Every good feature starts with user research…

We all like to receive gifts, but sometimes the gift given to us doesn’t really fit us. The best gifts we will receive will be from the people who really know us.

When starting to design a product, website or feature, we must always start by thinking about who is going to use it, because if our target audience is satisfied, they will come back again and again, because good gifts are irreplaceable!

To get to know our target audience we will conduct user research, focusing on the behavior, needs, motivations and pain points of our users.

This information can be collected using different techniques, and the type of research we will perform will depend on the type of website, system or application we are designing, and the amount of resources we are willing to invest.

Why should you invest resources in user research?

When deciding on the amount of resources we will invest, we will take into account the fact that giving up quality user research can result in a loss of resources later, when we realize that our users are not satisfied. If we skip the research phase, the decisions we make regarding the product will not be data/research-based but will rely on intuitions and biases. If we do not consider our users during the design stages, we may cause frustration and confusion during use, which can cause users to abandon the product and the inability of potential users to start using it. We must always remember that we are not the users, no matter how well we think we know the product and how much we like the solution, we will not fully understand the problem until we understand the users, their mental models, prior knowledge, and background.

Research Methods

User research can be split into 2 main methods that complement each other:

  • Qualitative researchis research done with the aim of collecting information from the field in a direct, limited and deep way while focusing on the quality of the data collected. This research will help in deriving important insights such as at what stage users leave, what their habits are when using, what they are satisfied with, what frustrates them and what their goals are. Techniques that can be used for this research:
  • User interviews: We will conduct in-depth conversations with the current or potential users, understanding who the primary and secondary users are and ask them about their experience with the product or how they would like the product to be used by them. We will understand their background, role, goals and challenges. This is a relatively simple technique that will give us great value in order to design the best system for the users.
  • Usability testing: We will use this technique when we want to evaluate a specific solution that has been designed, defined scenarios for using the product and check how existing or potential users interact with the product. When we do not have enough resources or we want to test the product in front of a wider audience that is not necessarily our specific target audience, we can perform guerilla tests – impromptu and quick usability tests in front of passers-by. It is necessary to make sure that the subjects have a basic compatibility with the target audience in terms of technological knowledge and the work environments they are familiar with.
  • Observations: We will observe the behavior of the users in their natural environment when using the product.
  • Focus groups: We will invite a small group of users and ask them about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes about the product.
  • Quantitative research – a method based on the assumption that the world is objective and that hypotheses can be tested using statistical tools. With this method we will collect measurable data that will allow us to learn about usage patterns and the opinions of a large group of users. Techniques that can be used for this research:
  • Surveys: an effective technique when you want to get a broad picture of our users. Through surveys we can reach a large target audience and this is an opportunity to perform a more detailed user analysis. The surveys make it possible to get an indication of the prevalence of a position or phenomenon, but it must be remembered that the choices in surveys are usually limited and we may miss important information.
  • Eye tracking: technology that measures the movements of the eyes when using the product and makes it possible to understand where the user lingers and what attracts his attention. This method enables measurement and deriving insights in the users’ natural environment, and is very effective in order to examine the user’s way of orientation and the hierarchy of information we have created for the product.
  • Data analysis: gathering statistical information about the usage patterns of the users of the product, for example through “Google Analytics”. This data will provide us with quantitative information on the frequency of use of certain features, the percentage of abandonment, the amount of returning users, etc. and will allow us to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the product.

Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, the findings of the qualitative research may be influenced by the subjective interpretations of the researcher, and quantitative research will not provide in-depth insights only the big picture, therefore it is worthwhile to conduct an integrated study. This research can help neutralize biases and contribute to validating the findings, but on the other hand requires the use of more resources, control of both methods, and integration of findings.

The research results

From the information we collect, we will make sure that we understand the following points:

  • Who are my users?
  • What are their needs
  • What are their desires
  • What tasks do they perform and how?
  • How they would like to perform them

This information can be represented in several ways:

  • Personas:
    • A persona is a fictitious representation of the average user of our product, and is a product of the data we collected in user research we conducted. We may have several different personas using the product.
    • When we start designing the product, the personas will always be against our needs and we will consider their needs, goals, responsibilities and pains. Personas will help us understand who the users of the product are but not how they use the product.
  • User story:
    • Description of the process in which the users will use the product, even if it does not exist yet. The user stories will help us better understand the needs of the users, their motivations, and their background and will allow us to focus on designing an interface that will suit them in the best way. One of the ways to build user stories is by using a fixed structure:
    • “I as a [role] would like to be able [ability] to [goal]”. We will use this structure until we cover a The content of the product.
    • The user stories will help in understanding the users’ expectations of the product but will not describe how the users deal with different tasks in the product.
  • Task analysis
    • Through the interviews and observations we carried out we will gather information about the tasks that our personas are required to perform, whether they are physical or cognitive tasks. We will concentrate and rank these tasks according to importance, frequency, and complexity, so we can understand what are the main tasks we would like to focus on when designinh the interface in order to produce a better user experience.
    • In an in-depth task analysis, we will focus on 5 types of information:
    • Trigger: What prompts users to start their task.
    • Desired result: how users will know that the task has been completed
    • Basic knowledge: what the users are expected to know before they start the task.
    • Necessary knowledge: what the users actually need to know in order to complete the task.
    • Aids: what tools or information do the users use during the task.
    • This information will give us a wider background and allow us to better understand the types of tasks, and the means to carry them out.
  • User journey
    • In the user journey we will describe visually on a timeline the various stages that each persona will go through on the way to achieving the goal.
    • We will describe the user’s actions, thoughts and feelings so that we can locate the user’s pain points with the product and identify the areas in the product that we must focus on in order to improve the user experience.
    • A detailed user journey will help us in a deeper understanding of our users, this can be done on existing users where we will describe what is actually happening today and based on interviews, and also on future users where we will describe the future experience we aim for in our product.

From the user research we will conduct we will be able to arrive at many and varied products, not all of them will always be needed. When choosing between research products, the type of product, the stage we are in in terms of product development, and the information that will give us the most value for the next stages in the product’s life must be taken into account. In the end, the purpose of the products is to provide us with a complete picture of who our users are, how they use the product, what they experience when using it, and how we can characterize and design a product tailored to their needs.

In conclusion

User research can and should be done at all stages of product design, but at the beginning it is extremely important. We must understand well who our target audience is to avoid wasting resources for the wrong purposes. The needs of our users will always be of utmost importance, and even when our product is mature and loved by users we must make sure that we do not deviate from the path.

User research is the basis of a good user experience, and a good user experience will make them not want to replace your product.

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