In the user research stage, we focus on understanding the product itself first, the user’s behavior with the product, their needs, their pains, and their motivations for using our products.
Research is the key part of UX process because it prevents us from designing the wrong product. Also, research is considered as one of the key areas of UX itself because it is involved in all the stages of the UX process, so depending on the need for informations on a specific stage, we have to conduct research as many time as required. Imagine that we design a product that nobody wants to use just because we didn’t do the research; all our hard work, time, and money will be wasted.
There are tons of reasons why UX research is important; the following are some:
- It removes assumptions from the design process
- We will have a lot of data to back up our design process and work
- It will save our company and clients valuable time and money if it is done properly
- We don’t have to go back and forth fixing the mistakes that could have been avoided from the beginning, because the later in the product design process we discover that our assumptions are wrong, the more time, money, and resources it will cost us to fix it
When our research is done correctly, we will quickly discover the right requirements for the right people at the right time, because research affects our entire UX process from the conception of an idea up to the product’s delivery.
In the UX research stage, we have to provide reliable data insights that will help our product teams to make decisions. A comprehensive insight into the data can help us to build better, more useful, and resilient products for our customers.
The UX research phase is a proven and correct way to get more insight, pieces of information, and correct measurements to create a successful design solution.
There are a lot of different methods and techniques that can be used during the UX research process, but we can separate these methods based into two groups:
- Quantitative research
- Qualitative research
Consider the following diagram:
Quantitative research is research that can be measured numerically. Usually, here we are talking about the data that we understand and is valuable to us.
We have it on a statistical manner, because we gathered this data from people’s actions when using our product.
This data includes how many times they clicked on a specific button, how many times they interacted with our call to the action button, and which part of our product they were using more.
We can get this kind of information by including third-party software or even analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, and in the end, we can see the complete statistics on what users have been doing when using our product.
Qualitative research—often referred to as soft research—helps us to understand why people are doing the things they do. Usually, this kind of research happens via interviews or conversations with the users. For example, why they are switching our product on or off that way, why they cannot find that specific thing that they were looking for, and how they interact with our product.
The key to performing better qualitative research is observation–always observe the user’s actions in relation to your product.
As per the Nielsen Norman Group, the UX research process can also be separated into four different stages, as follows:
Each different research methodology falls into one of the preceding stages:
A good guide for selecting a specific UX research method is by knowing at the initial stage what you want to achieve by the end of the research, otherwise you will be gathering all that data without a specific goal.
The discover stage
In the discover stage, we, as a team, will try to figure out what pieces of the product we are going to build are missing, what information we need to get started, and what people actually want our product to solve for them.
In this stage, it is important that we validate and remove the assumptions, and then present correct and accurate data to our team.
Do not make the wrong conclusion. This stage is not the same as the first stage where we were just doing discovery and planning. In the first stage, we were trying to get an initial idea about the product from the client before we start planning for it; here, we are doing deeper research about the product itself, involving real users.
Usually, things to do during this stage are: conduct field studies, meet our users, have conversations with them, note their troubles with our product, watch how they solve the problem, ask what they need, and, most importantly, observe and listen to them.
Also, it is a good idea during this stage to perform interviews with our category of users and run diary studies to understand our user’s information needs and behaviors.
It is also good to interview the stakeholders to understand their business requirements, and interview other department teams as well by getting some answers from them, such as what is their most frequent problem, their worst problem, and what makes them angry or upset during the process of solving that specific problem.
Earlier, I mentioned that there are different methodologies that fall under each of these steps. In the discover phase, the top UX research methods most frequently used are as follows:
- Field study
- Diary study
- User interview
- Stakeholder interview
We conduct interviews with a real user in their space environment. By doing this, we are not only observing their actions, but also getting a better understanding of what kinds of user we are creating the product for. Here, we usually ask open-ended questions and extend them with additional questions to get to know the user’s behavior better:
A diary study, often referred to as Camera study, is a method where users log their daily activities to give us better insight into their behavior and needs. This method can be performed both by recording user behavior using a camera or by users writing their daily activities on paper:
User interviews are a great way to extract information from users to understand the user experience, the product’s usability, and ideation. Interviewing users requires a lot of effort and planning. Depending on how extensive the research is, you might spend several weeks preparing for the sessions, several days talking to your users, and several hours capturing and organizing your notes. Always give proper instructions to your tester, answer their question with a question when you run a test, and observe them as much as you can:
Usually, we need to interview the stakeholders to gather more information about the business strategy and understand the business requirements and constraints.
Stakeholder interviews can be considered as a really strong and powerful tool that can give us a lot of insights, data, and information about the category of the business that we will be working with. Also, it will help us to understand the business goals and stakeholder objectives.
You need to know that a stakeholder can be a person, group, or organization that has an interest in or concern with an organization or company that we are working with. Understanding the value of our business and the business market is an essential component for any product if we want to succeed. Stakeholder interviews allow us, as product designers, to learn more about the business and market that we are working on.
In order to conduct a successful interview, we need to plan, prepare our field guide, conduct our interviews, and, finally, document our findings.
The explore stage
In the explore stage, we use exploration methods to understand the problem we want to solve, design the scope, and address user needs properly. In this stage, we compare our product and its features with that of our competitors, do the design review, create user personas, and write user stories.
The following UX research methods fall into this stage:
- Competitive analysis
- Design review
- Task analysis
- Prototype feedback and testing
- Writing user stories
This method is used to determine how our product is performing as compared to our competitor’s product. The comparison can be on different aspects, for example, based on the ranking standing of products, their features, their content, or even the design elements across the product itself. We compare in-depth with a few competitors who are in the same market as us by looking at their strengths and weaknesses, the trends that they are following, and the patterns and other things that they are providing differently from us. Take a look at the following diagram:
We mentioned in the preceding UX research method that we will check our competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. This is common across all markets–so, while doing this, we have to understand that even our product has its strengths and weaknesses, but using the UX review method, we can help the team identify the weak spots in their product. The goal of any UI/UX review is to study goals, objectives, and behaviors to check whether they align with the company’s intended goals. User experience pertains to user behaviors and how people interface with a website or web application.
The purpose of personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of your key audience segments for reference. These representations should be based on qualitative and quantitative user research and web analytics. Remember, your personas are only as good as the research behind them. We will go deeper into creating a user persona in Chapter 5, User Profiles/User Personas. Take a look at the following diagram:
Task analysis is the process of learning about ordinary users by observing them in action to understand in detail how they perform their tasks and achieve their intended goals. To put it simply, task analysis is a step-by-step analysis of the user’s task, from their perspective.
The journey-mapping UX research method is a visualization of the process by which how people go through a number of steps to accomplish a specific goal. Usually, here, we try to understand their needs and pain points during the process when our user tries to finish that specific task.
In other words, journey-mapping starts by compiling a series of user goals and actions into a timeline skeleton. To begin, a journey map has two essential components when visualizing a user experience:
- Touchpoints: Also called actions, this is what our customer is doing and/or what is needed to get to the next step.
- Categories: This encompasses touch points and breaks up an experience into simple steps, as shown in the following diagram:
Prototype feedback and testing
Once you’ve built your prototypes based on the ideas you and your team generated, it’s time to gather feedback from the people you are testing these with. Optimizing how you gather feedback–and therefore learning from your prototypes and users–is essential to help you save time and resources in the prototype and test stages of the UX design process.
When we finish the prototype, it is always important to review it first, then, if needed, we can redefine the missing or incorrect parts and redo the prototype. A simple example is provided in the following diagram:
Writing user stories
At its core, a user story describes something that the user wants to accomplish using the software product. User stories originated as a part of the Agile and Scrum development strategies, but, for designers, they mainly serve as reminders of user goals and a way to organize and prioritize how each screen is designed. For Agile product teams, a user story is the gold standard for communicating product requirements to all team members. They’re brief, specific, and quickly understood. The following are some ways to test the user story:
- Is it something a real user would say?
- Does it help you to design and prioritize?
- Does it unnecessarily constrain possible solutions?
Take a look at the following diagram:
Card-sorting is a method used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a site. In a card-sorting session, participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them, and they may also help you label these groups. To conduct a card sort, you can use actual cards, pieces of paper, or one of the many online card-sorting software tools. Card-sorting is a great way to become familiar with information architecture and user-centered design. It’s cheap, reliable, and easy to set up. This is a technique where people take a bunch of stuff and organize it into groups that make sense to them. You analyze the grouping to create an information architecture. Card-sorting is typically done in three groups of five to six people. You can do it independently, but it is better to do it in groups, especially where there is a large amount of data:
The test stage
We use testing and validation methods to check the design during development and beyond to ensure that our product works well.
UX research methods usually involved in this stage are as follows:
- Qualitative usability testing (in-person or remote)
- Benchmark testing
- Accessibility evaluation
Qualitative usability testing
Usability testing is a widely used research method used to collect detailed and direct qualitative user feedback about our product. It’s as simple as inviting a user (or a potential user) from your target audience and showing them our product, giving them specific tasks, and monitoring what they are doing. If you do it right, you will get a bunch of useful and actionable insights. You will be surprised by how often the feature you consider to be one of the most straightforward things on your site turns out to be the most confusing for your target audience. That’s the point here–to see and feel the actual troubles of your users.
Benchmarking is the process of testing a product’s progress over time. This testing method is not cheap, but it’s efficient when you need to polish your product on all stages. This can be progress through different iterations of a prototype, across different versions of an application, and even across different sites–yours and your competitors. A lot of companies like to run benchmarking studies because they show actual data as it changes over time. It adds a quantitative dimension to the qualitative research you have already been doing, which can drive home your findings and add weight to your suggestions.
Accessibility is an important facet of the user experience and the searcher experience is one of its subsets.
Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed, and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality.
The listening stage
The listening stage during the complete UX design process will help us to understand existing problems and look for new issues, because we will be gathering data and monitoring the incoming information related to our product or market trends all the time.
To execute the listening stage, we need to perform the following:
- Search-log analysis
- Usability-bug review
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) review
Online surveys are commonly used by marketers, product managers, strategists, and others to gather feedback. There is a big chance that you have already been involved in one of them yourself before, but, most of the time, they are poorly executed. Surveys are increasingly becoming a more accepted tool for UX practitioners. And for using this type of method, the cost is really low, even free in most cases, because we have Google Forms and other software that is free to use and no effort to learn them is required.
Creating a great survey is like designing a great user experience. They can be a waste of time and money if the audience, or the user, is not at the center of the process. Designing for your user leads to the gathering of more useful and reliable information.
The analysis of site-search logs is one of the biggest missed opportunities in UX research. Much emphasis is placed on external search optimization (getting the visit), but less attention is paid to on-site-search optimization (serving the visitor). Web-wide search engines can provide a website’s search statistics–that’s the outside view of your search traffic and shows which terms and websites drive traffic to your site.
Recruit people for future research and testing and actively encourage people to join your pool of volunteer testers. Offer incentives for participation and make signing up easy to do via your website, your newsletter, and other points of contact.
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