Letting Business Objectives Guide Your Research
Although user research is a user-centered design practice, it can do more than just drive better user experiences. User research can also be instrumental in improving business results. Therefore, researchers should always consider how business objectives—in addition to UX considerations—could guide both test planning and the interpretation of results. Here are two examples.
When determining what types of users to interview, think about both what users would be most impacted by a product and the business opportunities that different user segments present. This understanding can help you to prioritize the user segments from which to recruit research participants.
Making design recommendations should involve more than simply applying UX design principles. You should also consider what design approach would bring greater business benefits. When choosing among a few equally valid design solutions, you should intentionally choose the one that leads to greater business benefits—for example, encouraging purchasing behavior.
Ensuring Conversations About User Research Happen Really Early
User-centered design is an integral part of product design and development. There can be no business success if you develop products that don’t speak to user needs. So, regardless of whether you plan to conduct formal user research, a conversation about user research should always happen at the earliest stage of product development. It should happen even before there is a design initiative. You should already be talking about research at the point when business strategy gets formulated.
The right way of introducing early-stage conversations about user research is not to frame the discussion around research. Rather, you should simply have discussions with business owners about users’ needs, the competitive landscape, business metrics, and perceived user pain points. If there is a knowledge gap around these topics, the need for user research naturally surfaces.
Thinking About Success Measures Before You Begin
Given that the intention of all user research is to drive certain product design or business outcomes, it is of paramount importance for user researchers to think about how to measure design success and incorporate such decisions in any research report. You should derive such success measures from in-depth discussions with the product managers and UX designers, so the whole team is committed to driving success based on the same criteria. Doing this helps demonstrate the value of user research to business leaders and, ultimately, to drive measurable improvements.
Measuring Success Qualitatively
You can measure the success of a UX design quantitatively or qualitatively. Some quantitative measures include click-through rates, transaction revenues, and registration rates. But it’s not always possible to measure the success of a user experience quantitatively. Plus, because numbers can be misinterpreted, qualitative measurements sometimes better reflect true improvements a UX design team makes after conducting user research studies. It’s easy to see the impact of qualitative improvements in a user experience—users probably find a user interface much less confusing, and they’re much better able to complete tasks. While limited sample sizes mean your observations are not statistically significant, they are important indicators of UX improvements.
Translating Insights into Actions: Develop Hypotheses First
For user research to deliver relevant insights, you need to think hard about what you want to explore, evaluate, and validate. It is not as simple as saying:
- “I’d like to know how to improve the usability of this mobile app.”
- “I want to measure whether this is a successful design.”
- “I want to know more about users’ mobile usage of an application.”
To get insights that translate into results, you should frame your business questions as well-defined hypotheses that you want to evaluate through your user research.
Instead of going into user research wondering how to improve usability, develop a few of your ideas into design alternatives that you believe would improve specific aspects of a product’s usability and test them. Instead of simply measuring whether a design works, focus on evaluating key areas that you think are user pain points. Instead of investigating users’ general behavior around mobile usage, develop some mobile application concepts that you hypothesize would address people’s mobile needs and take them to users for feedback.
Doing Research in an Agile Manner
Many perceive user research—and research in general—to be a rather formalized and systematic process. Consequently, organizations that focus on moving forward quickly with producing design deliverables often shun user research. While there’s certainly some truth in this perception, it’s possible to conduct user research in many different ways—some of which are very flexible and applicable within an agile development process.
A good example is the RITE (Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation) method, which allows multiple design and research iterations during just a few days of testing. Another example is persona development. Although the initial creation of personas requires a large, systematic effort, you can quickly update your existing personas by incorporating new insights about users to address the specific needs of your current design project. Thus, you don’t always need to take a formalized approach to developing personas.
Merging Qualitative and Quantitative Methods:
1 + 1 > 2
When developing a 360-degree understanding of user behavior, a great starting point is to think of user research in qualitative and quantitative terms. Qualitative research provides an in-depth understanding of user behavior and drives effective UX solutions. Quantitative research provides large-sample-size findings and lends lots of credibility to your insights. Whenever you are able to do more than one study on the same topic, try to plan at least one qualitative study and one quantitative study. A combination of these two methods gives you a very powerful truth-finding tool.
A typical way of combining these two methods is to conduct a qualitative study to develop an understanding of user behavior in an open-ended, exploratory manner; then to formulate a few hypotheses; and finally, to validate them through a follow-up quantitative study.
There are many different ways of combining these approaches. You can easily combine them even within a single study. For example, people typically view eyetracking as a hard-core quantitative method, because its explanatory power comes from aggregating user behavior across a large sample size. However, after an eyetracking session, you can always incorporate a think-aloud protocol to probe user motivations. Focus groups provide another example. Although they are certainly a qualitative technique, you can derive some conclusions from large sample sizes by aggregating the responses from many focus groups and leveraging quantitative techniques such as surveys.