user experience research

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“Crafting a user experience without user research is basically educated guesswork,” says Jonathan Deesing of Cvent. Often companies feel user research is a department that costs extra money and slows development timelines for results that have a mysterious, undefined value. New products have to get designed and built but user research isn’t a necessity. Here are some reasons why user experience research should be required for every new production introduction.

Reasons to do User Experience Research

Apurvo Ghosh in his blog says, “To change the mindset of your stakeholders from being naysayers to being advocates for user research, you must help them understand how research can add value to their product and that learnings from user research are an indeispensable asset to a product team.” User research provides an essential foundation for design strategy. It helps you to create an optimal product for users and most importantly, you’ll have the data to back your strategy and design decisions. User experience research enables you to create designs that are valuable to users and efficient to use, ensures users can complete their tasks without making errors, decreases the learning curve for your product by making it easy to learn and use, lets you identify early adopters, validates your hypotheses and helps you understand your ROI.

Where to Start

The Nielsen Norman Group, a user experience research consulting firm, identifies the four stages to good research design and methods to support that analysis:

  • Discover: Determine what is relevant to users. Utilize contextual inquiries in user’s own environment or diary studies to track actual behavior.
  • Explore: Examine how to address all of the user’s needs. Card sorting can categorize user’s needs and wants and structure development in a logical way, and customer journey maps highlight crucial moments in user’s experience.
  • Test: Evaluate your designs using usability testing and accessibility evaluations.
  • Listen: Utilize surveys and questionnaires to track how users feel about your product and analytics to measure traffic and create definitive report

Research Methods to Use

Another way of looking at these steps in the user experience research process is breaking it down into qualitative research and quantitative research. Qualitative methods are usually interviews and ethnographic field studies to get an in-depth understanding of why users do what they do. Quantitative research uses more structured methods like surveys and other measurable data collection to test what users really do and test the assumptions discovered in the qualitative research. You can think of this as attitudinal, listening to what users say, versus behavioral which is seeing what users do.

Competitive analysis, focus groups, surveys, contextual inquiry, card sorting, journey mapping, the creation of personas and scenarios, participatory design, joint application development sessions, A/B testing, design critiques, eye tracking and usability testing are all user experience research techniques that can be used. Determining the constraints of your projects which can include time to market and cost to do the research, will help determine the tools to use in a high-quality user experience research plan.

As Ashley Sewall, Senior User Researcher at Cvent, says, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, just get data.”

Interested in a career in user experience research? Contact Smith Hanley Associates’ Executive Recruiter, Lindsey Bartlett at [email protected].


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