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 both generative and evaluative. 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 target users. It means, understanding their expectations, behaviors, and pain-points in terms of the product or application in focus. One can do User research 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:
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 experts in making these observations and come up with patterns.
Understanding is a tool that is based on mental models of the people being interviewed or tested. A mental model is 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 and help the design team in incolculating 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 behavior are valuable insights.
Now let’s explore the Cornerstones!!!
In the process of completing a given set of tasks that explains user behavior, you can run usability tests 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.
A/B tests can help determine the appropriate option between two competing elements of a design. As per this method, for conflicting elements, you must consider an equal number of users for both options A and B. Then, you must analyze both the options and the results to choose the best option. This test is also useful in comparing prototypes or new versions with old versions.
Well, interviews contribute to an effective understanding of the user groups. With the most common sort being Direct Interview, there are two types of interviews.
- 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 user to add inputs to the conversations and the interviewers are absorbing the inputs.
Surveys and Questionnaires
Another great tool for understanding diverse user groups, it enables the researcher to gather large and diverse information in less time. You can create these surveys and questionnaires by using tools like Google Docs, Wufoo, or emails.
In card sorts, users should have 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 categories you defined and the information under them are correct or not.
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 behavior and improves creativity and expertise.
Research deliverables and artifacts should be 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. Additionally, it 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 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.