User Research: How Studying End Users Helps Grow Your Business
Why has user research become such a crucial part of modern product development? The answer is simple. As product designers, developers, and founders, we want people to use and enjoy using our products.
Apart from the return on investment (ROI) gains that high-quality user experience brings, it feels good when your product is not only useful but enjoyable as well.
A lot of effort goes into creating products with great user experience, and one of the key components of this process is extensive and thorough user research.
In this article, we'll talk about why user research is a pillar of great products, what research techniques you can use, and when you should use them.
User Research and User-Centered Design
In order to create great products that users love, you have to put the user at the center of your development. User-Centered Design (UCD) is a framework that was developed specifically for that.
Simply put, UCD is a philosophy that ensures your development and design decisions have a user's best interest in mind at every stage of the design process.
Generally, there are four steps of the UCD process:
- Define the context of use: Understand and specify who will use your product, what environment they'll be using it in, and what their goals are.
- Define requirements: Gather product requirements from both business stakeholders and end users who will be using your product.
- Create design solutions: This is an iterative process of creating various visual deliverables, including wireframes, raw prototypes, high-fidelity prototypes, and finished user interfaces.
- Evaluate designs: Analyse and evaluate your design decisions through user testing with end-users.
These four steps follow a natural order, e.g. you can't design solutions without first gathering requirements from users and stakeholders, and you can't evaluate design solutions without first designing them.
They are also iterative, and during the design process, you'll constantly learn new user requirements, unveil new usage scenarios, and find areas of improvement for your products.
This is where user research comes into play. There can't be user-centered design without user research.
Properly done, user research informs every stage of the user-centered design process, making sure that users and their experience stay the top priority and no product alteration changes that.
Although UX designers try their best to anticipate user needs, their assumptions should be rigorously tested with real users.
User experience research involves a number of research techniques that help you understand your users, comprehend their goals, create appropriate design solutions, and effectively evaluate them.
It's UX researchers' goal to study user behaviour throughout the whole of product development, picking the most efficient research methodology for every scenario.
So let's talk about two main types of research and about research methods you can use to support and inform the user-centered design process.
Types of User Research
Although there are many ways to study and evaluate designs with the target audience, there are two types of user research available to a UX researcher: quantitative methods and qualitative methods.
Both have their pros and cons, and in order to get the most reliable feedback from users, it's better to combine various research techniques from both methods.
Qualitative Methods of User Research
Qualitative methods allow you to gain insights into user behaviour that are either hard or impossible to describe with numbers.
Qualitative methods include:
- User Interviews
- Usability Studies (like Teston's user tests)
- Diary Studies
- Focus Groups
- Participatory Design Sessions
Interviewing is a perfect method to elicit pain points from users, and understand their requirements for and attitude toward your product.
Although the information acquired through interviews is usually subjective and cannot be used as a single basis for action, interviews are great for building empathy towards your user base and understanding the basic needs of your target audience.
Interviews also help you create or polish user personas that serve as a specific representation of your user groups in the form of a fictional character. Those personas are used at every stage of the user experience design process.
For example, at Teston you can define very specific criteria for your test participants, including age, gender, occupation, etc., and this is where pre-tailored personas may come in handy.
User testing is one of the most common user research methods where you typically observe how users from the target audience interact with your product.
It's worth mentioning that you can perform user tests with a wide array of designs and not just the finished product.
You can either be present and observe people interacting with your designs in real-time (moderated user testing), or as we do at Teston, you can provide test participants with test tasks and let them complete tasks at their own pace with no facilitator present (unmoderated usability testing).
At Teston, we help you perform unmoderated usability sessions. We help you recruit quality candidates from your target audience, and we provide testing task templates specifically designed to improve the quality and clarity of user feedback for your products.
Diary studies are a less common research technique that allows you to gather user feedback over a long period of time (from a few days to a month or more).
Put simply, test participants have to record every experience relevant to the activities that your product is associated with, e.g. if you develop a finance app, a user will track any interaction with financial services she typically uses, as well as tracking her general finance activities such as payments, banking, etc.
Diaries are particularly helpful during the initial stages of the user-centered design process when you gather requirements from target users and try to understand their main needs and concerns.
Put simply, focus groups are a group version of one-on-one interviews where you interview several users at once. Given the dynamic of group conversations, focus groups generate unique insights on user expectations, pain points, and motivations.
Just like interviews, focus groups generate highly subjective, attitudinal data, and it's best to combine this research method with other techniques.
Participatory Design Sessions
Participatory Design Sessions are something that happens when you place several key stakeholders (business representatives, developers, UX designers, and users) in the same room.
Due to the variety of perspectives, such sessions allow you to not only generate unique product requirements but to counter-balance conflicting perspectives by finding common compromise solutions.
After all, one of the key goals of user research is to align business goals with user needs while ensuring a smooth and focused development process.
Quantitative Methods of User Research
Quantitative research methods allow you to gain a different perspective on your project. A few benefits of quantitative research include:
- Quantising the usability of your project, which can be valuable for presenting the results to business stakeholders who typically gravitate towards numeric data.
- Comparing versions of your product with the competition based on calculated usability metrics.
- Informing trade-off decisions that couldn't be settled with the data acquired through qualitative research.
Here are some of the common quantitative research techniques:
- Card Sorting: This is a technique used by user researchers to create mental maps of user navigation by allowing users to sort and group a number of unlabeled cards that contain various sections of the product's user interface.
It's typically used for drafting information architecture or navigation UI for websites and mobile apps.
- Tree Testing: This is a reverse card sorting technique used for evaluating existing navigation. Users organise labeled cards into pre-made navigation categories.
- A/B Testing: This is a quantitative research technique used to test two versions of the product between each other or the same version of a product against two different user groups.
Typically, it requires a huge sample size of users in order to get reliable data.
- Surveys: This involves asking users questions about the product's key metrics, such as satisfaction and perceived difficulty.
It typically comes in the form of questions with numeric answers, e.g. “How difficult was this task on a scale of 1 to 10?”
- Clickstream Analysis: This is a map of a user's clicks within your product. It's created in order to analyse a user's journey within various sections of your website and app.
- Click Testing: This provides a quantitative analysis of the most and least clicked areas in your product's UI in the form of visual heatmaps.
- Eyetracking: In this technique, specific equipment is used to analyse where your user looks when interacting with your product. It's typically used in conjunction with other methods, such as moderated and unmoderated user testing.
- True-Intent Study: This research technique gathers your users' intent on a quantitative basis, typically in the form of a single pop-up question when a user first enters your website or app.
It's important to note that some methods can be both qualitative and quantitative.
For example, surveys can be either personalised for a specific, narrow group of users and contain "why" and "how" qualitative questions, or they can be applied to a bigger audience in the form of scaled answers (e.g. rate the interface difficulty from 1 to 10).
Neither quantitative nor qualitative methods are superior to each other, and they're best used in combination to ensure reliable data is obtained via multiple sources and techniques.
Time to Test With User Research
Now that you know how important user research is for your overall user-centered design efforts, it's time to test. Pick the techniques and methods most appropriate for your environment and start recruiting users for your testing sessions.
If you want to save time on the recruiting process and get valuable insights into how people interact with your designs, try Teston.
We created a platform that takes the hassle out of user testing, and lets remote, unmoderated testing make your product better, improving the overall user experience of your projects.