4 Great Resources for User Experience Research

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Previously, we’ve described traditional and unconventional resources for user experience research. In this post, we discuss early-stage guerrilla research, what to avoid, and techniques for gaining a deeper understanding of users.

A Brief Guide to Guerilla User Experience Research

Patrick Neeman offers a useful roadmap as he identifies questions to answer before designing anything. These questions fall into three categories:

  • Understand the user. Neeman begins with the standard question, that is who is the user and what problem are we solving for them. He then advised proceeding with provisional personas. These personas are lightweight. At this stage, the personas need not be 100% accurate: “Prioritize learning over correctness.”
  • Understand the context. Write an implementation-free scenario, ideally 500 words or less. The goal here is to:
  • Identify the main steps users will when performing a specific task.
  • Understand how other actors beyond your target users might interact with your product.
  • Identify other processes or software, such as Microsoft Outlook, that your target audience might use in conjunction with your product.
  • Understand existing internal and external tools. Before designing a new product, review your existing products to find out if they have features that will address the problem you are trying to solve. Then, review other products on the market. Do they already meet your user’s needs? “Product Managers call this competitive analysis. I call this, ‘Use Google.’” Writes Neeman in his typical, pithy style.

The goal here is not to skip traditional user experience research. The idea is to learn as much as you can before starting this research: “Yes, during your user research you’ll uncover other applications that they use, but if you do this, you’ll have a good baseline to start from, which is more than most products have.”

What to Avoid

Author and UX Researcher Jim Ross offers useful responses to The Worst Ideas I’ve Heard for User Research. These bad ideas include offshoring user research, hiring someone off the street to moderate usability tests, conducting research in conference rooms, not explaining to users who the observers are, and skipping research reports.

UX professionals already know why these are bad ideas. The trick is to tactfully explain these problems to stakeholders. Ross offers specific talking points while also outlining where UX researchers can feel comfortable accommodating stakeholder demands without imperiling the integrity of the research.

Getting More from Ethnographic Research

In 7 Simple Ways to Get Better Results from Ethnographic Research, Teo Siang and Rikke Dam describe the challenge of ethnographic research: “the main one being that it’s not a quantitative process. You don’t end up with neat numbers, graphs, and figures. Instead, it’s a qualitative process, which involves producing a great deal of unruly data that is hard to summarize.”

Siang and Dam offer seven ideas to help user experience researches glean more from ethnographic research:

  1. Diversity Matters: Aim for team and participant diversity. Your team should include people of different ages, ethnicities, genders, and educational and professionals backgrounds. Diverse teams provide diverse perspectives. The same applies to study participants.
  2. Consider Your Subjects: Don’t assume that all participant share the same mindset. Delve into in each person’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
  3. Give People a Reason to Help You: Develop rapport with the subject. When study participants feel comfortable with the moderator and observers, they are more likely to feel at ease with the research process.
  4. Let People Explain Why They Feel or Do Something: Give users time and space to perform a task and describe their feelings about the interaction.
  5. Keep an Eye on the Physical Context: Take photos or video of the user’s environment. Identify potential obstacles to completing a task. For example, a technician wearing thick, rubber gloves will likely struggle with a touch screen.
  6. Don’t Start with Solutions in Mind: Conduct the research first and then derive solutions from this research,.
  7. Map Insights and Check for Objectivity: Each person on the research team generates ideas separately. Next, the team places similar ideas in groups to identify possible themes and patterns.

Follow these steps to decrease the chances of bias influencing research findings and increases what can be learned from users.

Spreading User Experience Awareness Throughout Your Organization

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In Deep Awareness of the Current Experience UX guru Jared Spool cites the common complaint by UXers that others in the organization do not empathize with users: “But how could they? When do they get exposed to the users’ current experience with the product or service? If they aren’t exposed, they can’t possibly form any empathy for those users.” In other words, UXers should have more empathy for their colleagues.

When the organization is small, say two to three people, executives are in touch with all aspects of the business. As the organization, grows, however, executives gradually become disengaged from users. Spool refers to this dynamic as the ‘buildup of experience insulation.”

Spool goes on to explain how UX leaders in the organization can break through this insulation and that it all begins with a serious user experience research program. It’s all part of making deep awareness a habit.

By answering key questions before starting design, avoiding common research pitfalls, focusing on effective ethnographic research techniques, and spreading awareness of UX throughout your organization, you’ll be on your way to conducting useful, actionable user experience research.

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