Begin with an Expert Review
With the right combination of expert review and usability research, you can make the most of a limited research budget. Expert review techniques such as heuristic evaluation, cognitive walkthrough, and accessibility evaluation are quicker and less expensive ways of finding user interface problems. Obviously, these techniques are far less time consuming and expensive than methods that involve users. Expert review complements rather than replaces usability research by identifying the obvious problems with a user interface. Applying best practices and experience, a skilled usability professional can find and eliminate many usability and design problems, saving your user research budget for questions that only actual users can answer.
Use Existing Data
For Web sites, you may already have access to a wealth of information your company has gathered, including site metrics, search logs, and other tools that record visitor’s response to its user experience. Newer tools like Click Tale, Tea Leaf, Crazy Egg, and others provide a variety of visualizations of user behavior, including click heat maps, attention heat maps, and the ability to replay user sessions on a Web site. Although the data from these tools is somewhat limited and can be difficult to interpret, it can help point you toward usability issues that need further investigation through user research. Starting with this existing data gives you a headstart in narrowing the focus of your research.
Break Large Research Projects into a Series of Smaller Ones
If a large-scale user research project is financially out of reach, re-imagine it as a series of smaller, less expensive projects. Properly conceptualized and sequenced, these small projects can bring immediate value and, over time, still lead you to the larger understanding you need. This technique works especially well for teams that are continually improving a user interface, whether for a Web site or an application. For those who are paying for the research, it can seem less risky to commit to smaller projects, one at a time, rather than committing to one large project.
Limit the Scope and Shorten the Sessions
As user researchers, we are naturally curious and prefer to do exhaustive research. We want to get as much as we can out of every session. However, trying to pack as much as you can into your research sessions can add exponentially to the amount of data you’ll need to consolidate and analyze. With time and budget limitations, it’s better to narrow your focus to the most important information you need to gather. The tighter your focus, the less time your study and analysis will require.
Limiting scope also allows you to have shorter sessions, and you’ll end up with fewer notes to type up and analyze, which lets you turn around the results much more quickly.
Do Your Own Recruiting
Save money by recruiting participants from your Web site, screening them with a questionnaire, and saving their information in a participant database. Intercept site visitors with an invitation to participate in future usability studies. Your site can immediately take those who express interest to a screening questionnaire that saves their responses to your database. Over time, you can build up quite a large pool of potential participants on which you can draw, without incurring the expense of using a recruiting company.
Include Fewer Participants
Cut down the number of participants in each study. You may have to settle for fewer participants than you’d like, but some research is better than none. For example, you could do guerilla usability testing, conducting iterative rounds of usability testing with five participants in each round. The advantage of limiting the number of participants in each round is that you can conduct more iterations of research and continually build upon the knowledge you’ve gained previously.