User research: your best UX toolkit

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A great product is the result of a great design, but a great design follows only after a well-implemented UX design process. Thousands of ideas, apps and websites turn into success but rarely do they transform into actual revenue. Ever wondered why? Poor user research and UX design is the answer.

To create something specular, you need to know your audience and should be able to tap into their needs. In fact, businesses need to go beyond just meeting requirements and should dig deep by conducting the right research methodologies that help them to deliver a user experience that touches all aspects including design, interaction, usability and so much more.

What is user research?

According to Usability website, user research is the act of conducting observational practices, task analysis and other research methodologies to fully understand the user behavior, what they need and what motivates them.

The UX designer and artificial intelligence expert Mike Kuniavsky states in his book Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research that user research is “the process of understanding the impact of design on an audience.”

According to a study conducted by Forrester Research, a well-designed website’s user interface could increase the conversion rate by 200%! And this figure would go up to 400% if the design is further enhanced.

Certainly, there is some truth to the statement, “the first impression is the last”, consumers are more likely to switch to another website if they aren’t impressed with the design at the first glance. So, in this fierce market competition, where consumers are picky and bombarded with choices, businesses must be able to compel and sell.

Why do you need it?

User research helps to gain useful insight on what consumers want. By investing in the right set of user research methods, the probability of creating a failed product goes down considerably. Robert Pressman, in his book, “Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach”, states that every dollar spent on UX returns $10 to $100.

How to conduct user research

Before you go ahead and chart out a user research plan, it is crucial for you to identify your business goals, devise a value proposition and gain a thorough understanding of user research methodologies. Some methods overlap and can be used prior to user research, during the design stage, and in the post-design stage.

The more information you can gather through UX methodologies, the more improved will be your product design. Here are a few main user research methodologies which have been tried and tested across the world:

User Interviews

User interviews have always been a popular choice for user research. The method is affordable, simple and effective. It can be used during the design phase, pre-design or post-usage. So, what can you extract from a user interview? This can depend on the type of questions you have designed and what kind of responses you are aiming for. For example, you can conduct user interviews to understand the user experience of a product, to learn about the usability, to gather ethnographic data and more. Here are some pointers to consider:

  • Pick the right sample for interviewing
  • Create a script with questions
  • Observe and take notes
  • Keep it short and simple

User Persona

A persona can be defined as a representation of a customer type. Although it may not represent a real individual, it can reflect your customer type and their preferences. It is vital to have some knowledge of your consumer group and what they expect. In UX design, persona creation often falls into the second phase which is also called the “define phase”. There are 4 different perspectives of personas:

  • Goal-directed – this persona focuses on what the user wants or would prefer from your product
  • Role-based – this persona focuses on behavior of the user
  • Engaging persona – this persona revolves around the understanding of fictitious people and their interaction with a product
  • Fictional persona – this persona comes from the UX design team based on past interactions with users

To create a user persona, you must be able to gather user data, create scenarios for problems and analysis of the product usability.

Card sorting

Card sorting can be defined as a user research method through which information architecture is identified and familiarized. This is a relatively affordable and easy research method which can be conducted by UX designers. In this method, you write down phrases or words and place them in front of a user. You must then ask the user to categorize the cards or label them. This method can reveal the type of information architecture and is great for new product designs or ideas.

Surveys

Surveys are a popular user research tool which can be used to gather information on users. A typical survey will entail a series of questions which can gather quantitative or qualitative information from the user. However, it is crucially important to find the right sample group. Most UX designers conduct face-to-face surveys or go for online surveys which are considered faster and less time-consuming. Some common information you can gather from this method is:

  • Who are your users?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What is their buying pattern?
  • How do they perceive your brand?

The right survey can help you understand your target audience and eliminate or minimize the risk of creating poor product designs.

Focus group

Focus group can be defined as a qualitative research method which aims to shed light on pre-determined topics and what opinions users hold. These groups can be fruitful and can bring out current ideas, discussions, concerns, and trigger an innovative trail of thought. But an interesting point worth mentioning here is that many products fail despite being popular in focus groups. Why? This can be due to peer pressure, lack of time and participants lying due to the unnatural setting. Although focus groups can be helpful to some degree, they are not recommended to be used as a sole user research method for design.

Task analysis

This is one of the most common methods used during the define stage. The method focuses on pinpointing user problems and challenges by creating a diagram and explaining step-by-step how a user must complete tasks to achieve a defined goal. Designers must take into account various factors during task analysis such as social and cultural preferences of users, user-goals and physical environment.

Eye tracking

Eye-tracking refers to the movement of the eyes when viewing a web page or a layout. The method aims to determine where users look at the most, for how long, and what makes them take action. A heat map provides insight on what areas of the page the user have looked at the most and why. This information can be used by designers to correctively and effectively place elements across a website platform.

Participatory program

This is a product design method in which users, stakeholders and team members collaborate during the design process. All users can actively take part during various stages of design and creation. Their feedback, opinion and input can help make a product design more acceptable with a higher chance of market success.

Clickstream testing

Clickstream testing helps you understand the behavior of users on your website. This method enables you to find out what your users clicked on, how long they stayed on a page, and more. The correct term for this is known as “click paths”. UX designers can use this tool to identify a problem on a page or layout.

A/B testing

In most cases, clickstream testing is followed by A/B testing. In this method, designers test two versions of the design and see which one proves the most beneficial. Both versions are measured on performance using diverse metrics such as sales, conversion rates, bounce rates etc. This form of testing is most commonly used in website designing due to ease of implementation and faster results.

Daily report

Reporting is one of the key elements of communication when it comes to user research. Team members, participants, users and other members are typically required to maintain reports on findings and interactions. The report typically has no fixed format but must be able to coherently show your findings and objectives.

Desirability testing

Desirability testing is all about gathering information on the emotional response to certain designs. The method can capture reactions, dislikes and likes on a design process. In a typical setting, users or other members will be provided various visual design options to view. The reaction of the users is noted and observed. In some cases, one design may win a majority vote while in some cases there may be major disagreements over the design components. This method can help us evaluate the preferences in color, shades, shapes and other aesthetics which evoke emotions of like and dislike.

Dig deeper to know your user better

While there is no single best methodology for the best user research process, you can always combine a few methods and experiment to gather as much information as you can. The more you know and understand your users and their interaction with the design, the more likely will your product will succeed. Certain UX design methods are suited to different stages of the design phase. So, before you invest in any method, develop a clear set of goals and compare different methodologies to see which one fits your goals in the best way possible.

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