and How.

Once all the questions are mapped out, it is time to prioritize. Filter out the questions needing immediate attention from those which need to be addressed later down the road and interpret them as research objectives.

Step 2: Develop Hypotheses

Right after the objectives’ picture clearly comes the stage of hypotheses. It is completely natural for designers to come out with their own ideas for designs and curate hypotheses based on their understanding and preference.

At this point, those hypotheses may just sound like the best idea, and you would want to test it too, but the question is - is it really the ultimate and efficacious choice?

Jon Freach, the design research director at Frog, thinks that - ”Your hypotheses often constitute how you think and feel about the problem you’ve been asked to solve, and they fuel the early stages of work,”

The best way to test these hypotheses is to add them to your research. This way:

  • Doing this eliminates the bias factor of the team and clients
  • Awareness around the hypothesis helps in identifying the accurate US research methods
  • It becomes easy to see the difference between the hypotheses and the reality

The three types of hypotheses which you can venture into are:

  • Behavior-dependent hypothesis
  • Attitude-dependent hypothesis
  • Feature-dependent hypothesis

Step 3: Choose a Research Methodology

online

1. A/B Testing

One easy way to conduct user research is to implement A/B testing within your product or website.

The concept is simple: decide what you want to test (onboarding language or color scheme, for example) with all the common denominators except only one change and then launch both versions to see users’ feedback.

Popular A/B Testing Tools (based on end-use)

  • To determine which tests to run - It consists of qualitative and quantitative data collection. Tools that are useful for this purpose are KISSmetrics, Qualaroo, Google Analytics, CrazyEgg, UserTesting.com, among many others.
  • To Run A/B tests - Tools such as Visual Website Optimizer and Optimizely offer impressive performance and results without any additional resources as efforts.
  • To track A/B tests - There is no ‘can-do-all’ tool for this purpose. Organizations usually use a combination of Google Spreadsheets, VWO, Unbounce, Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, Intranets, or internal Wiki.

Bonus Read: 30 Best A/B Testing Tools For 2021 Compared

Card Sorting

According to usability.gov, card sorting is “a method used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a site.” This type of research involves asking your participants to organize topics into groups based on what makes the most sense to them.

This is a helpful tool when you’re either designing a new website or understand the mental models behind how users think of content and ideas.

Bonus Read: Complete Guide To Website Optimization

There are different types of card sorting techniques: open, closed, and hybrid. The difference between these techniques comes down to whether or not you give your participants categories to sort these topics into.

If you want a real deep dive into this technique, we love this Optimal Workshop piece. You can also find some fantastic tools, paid and free alike, for card sorting.

Popular tools for card sorting:

Proven by Users, xSort, usabiliTEST, OptimalSort, and UserZoom.

3. Surveys

Another common user research method is conducting surveys. Surveys are great because they can be conducted online or offline, and the questions you ask can be as closed or as open-ended as you’d like.

If you conduct your surveys online using a tool, many survey software tools offer logic branching, which gives you the ability to ‘react’ to user responses.

Surveys are also one of the most scalable ways to conduct and standardize user research because they can be conducted online so easily.

Common user research survey questions:

  • "Is there anything on this site that doesn't work the way you expected it to?"
  • "Was there anything about this checkout process that we should improve?"
  • "Is our pricing clear?"

Check out more questions to uncover user insights in this survey question library.

Popular Survey Tools:

A myriad of survey tools are available in the market, but only a few are worth their salt. Besides Qualaroo, ProProfs Survey Maker, Usabilla, UserSnap, Typeform, and Survicate are some of the popular UX research tools.

Bonus Read: 25 Best Online Survey Tools & Software

Case Study: Udemy

online

Udemy is an online learning platform that offers multiple courses created by field professionals. The website traffic for Udemy was coming from multiple channels, some of which they did not even know about.

Qualaroo surveys helped Udemy find the most traffic-bringing channels and was able to re-strategize its marketing strategy and relocate marketing funds.

Besides this, Udemy also placed surveys in the courses to gauge the performance of the subtitles added by their machine learning algorithm. The in-context feedback they received via surveys helped them to improve the automatic subtitles.

{Want to explore how Qualaroo surveys helped Udemy perform user research in detail? Read here.}

4. Usability Testing

As the name suggests, this method is more fruitful for a business with a digital product, like hardware, software, websites, apps, etc. It focuses on the level of difficulty a user experiences with it.

Usability testing is a tool to measure the usability of a product. System Usability Score is a metric with which you can perform the testing.

The method comprises 10 questions with five response options ranging from Strongly disagree to Strongly Agree (and vice versa).

There are multiple reasons why this method managed to garner such attention. Some of them are its ease of use for respondents; it can be on small sample sizes offering amazing outcomes, making it easy to distinguish usable systems from unusable ones.

A few things you should keep in mind while planning to use this method are:

A. The SUS scoring system might be a little complex in some cases.

B. You should normalize the scores and create rank in percentile to get the most effective and interpretive results.

C. The scores on the score between 0-100 are not the reflection of results in percentile, so do not confuse one with the other.

D. SUS only portrays the level of difficulty users face while using; it does not provide diagnostics.

Note: Calculating the SUS score is not a head-scratcher if you use the system usability scale calculator method.

Popular Usability Testing Tools:

Usabilitytest.com, Qualaroo, Usability Scale, and Loop11.

5. Task Analysis

In essence, Task analysis is used by businesses to learn about users. It involves observing the users in action to gauge how they achieve their goals and perform certain tasks.

This method helps designers evaluate what their website lacks and can improve, with features that are a must-have from the users’ perspective. This way, designers can redefine the navigation on their website to make it the most effective version of itself.

In brief, the purpose of this method is to identify -

A. The goals of users and what they want to achieve

B. How do they achieve their goals

C. How their previous experience and knowledge affect the way they navigate and perform tasks

D. The ways in which users get affected by the physical environment

There is a simple way to perform task analysis and reap all its benefits using this 5-step process-

  • Step 1: Identify the task you need to analyze
  • Step 2: Dissect these tasks into multiple sub-tasks that are doable and relevant
  • Step 3: Create a layered task diagram compiling each task when they are complete
  • Step 4: Move forward to creating a written document mentioning the details of the task as well as a decomposition diagram
  • Step 5: Make a third person the reviewer of your analysis who wasn’t involved in the process but is familiar with the task itself to check the consistency

6. Use Cases

Under the use cases, we define the process of how users will perform tasks on a website in written form. The whole process is an outline of how a system will behave from a users’ perspective while responding to a request.

Every use case is a representation of simple steps that start with a user’s goal and ends with the completion of the goal.

Use cases are a preferred method for UX research because they help analyze the current system and assists in identifying possible problems the system may face going forward.

Use cases are a great tool to compile the goals the system targets and make a list of them to determine the price and complexity level of the system.

Use cases include -

A. User's goals

B. Identifying the steps needed to complete a task

C. Who will be/is using the website/application

D. What users would like to do

E. Website’s appropriate response to a specific action

The most effective steps to implement use cases are as follows -

  • Step 1: Evaluate who are the potential users and pick anyone to create a user persona.
  • Step 2: Map out the actions a user would perform on the website (here, every action performed by the user becomes a use case).
    • Again, map out the further journey of the user based on the actions and create a description stating what the user does and how the system responds to it.
  • Step 3: Now, after setting the basic course of options, find out the alternate courses to the extent of the use case.
  • Step 4: Evaluate the common denominator among the use cases and mark them as the common course.
  • Step 5: Repeat these steps for as many users as you want.

Bonus Read: Customer Journey Mapping: Step By Step Guide

7. Prototyping

Prototyping is one of the efficient ways to go about the initial stages of the development process. Instead of creating a full-fledged product with all the features, only to find out the irrelevance of most of them for users, businesses prefer to design a prototype first.

A prototype is essentially a skeleton of the product containing only the basic features for demonstration and validation.

It can be in the form of a sketch or wireframe, which are considered low-fidelity prototypes. It can be a working application able to perform intended (but limited) actions, which is high-fidelity in nature.

Developing a prototype allows businesses to gauge the initial response of stakeholders and users involved in beta testing. It enables the designing team to see what features will be indispensable for the product and might come across even more which users need.

Popular Prototyping Tools:

InVisionApp, Adobe XD, Qualaroo, Marvel, and Sketch.

Bonus Read: Step by Step: Testing Your Prototype

8. User Personas

Creating the personas of your users is a crucial aspect of user research. This step pertains to compiling the data accumulated at market research about your user base and creating a fictitious personality similar to your ideal user.

Doing this will let you understand your users’ needs, what they might want from your product, how they might interact with it, and what may drive them away.

You can create four different types of personas - goal-oriented, role-based, engaging personas, and fictional personas.

Popular User Persona Tools:

Xtensio, Hubspot, AndreaO, and Mailchimp

Bonus Read: How to Build Customer Personas

9. Individual Interviews

Interviewing users is another common method for conducting user research. Whether it’s in person or via video conference/phone call, asking your users open-ended questions is a common way to get rich insights.

We recommend interviews as a method to help you learn what you didn’t know.

In Individual interviews, a user is interviewed one-on-one for 30 minutes by the interviewer either face to face or via telecommunication or video call. This way, businesses can probe more into the users’ minds who will use the product and discover their desires, beliefs, attitudes, experiences, and personalities.

Users can be asked to rank or rate the choices of content on the website to gauge its effectiveness and take measures later.

These interviews are an idea to conduct while you are still reviewing the objectives for your product. Conducting individual interviews before conducting a survey also has an added advantage. It helps refine the questions so you don’t end up asking the wrong ones.

Best practices for this purpose:

  • Identify what you want to explore and select participants on this basis.
  • Create a protocol for the interviewer to follow.
  • Ask questions in a professional and neutral tone, listen intently, and find areas to explore more information.
  • Never forget to ask for permission for anything you plan to do during the interview.

10. Heuristic Evaluation/Expert Review

People often get lost when they hear about it and wonder what Heuristic analysis is? Well, not anymore, since we will explain everything about it right now.

Heuristic evaluation refers to a process in which two or more professionals assess the product’s usability and design based on predefined principles. They identify the areas which do not follow the heuristic rules and optimize them later accordingly.

A UX heuristic analysis involves exploring usability issues in the product to be quickly resolved and improve the user experience and satisfaction level.

You can perform this analysis at any stage in the design process, but try not to do it too early to obtain optimum results.

Precisely, it is beneficial to conduct this analysis before UI development and visual design and after wireframing and prototyping.

If you perform it too late, you may incur some expenses because you will have to change aspects of the design.

Popular Heuristic Evaluation Tools:

UXCheck, Heurix

11. Tree Tests

The Nielsen Norman Group recommends following up card sorting efforts with tree tests. That’s because the tree test goes one step further than card sorting.

In a tree test, participants are asked to look at a list of categories or the navigation on your site and determine where they need to go to complete a specific task.

You can get as simple or complex as you need to with categories and subcategories. Overall, the goal is to understand if the way information is organized on your site or within your product makes sense to your audience.

Popular Tree Testing Tools:

Treejack, UXarmy, UXtweak

12. Eyetracking

Eye-tracking software can be used to detect the movement of a participant’s eyes while they engage with your product. What eye-tracking tells researchers is when a participant actually processes an element on the page or within the product and when they, quite literally, glaze over information.

The benefit of this type of research is that it provides tangible data about where users’ eyes are actually drawn, rather than requiring researchers to guess. This type of data goes one step deeper than something like heatmaps or screen recording tools.

However, a common criticism of eye-tracking software is that it doesn’t really help researchers understand why users do what they do. It just tells us what they do. Like many methods of user research, this simply means that eye-tracking isn’t enough on its own but can be one part of an ecosystem of user research tools.

Popular Eye-tracking Tools:

Tobii Pro Spectrum, Gazepoint GP3 HD, EyeQuant

13. Clickstream Analysis

According to UX Planet, clickstream analysis or click path is another common form of user research that analyzes and aggregates the pages users visit and in what order.

Clickstream analysis is a great method for understanding what users are actually doing on your site. Similar to eye tracking, this is a form of user research that tells us what users are doing, but not necessarily why.

Popular Clickstream Analysis Tools:

Azure Stream Analysis, Oracle Sales Analysis, Adobe Analytics, and Google Analytics.

14. First Click Testing

This type of analysis answers the question of what a participant would like to click on first on the interface to complete a task during the test. This analysis can take place on a live website, a prototype, or a wireframe.

First Click Analysis is effective in evaluating the efficaciousness of the linking strategy on the website. It also includes navigation on the website to check how they move on the website to complete an action.

You can optimize this analysis by following these best practices:

  • Cross-check everything before the test starts, including data loggers at ease with documenting click-by-click navigation.
  • Do not disclose the participant about the First Click Testing program.
  • Start each test with a base or home screen.

Popular First Click Testing Tool:

ChalkMark by Optimal Workshop,

15. Contextual Interviews

Under Contextual Interviews, you do not give them tasks to perform or any scenarios, but you must watch and listen to them as they try your product.

You can ask users questions to gauge what they are thinking or doing on the website as they continue to navigate through the site. By doing this, you get firsthand observed, qualitative data instead of a quantitative one.

This type of analysis combines interviewing with observation. You can see the users’ environment and the technology they use to access your software or website.

All this will help you finally answer some crucial questions such as:

  • What issues users are facing
  • What is their setup?
  • What are their preferences regarding hardware?
  • How much time do they take to complete a task and more

One of the best practices for contextual interviews is combining them with usability testing. Thus, you can simultaneously watch users use your product in their own environment and ask them to try certain tasks.

Step 4: Conduct research using the chosen method

After you have successfully set the objective, laid out hypotheses, and identified the UX research methods most suitable for your purpose, it is time to practice those methods and conduct your research.

It is important to choose the questions carefully because if you pick the wrong set of questions, you could either end up with the information that you already know or one which isn’t even relevant to you. Some things to look out for at this stage are -

A. Pick the right questions to ask

B. Ensure you picked the right audience and just the targeted one

C. If, for some reason, your current hypotheses do not work, you need to repeat Step 2 and start again

D. Choosing the right user experience/design research method and perspectives is key

E. Instead of just collective more and more data, focus on extracting the useful information out of it

Step 5: Synthesize

This stage focuses on extracting data from the collected information and analyzing it. You need to evaluate whether you got everything you wanted for your research objectives or not.

If yes, it will be easier for you to move forward in your design process and towards the goal.

You must focus on the why behind that collected data rather than what. The best way you can do this is not to take the information by word but to find the inclusive information in it, which is not apparent at first glance.

When Should You Conduct User Research?

We talk to a lot of clients who only conduct user research before they launch something new or at the Minimum Viable Product or MVP Phase.

While obviously getting user input and testing at this phase is important, it’s not the only phase in the design process where user research is imperative.

Whether you’re trying to get an MVP off the ground or want to optimize an existing product, user research can provide insights powerful enough to get you closer to your business goals.

As the Interaction Design Foundation puts it:

“You can—and should—do user studies at all stages of the design process. You do studies before you start designing so as to get an understanding of what your target group needs; you carry out iterative tests during development to ensure that the user experience is on track, and you can measure the effectiveness of your design after your product is released.

This ‘holy trinity’ approach can keep you three steps ahead as every dimension of your release will have been considered, analyzed, and tested before you sit down to see the results of the ultimate test (the ROI), more confident that you’ve got a winning design.”

CHAPTER 4

Conducting User Research on A Budget

While creating this exhausting guide, we stumbled upon a question - what if someone does not have the means of conducting the user research in an obvious way? To invest a big chunk of capital in user research tools and commit to the whole process.

Organizations come in all shapes and sizes, so why should the way of doing something be similar? Carrying forward this line of thought, we came up with a few tips that can help startups and SMEs get started on their UX research journey without investing a lot (if at all).

  • Guerrilla user research
  • Guerrilla research refers to an impromptu attempt for user research without committing money or a lot of time.

    This is one of the effective approaches for UX research to collect actionable insights from the users. This research helps narrow down the scope, allowing businesses to focus on ways to limit the number of resources they would need to accomplish their goal.

    In the words of Leah Buley, from The User Experience Team of One :

    “In guerrilla user research, you make it a priority to talk to and learn from at least a few users, firsthand, and by whatever means necessary.”

    He also advised that the research should be conducted on people outside, excluding personal relations and the team.

    In this method, the research may not be perfect, but it gives a real foundation for startups to begin in the right direction.

  • Analyze competitors’ user base
  • This method is something that does not demand any monetary investments but your undivided time and attention. It takes you back one step before the user research - Market research.

    Market research is an indispensable step for a business. It pertains to understanding the kind of competitors you have, how their products perform, and what users think of them.

    You can start with shortlisting the most prominent competitors and analyze everything from their blogs, forums, online communities, social media, etc. These are known as social listening techniques, which allow a business to understand what their competitors lack to create a better product with features users will appreciate.

  • Expand User Research Participants Demographic
  • The author and UX thought leader, Steve Krug, believes that no business should eliminate testing on a grade, i.e., testing all types of user demographics and focusing only on the targeted audience.

    Why?

    He suggests that if you limit the types of participants and become hyper-focused on one kind of user base, it not only becomes expensive, but the results might not be as relevant as one may think.

    Therefore, it is easy to explore usability issues even by selecting participants randomly for UX research.

  • Connect with your potential users at offline events
  • Nothing works better than connecting with your potential users directly, but doing so is not so much a piece of cake. Businesses have to hire user recruitment agencies that might even charge you in five digits just to get access to the potential user base.

    The most cost-effective solution to this problem is exploring offline meetups, conferences, & meetings, and being proactive in this approach. You will get instant access to a potential customer base this way without costing you big bucks.

  • Try online user research
  • Doing things online is often the most efficient way out of all, valid for user research. Many companies prefer the online mode of research compared to the offline one, especially if it’s a digital product.

    With this method, you are exempt from hiring user testing participants since you can gather your research data from the users themselves.

    For this purpose, businesses use multiple user research tools such as FullStory’s session recording, Qualaroo, ProProfs Survey Maker, SessionCam, Clicktale, Crazyegg, to name a few.

  • Recruit potential users via social media
  • Instead of hiring some agency to do this for you, take things into your own hands and save up on this front. Social media is a potent user research tool that costs absolutely nothing.

    Platforms such as LinkedIn have many professionals and potential users for which a business might be looking. With just a little research, you can shortlist remarkable research candidates and conduct interviews to get the most in-depth insights into what users want.

Note: For more detailed insights, you can refer to our dedicated article, “How to Conduct User Research on a Budget?

CHAPTER 5

User Research Benefits, Role In UX Process

To conduct user research the right way, you need to start with the end in mind. The end being the benefits you’ll get from the entire process. Let’s have a look at them one by one and how research affects the process of creating the right user experience.

Benefits of User Research

The advantages of conducting user research are evident at various levels:

  • Business benefits
  • On the business front, UX research is a big money-saver. It negates any chances of mistakes that can drain your money.

    It’s like killing two birds with a stone - landing an optimum product in the market without wasting money due to mistakes. And did we forget to mention the higher level of customer satisfaction as a result?

  • Product benefits
  • UX design research allows the designing team to peek into our users’ minds to create a product that is equally attractive as it is useful.

    Businesses get to know how the users will interact with the product, what other features need to be added, what problems the product targets, etc. It also resolves confusion based on multiple designs among the designing team.

  • User benefits
  • A business can not ignore the benefits users can get from their business, so including UX research in this point of view becomes pivotal. With UX research, users can speak their minds and share unbiased and uninfluenced user feedback. It helps them connect with the brand and its products.

Reasons Businesses Avoid User Research (And Exactly Why They Should Not)

Reason 1: I don’t have money to conduct user research

This is perhaps the most common reason we hear from teams as to why they don’t conduct user research. However, we have one thing to say to them: user research on a budget is possible!

If you can scrounge up some cash to dedicate to the cause, we recommend following some of the tips from our guide to conducting user research on a budget. If you have absolutely $0, then try your hand at guerrilla user research.

Reason 2: I don’t have time to conduct user research. / I don’t have a dedicated user researcher on my team

If not having the money to conduct user research is the most common excuse we hear, then lack of time follows it. When we hear this, our first thought is that’s what tools are for!

Using a tool like Qualaroo to set up questions at key moments along the user lifecycle is a pretty quick way to set up user research questions and collect insights while you do a million other things.

Beyond Qualaroo, many of the tools mentioned above can essentially run in the background and have dashboards or other insight reporting. Need help convincing upper management to okay your user research tool? Check out our blog post on how to get executive buy-in.

Reason 3: I don’t need to conduct user research because my product is already established

Occasionally, we’ll hear from teams that they’re not interested in conducting user research because their product is already live. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception as products require constant iteration to provide the best UX possible.

Reason 4: My product isn’t established

On the other end of the spectrum, we sometimes hear from teams or individuals that they’re not ready to conduct user research because they either don’t have a product at all or are at the MVP Phase.

It’s understandable that some teams may feel they aren’t ‘ready’ to conduct user research, but this isn’t the case. Of course, user research at the prototyping or MVP phase is going to look different than it does post-deployment, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t happen.

In fact, we recently launched a new feature that allows you to collect user insights on prototypes and mockups.

Reason 5: I don’t have enough people to test with, OR I don’t have the right people to test with

A lot of our clients get hung up on having the exact right profile of a person to test with and having a big enough group to make the research worth it. This thought is often tied to the perception that there’s not enough money to conduct user research.

However, UX expert Steve Krug argues that when it comes to recruiting user research participants, you should “recruit loosely and grade on a curve.”

What does that mean?

Don’t worry about having a critical mass of people who perfectly match your target persona because you can often get just as good insights from a few testers, even if they aren’t exactly your target persona. Besides, some user research is better than none.

Reasons Businesses Avoid User Research (And Exactly Why They Should Not)

Since we have been closely using User research and UX in the same context, we think it is only appropriate to discuss how the former is crucial to the latter.

In essence, think of User research as the beginning of a project because research should always come before taking actions or decisions.

Why?

Research gives hints about the kind of demographic a company can target, what the targeted audience needs, their goals, motivations, and how they behave.

With UX research methods, businesses can explore how customers interact with a system and how they navigate through it. All these insights ultimately become a deciding factor for the finalized UX design process.

For any organization, being objective is the best practice to ensure the success of any project. If user research is not given priority at the right time, it is easy to lose the direction for UX design.

The decisions will be made only on postulations and conjectures based on the collective experience of the team and not of the end-users.

To drive our point home, here is a brief statement by the founder of UX for the Masses, Neil Turner stating how the foundation of anything is the key to a successful design experience -

“Good user research is key to designing a great user experience. Designing without good user research is like building a house without solid foundations—your design will soon start to crumble and eventually fall apart.”

Begin Your User Research to Create Incredible UX

To wrap it up, every business should and must invest their time and money in conducting effective and efficient UX design research.

Startups and small businesses should also never skip these steps; they can always refer to the tips for conducting UX research on a budget.

With the right set of research and feedback tools, such as Qualaroo and user research methodologies, every business will be able to successfully create products that users appreciate with features that users actually want and need.

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