Both qualitative and quantitative methods of user research play important roles in product development. Data from quantitative research—such as market size, demographics, and user preferences—provides important information for business decisions. Qualitative research provides valuable data for use in the design of a product—including data about user needs, behavior patterns, and use cases. Each of these approaches has strengths and weaknesses, and each can benefit from our combining them with one another. This month, we’ll take a look at these two approaches to user research and discuss how and when to apply them. Read More
Editor’s note: Since writing this column, Steven has done additional user research and has updated his design guidelines for mobile phones accordingly. Read his latest column on this topic: “Design for Fingers, Touch, and People, Part 1.”
As UX professionals, we all pay a lot of attention to users’ needs. When designing for mobile devices, we’re aware that there are some additional things that we must consider—such as how the context in which users employ their devices changes their interactions or usage patterns.  However, some time ago, I noticed a gap in our understanding: How do people actually carry and hold their mobile devices? These devices are not like computers that sit on people’s tables or desks. Instead, people can use mobile devices when they’re standing, walking, riding a bus, or doing just about anything. Users have to hold a device in a way that lets them view its screen, while providing input.
In the past year or so, there have been many discussions about how users hold their mobile devices—most notably Josh Clark’s.  But I suspect that some of what we’ve been reading may not be on track. First, we see a lot of assumptions—for example, that all people hold mobile devices with one hand because they’re the right size for that—well, at least the iPhone is.  Many of these discussions have assumed that people are all the same and do not adapt to different situations, which is not my experience in any area involving real people—much less with the unexpected ways in which people use mobile devices. Read More
If you break user research down to its essential steps—watching people perform their tasks and interviewing them—it sounds deceptively easy. However, as anyone who has conducted user research knows, it involves much more than that, and it’s a lot harder than it looks. In this two-part column, I’ll discuss some of the biggest mistakes people make when planning and conducting user research and how to avoid them.
Conducting General User Research Without Any Focus
If you have all the time and money in the world, embarking on a user-research study with the vague goal of learning about a product’s users is a fine idea. However, in the real world, you’ll rarely have the luxury to pursue such broad, undefined user-research goals. So, unless you have a lot of time, money, and a limitless number of participants, doing general, unfocused research produces general, unfocused findings. Such research rarely elicits enough information to draw useful conclusions. Read More