User research is a powerful method to gather evidence and insights for better user experiences, here’s a run down of how it can help you
User research can give you the evidence and information you need to make informed UX design choices. No designer should make a stab in the dark when it comes to crafting successful user experiences.
When you investigate how your users use your mobile app or website, you will be able to empathize and provide relevant solutions to them.
With a combination of testing tools, like those integrated with Justinmind, and potent user research methodologies, you’ll be soon on your way to creating pleasurable user experiences based in reality, not fantasy.
In this post we’ll give a run down of what user research is and how it can benefit you as you make your way through your design process.
What is user research?
User research is an area of UX design where UI and UX designers investigate problems through a series of different research methods. The idea is to understand users’ behaviors and motivations so that the designer can create the most appropriate solutions and, hopefully, boost the user experience.
These methods can range from simple observation, usability testing, surveys and interviews to card sorting, heuristic evaluations and prototyping. We’ll go more into the methods further down the article.
The type of problem which a designer is trying to solve will often lend itself to particular user research methods.
For example, you might survey a group of people about a mobile app idea you have before you embark on creating a prototype to gauge whether or not your idea has any validity among your target audience.
User research is powerful because it can embolden your UX design choices with evidence and this can save time on projects, reduce costs and reworks. Did you know that 50% of a programmers’ time during projects is spent on rework? It’s avoidable with a little user research.
Since research is an ongoing process, the methods you use may appear at various stages of your design process – user research isn’t confined solely to usability testing.
Why carry out user research?
Aside from the fact that user research is a ton of fun, there are other reasons as to why you would want to do it.
Take user-centered design. UCD is a process which focuses on a deep understanding of who will be using your product.
That means understanding and empathizing with your users, their tasks as well as the environments in which they interact with your products or services. All of this knowledge helps to enhance the user experience. It’s an iterative approach which relies heavily upon user research.
Other benefits of user research include:
- Project development clarity
- Understanding users’ mental models
- Knowing which features to prioritize
- Create more relevant designs
User research methods in UX design
There are many ways to carry out research for your UX design projects. More commonly you’ll come across the following methods:
Observation is more than just looking, it’s looking with empathy. It’s a method of data collection which seeks to find out what is going on.
Observation is vital when you’re doing user research. Observation allows us to notice patterns. When we notice patterns, such as our users repeating the same error, we begin to learn and anticipate these patterns which help us to design better. Be sure to take notes.
Observations can lead to discovery and means the UX designer or researcher does not have to make random guesses or assumptions.
A/B testing is a very common user research method and is used not just in UX design but in marketing, too. It takes two possible choices and shows us which choice users make. These two options can range from the color of your call-to-action button to the position of a link in an email to the type of copy you use.
If you’re stuck between two choices then an A/B test can help you make an informed decision. How it works is through showing each version to the same number of users then analyse which choice fared better to accomplish your desired goal.
If you want to understand your users strengths and weaknesses, what better way than to ask them through a series of interview questions?
Interviews are cheap and easy to conduct for even the novice UX researcher. Simply whip up a script and go through it with a user. During your interviews, you can gather a lot of important information that can inform your design process.
You can get information on your users’ background, their familiarity with technology, how they use your products, their objectives and motivations and, crucially, their pain points.
It’s worth remember, though, that there are limitations to this technique. What people say and what they do are often world’s apart.
Crafting a good survey takes time and requires a lot of thought. For example, ensuring you have worded the questions properly to get relevant information from the users.
Surveys give you the opportunity to explore why people use your product, what their experience was like as well as evaluating the usability of the product.
You can use them to mitigate risk as well as offer stakeholders confidence in your design work.
Card sorting is used to evaluate the information architecture, workflow or menu structure of a website.
It doesn’t require a lot of effort to get involved in card sorting. You just need a researcher, a test subject and some paper (or card sorting software).
You’ll traditionally ask the test subject to organize the content in a way that makes sense to them.
Benefits to card sorting, as a user research method, are that you give users the power to build the structure of your website. Card sorting gives your users the chance to organize the content of your homepage and label the categories and navigation. This can be helpful as it will be your users who will be using the product.
Usability testing is a research method where you test your users as they use your product. Usually you’ll have a script and a workflow and you’ll have identified the specific areas you want to go through with your test subject.
A range of different usability testing methods exist such as A/B testing, heatmaps and interactive prototypes. These methods crossover with user research methods because testing itself is a form of user research.
User research and prototyping
Let’s say you’ve made an interactive prototype in Justinmind. Bravo! Is it usable? You can find out in no time.
Justinmind is integrated with usability testing tools like CrazyEgg and User Testing so you can get real life feedback instantly on your designs.
You can share your prototypes with other people. Sharing your prototype lets others leave comments on UI components which you can use to iterate upon.
A firm understanding of what user research is and the methodologies involved in carrying out research can only serve to help designers as they justify their choices. There are good reasons why user research should have a firm place in your design process, especially if you want to create great user experiences.