The research done in the industry is very important. The people who work in the industry ask questions and take notes so that they can learn more about their target audience. They then use this information to improve their work.
UX research, also called design research, helps us understand our target audience and their needs, goals, and mental models. It informs our work and makes it better.
This guide covers the basics of design research, from interviews and observations to usability testing and A/B testing. Readers will learn how to use these design research techniques in their work, and improve experiences for all users.
What Is User Research?
User research is when a company collects data to improve product design and user experience by learning about how actual users use a product.
User research is different from market research in that market research typically involves getting the public’s sentiments about an industry, while user research gathers feedback from people using and interacting with your product, even if it’s not yet finished.
There are various types of user research, from eye-tracking experiments to user interviews, which collect different kinds of data, either qualitative (a survey taken after using a product) or quantitative (collecting analytics data between two different versions of the same sign-up flow). Understanding how to utilise these different types of user research to test hypotheses is how you can find the valuable UX insights you’re looking for.
UX research is generally used to learn about specific user groups and their needs. However, research can also be done to understand the business goals of a project. UX research refers to the various investigative methods used to gain insight and context for the design process. It did not develop out of some other field, but has rather been adapted from other forms of research. Many techniques used in UX research have been borrowed from academic sources, market researchers, etc. However, there are still some types of research that are fairly unique to the UX field. UX research is typically used to learn about specific user groups and their needs. However, it can also be used to understand the business goals of a project.
The main goal of design research is to inform the design process from the perspective of the end user. This means that the research focuses on the needs of the user and not on the personal preferences of the designer. Design research is important because it allows us to design products and services that meet the needs of the user instead of just designing for ourselves.
There are two parts to UX research: gathering data, and then synthesizing that data to improve usability. In the beginning stages of a project, design research is mostly focused on understanding the project requirements from stakeholders, and learning about the needs and goals of the end users. To do this, researchers will conduct interviews, collect surveys, observe people, and review existing literature, data, or analytics. Then, throughout the design process, the research will shift to focus more on usability and sentiment. To test this, researchers may conduct usability tests or A/B tests, interview users, and generally test assumptions that will improve the designs.
You can also divide UX research methods into two sections: those that are quantitative and those that are qualitative.
- Quantitative research is any research that can be measured numerically. It answers questions such as “how many people clicked here” or “what percentage of users can find the call to action?” It’s valuable in understanding statistical likelihoods and what is happening on a site or in an app.
- Qualitative research is sometimes called “soft” research. It answers questions like “why didn’t people see the call to action” and “what else did people notice on the page?” and often takes the form of interviews or conversations. Qualitative research helps us understand why people do the things they do
Most researchers are capable of conducting a wide variety of techniques, though they may specialize in specific types. All user researchers collect valuable information that helps design in an informed, contextual, user-centered manner.
Why Is User Research Worth Collecting?
It’s valuable to collect users’ opinions because they can identify issues that designers who have been working on an app or product since its inception may not be aware of.
Spool cites an example where a single button change in the checkout process led to an increase of $300,000,000 in sales that year.
The e-commerce company conducted user research to improve their customer experience. They discovered that most users hated having to sign up before making a purchase. Users preferred being given the option to buy without remembering their email address and password from before.
Even a large company can fail to improve a basic element of their product.
User research allows you to compare your design assumptions to reality. You might find that some of your assumptions are correct, some are incorrect, and others could go either way depending on the user group you’re talking to.
However, by simply doing the research, you can get a diversity of views telling you how to improve. Using this data, you can:
- Find and fix UI and UX mistakes
- Create personalized user experiences based on different personas or target audiences
- Discover new feature ideas or patches for users to get even more value from your product
- Develop products with a user-centered design framework
You can do all of this if you know how to do user research well. Let’s walk through it.
How to Conduct User Research in 3 Steps
To conduct user research effectively, you need to follow three steps: formulating clear hypotheses, designing a well-defined experiment, and analyzing your data to uncover user insights. By taking these steps, you can easily learn from your users and improve your product.
Define your research goals and hypotheses
The first step in user research is to develop a research plan that will help you achieve your research goals. This plan should include specific hypotheses that you will test.
If your onboarding completion rate is lower than you want it to be, your research goal could be to better understand why this is the case. After studying your current onboarding flow, you may come to the conclusion that it takes too long to complete, causing users to lose motivation and try a different product instead.
The next step is to design your experiment with your research goal and hypothesis in mind.
Pick user research methods and run your experiment
There are many methods of conducting user research, and choosing the right one for your goal is one of the most important decisions you will make during this process.
The method of user research you choose should be based on what kind of data you need to either confirm or disprove your hypothesis. If, for example, you are testing a new brand, an interview might be the best way to get the qualitative user research you need to support your decision. On the other hand, if you are testing two different landing pages to see which one converts better, an A/B test might be more appropriate.
Some common types of user research methods include:
- Card sorting: Users are given cards with different topics and asked to organize them in groups that make sense together. This method is perfect for improving the information architecture and navigational efficiency of your product.
- Eye-tracking: Users’ eye movements are tracked to see where their eyes focus on a screen. This method is perfect for observing user behaviors and understanding what catches a user’s attention first or most. You could use this information to build a more intuitive UI or better-optimized web pages.
- A/B testing: Two different pages or flows are given to two unique groups of users to navigate through. After, you compare how both groups performed to determine whether the A or B variation was more effective at whatever you were testing.
- Online Surveys: Online surveys or questionnaires are great for gauging user opinions of specific questions about your product. You could use them to ask about new feature ideas, opinions on new changes, or how their day was if that’s useful information to you.
- User interviews: User interviews let you get more in-depth than a simple online survey. They’re perfect for collecting qualitative research and understanding user needs and pain points. They can even be conducted in focus groups or while users interact with your product to get the freshest opinions on your UX.
- Usability testing: Users are observed while they accomplish specific tasks with your product. Guerrilla testing is also a kind of usability test, which involves approaching potential users in their normal environment and asking them to try either the product or specific features. These tests are best used for finding UI flaws and improvements.
We could create an A/B test to compare a shorter version of our onboarding flow against the original. Additionally, we could add a short online survey to get more data on how users felt about the two onboarding experiences.
No matter how you set up your experiment, be clear about what a successful outcome looks like to you. For our example A/B test of a new user’s onboarding experience, we might primarily look at completion rates to see which variation performed best. Knowing your success criteria upfront will also make it easier to analyze and share your results later.
There are many types of UX research, from in-person interviews to unmoderated A/B tests. All of these types of research come from the key methodologies of observation, understanding, and analysis.
Learn to observe the world around us in order to research. This is similar to how beginning photographers need to learn how to see. They must notice nervous tics that may reveal their interviewees are stressed or uncertain. Also, they should be able to pick up on seemingly minor references which may reflect long-held beliefs or thoughts that should be further probed.
Although it may seem like a straightforward task, observation can be hampered by unconscious biases that everyone possesses. To be able to identify patterns across different groups of people, design researchers train themselves to take notice and make records.
User researchers strive to understand how people think about and use products, often by observing them. Unlike disagreements among friends or family, researchers are not trying to understand a particular issue someone may have, but rather to understand how people in general think about and use products. This understanding is captured through mental models, which are frameworks that explain how people think about something.
The term “mental model” refers to the image that somebody has in their mind when they think of a particular phrase or situation. For example, somebody who owns an SUV will likely have a different mental model of a “car” than somebody who owns a smart car. The mental model affects the decisions we make; for example, if both car owners are asked “how long does it take to drive to Winnipeg,” they will give different answers based on the gas mileage of their respective vehicles.
Design researchers need to understand the mental models of the people they interview or test in order to recognize when they are speaking in shorthand and to be able to design accordingly.
The research itself can be valuable, but to use the insights to inform design, the research needs to be analyzed and presented to a larger team. The analysis is the process by which the researcher identifies patterns in the research, proposes possible rationale or solutions, and makes recommendations.
A few ways to analyze data from user research include making profiles of hypothetical users (personas), imagining how they would use the product (scenarios), or representing statistics and user behavior with charts and graphs. Although the techniques here are focused on conducting research, keep in mind that the research is only useful if it’s accessible to others. It’s not helpful if it’s locked away or forgotten when moving on to design.
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