Design

Your Complete Guide to User Research

Stop wasting time and money on assumptions—know what your users want ahead of time. Through user research and design, you can gain an understanding of your users' pain points, needs, and behaviors. Your ultimate goal should be to break down the barriers or frustrations users experience when using your product or service.
June 15, 2022
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For years, the most successful companies have known that the user experience (UX) has a direct impact on a company's bottom line by keeping customers engaged throughout the entire buyer’s journey. Knowing this, they continuously test and improve their products based on actual user research.

To call user research an important part of the design process is an understatement. It’s the only way to learn exactly what users need, want, feel, and how they behave. Ultimately, it’s the difference between designing based on guesswork and creating something that aligns solving user problems with business goals. 

What is user research?

Through research, you can gain an understanding of your users' pain points, needs, and behaviors using different observation techniques and methodologies. Your ultimate goal should be to break down the barriers or frustrations users experience when using your product or service. 

User research benefits every stage of product design and is more than just a step in the UX design process. Insights collected provide stakeholders and product teams with valuable context and insights to build truly user-centered products. 

User research can also have a very different meaning depending on who you talk to. For designers and product owners, it may mean testing and validating concepts and prototypes. For marketing and sales, it can be about experimenting with brand messaging and market trends before a product launch.  

Successful businesses understand and empower departments and teams to collect user insight and data at all stages. Do this and watch your business thrive.

Why user research is important

Your client wants a feature. But why? Do your users actually need it? These are questions you should be asking yourself and your stakeholders at every step of the design process. 

Here's why user research is critical to the early and continued success of your product:

Risk mitigation

We choose to carry a lot of risk into the development and launch of our product if we don't first test with our current or potential users. User research is the closest we can get to predicting the success of a product or feature. 

Unless you’ve hired the world's most genius designer (there are a few out there, but just a few), you really have no idea until launch how your users will interact with or feel about the designs. Predicting your product’s success is like shaking a magic 8-ball and hoping for the best.

Researching early and often reduces the chances of needing to redesign, redevelop or relaunch a product which could be disastrous to the budget. It lowers assumptions by showing you exactly what your users think, feel, and how they interact with your product. In essence, it's risk mitigation.

Design with the human in mind

Successful companies aren’t interested in overlooking UX research or design. They know user research is necessary to provide solutions that are both intuitive to use and bring real value to customers. When users like your product, they are far more likely to stay on your site or rebuy your product. 

By humanizing the data collected through testing, you can understand user behaviors, motivations, goals, and expectations to make better, data-informed decisions. Problems users encounter during an interaction with your product can be turned into actionable insights.  

Remove bias from the design process

Eliminating biases from the design process starts with being aware of them. One of the things that negatively affect designs is our own implicit bias. This kind of bias occurs unintentionally. 

Discovering it requires carefully identifying and rooting out the unconscious assumptions that affect our decisions and actions. For great design to occur, we need to recognize our implicit biases and meet the needs of diverse users as early as possible. 

Speak to users early and consistently to understand their mental models, remove preconceived ideas from the process, and improve your product.

Asking your team effective questions early on in the design process helps remove biases, like:

  • "What are our assumptions?"
  • “What evidence do we have that the user will use this as we assume or expect?
  • "What are anecdotes or coincidental pieces of information we hold, and how can we challenge them?"

How to plan your user research

Creating a research plan with the key steps helps run a successful research study. It should answer the question of why are we doing this. The goal isn't just to research to research—it's researching to solve problems.

A good user research plan is a reference guide for any question any person on the research project can reference. It aligns stakeholders and product teams, ensuring everyone is familiar with the project's timeline, goals, and scope.

Types of user research

There are many ways to conduct user research, and when it comes to your users, you may be wondering which method will give you the best information. Each type of research uncovers very different insights. To get a full picture of the user experience, you need to understand what's happening as the user makes decisions and why. Use the different types of research in tandem for the best results. 

Quantitative vs. qualitative

Most research methods fit into one of two categories: qualitative or quantitative user research. While one method is not better than the other, key differences can sometimes make one more useful. Both can offer well-documented and invaluable insights to guide the design process to extraordinary outcomes. It's all about finding which methods to use and at what time. 

Quantitative:

Quantitative research involves collecting and analyzing objective and measurable data from user testing. It's almost always numerical and focuses on quantifiable metrics and actual data like page visits, conversion rates, and bounce rates.

Quantitative methods include:

  • Product analytics: Usage data from real product users
  • Eye-tracking: Tracking where a person is looking, what they are looking at, and how long their gaze is in a particular spot on a page
  • Surveys: Questions sent to a targeted group of users asking quantifiable questions

Qualitative:

Qualitative research involves non-numerical data that gives insights into human behavioral patterns. The aim is to dive deeper into the 'why' in the form of users' opinions, comments, motivations, and behaviors. 

Qualitative methods include:

  • User interviews: Asking users about their experience with a product
  • Focus groups: Questions asked by a moderator to a group of participants to generate discussions about a particular topic
  • Surveys: Questions sent to a targeted group of users asking open-ended questions

Though qualitative and quantitative are two very different research methods, it is important to use them together to make data-informed decisions. If you only use quantitative data, you can miss out on key insights that affect your understanding of the user experience. If you only use qualitative research, you may not have an accurate representation of the entire population. 

Attitudinal vs. behavioral

Attitudinal and behavioral research are often mistaken for each other, but they are not synonymous. Like quantitative and qualitative research, the two can and should be used in tandem. 

Attitudinal:

Like it sounds, attitudinal research involves assessing the users' attitudes or feelings towards the product or experience. This can be as simple as asking a user why they like or dislike a particular feature. The purpose is to understand and measure users' stated beliefs. 

Behavioral:

What users say and what users do are usually very different. To help with this, behavioral research tells you what's happening. It focuses on what the user does and provides quantitative data on how users actually interact with your product or service.

Generative vs. evaluative

The goals of generative and evaluative research (also called evaluation research) are very different.

Generative:

Generative research helps define the problem you're designing a solution for. The goal is to find opportunities for solutions and innovation through new products or experiences or an improvement to an existing one.

Evaluative:

Evaluative research helps you evaluate an existing design or solution to ensure it meets users' actual wants, needs, and desires.

Research methods—and when to use them

Building the right product or service is an iterative cycle of listening, learning, changing, and making improvements through understanding user needs and customer feedback. Different user research methods help teams collect the insights needed for any role. The exact method you use depends on the product or service and available resources. 

Before starting, identify the goals you want to reach and the metrics you need to measure. But remember, no matter the methods you choose, always approach research with a human-centric and empathetic perspective. 

At Ventive, we work in an Agile environment. This was a process created for development teams and is not always easy to fit the standardized UX testing or processes. We overcome this by focusing on the current problem spaces and matching a methodology that will bring the most value while also fitting the constraints of budgets and project timelines.

Let's take a look at two of the research methods we use at Ventive:

Usability testing

If you had to choose only one research method, make it usability testing. Usability testing helps designers, researchers, product owners, and marketing teams uncover, understand, and predict how real people will use their products and services. 

When it comes to testing design ideas, usability testing early in the process allows you to test anything from a basic wireframe to fully fleshed-out prototypes.

Can a user use a product and get through to the actual goals? Are there any significant likes or dislikes? Where are they getting stuck or confused? These valuable insights are eye-opening and can help predict the success of your product.

User interviews

Low user research budget? No problem. 

Free interviews are a great way to stay within budget while still getting valuable insights into the attitudinal behavior of how the user feels about the product. You can use surveys on social media, like Facebook group responses or polls on LinkedIn, to gather interest and potential interviewees. 

Users are human and often have complex feelings and experiences. By having discussions, interviewers can observe body language and verbal cues while asking open-ended questions. Use follow-up questions in interviews to discover insights you might have otherwise missed. 

Open-ended questions look like:

  • "Tell me where you would go next."
  • "What do you think that icon means?"
  • "What do you want to do next?"
  • "If you wanted to go to the home page, how would you find it?"

Whether you call it human-computer interaction, design ethnography, or just user research, putting your customers at the center of every aspect of your business gives you a competitive advantage. Prioritizing UX design and research scales down the biases that could be built into your product, saving you development time and money. Launch a product that achieves your business goals by solving the end-user's real problems from the get-go.  

From our Boise-based office, Ventive works closely with stakeholders to map out and develop web and mobile applications that fit budget constraints and project timelines. We’d love to develop your app idea with our experienced team of designers and developers. 

When you expand your definition of user experience research to encompass every area of your business, your company will be better equipped to meet your users' needs and give them an experience that keeps them coming back.

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