3 covert strategies for high-impact UX research

‘Sacrificial prototypes’ are a way to quickly validate user needs.

Selecting the methodology for conducting research is crucial to the process and success of a project. Careful and considered determination must be made, the chosen framework can answer or inhibit the result (Crouch & Pearce 2012).

When things go well, good UX research can result in

  1. Intuitive products (lower training time for users)
  2. Efficient products (lower task completion time)
  3. Delightful products (increased user satisfaction)

When things don’t go well, poor UX research can result in

  1. Delayed time to market
  2. A research report no one will read
  3. A list of random user quotes without identified themes or synthesis

So…how do you ensure you get the information you need, to justify design decisions and maximise your investment?

Here’s three strategies for high-impact research.

1. Not just any Joe Blow

First off, choose your research participants with care. The insights you gather will influence the themes and direction of key features- ensure they correctly represent the user demographic. Be cautious about over simplifying a demographic based solely on gender and age. How people are influenced to make decisions and use a product will tell you more than their age group. Ever heard someone say, “I’ll give Customer X a ring, they’re great and I’m sure they’d be happy to be part of the research.”

Stop!

Before you involve engaged users of a product, proceed with caution. Super-users can build bias into your testing if they’re too brand loyal. It’s more efficient to source users with low engagement- they’ll be able to pinpoint themes quickly and build a list of pain points for you to validate with further research. Jumpstarting your project with defined ‘problem areas’ means you can go deeper, faster.

2. Method in the Madness

Now that you’ve decided on participants, you’ll need to establish the best method for getting the information. Will it be interviews? Activities? Shadowing? Contextual research? This is where good researchers can become complacent and choose methods they’re familiar with, instead of something new that might be better at unlocking insights.

When getting dressed, which arm do you put in first to your shirt sleeve? Exactly. You don’t know until you actually do it.

So, if you’re going to ask users how they perform a task, make sure you set them up with the practical materials to demonstrate their steps. ‘Sacrificial prototypes’ are a way to test whether what people say they do, and actually do are the same thing. Yes, they take time to put together, but you’ll get immediate feedback to determine whether features are worth having.

3. I’m not biased, you are!

Researchers form meaning from observation, this meaning is drawn from the ideologies, values and cultural background of the researcher (Denzin 2011, Crouch & Pearce 2012). Be aware of your own biases and build triangulation into your process. We’ve all been on projects where one random user quote becomes the guiding light and beacon of the entire design. Substantiate your theme with more than one hero example to ensure it’s not an outlier. Creating a matrix with research questions down the left side and methods (phone interviews, FTF interviews, hands-on activities with users, lo-fi prototypes, workshops, focus groups, quantitative surveys, etc.) across the top is a quick way to ensure decisions are validated by more than one method.

Applying these three research strategies to your next project will help create more intuitive, efficient and delightful products. Good luck!

REFERENCES:

Crouch, C & Pearce J 2012, ‘Thinking about Research: Methodology’, Doing Design Research, Berg, London pp. 55–63.

Denzin, N 2011, ‘Observations on observation: continuities and challenges’, The Sage handbook of qualitative research 4th ed. Sage, Thousand Oaks.

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