Meet Joanna, a User Experience Designer at Microsoft. Today Joanna sheds light on five important habits to practice while conducting user research. Use these tips to ensure your research efforts are effective and not wasted.
There’s plenty of misunderstanding around user research, whether it’s the concept of validation or one-off anecdotes being thrown around as concrete evidence for a product decision.
As designers, you may be lucky enough to have a dedicated UX researcher on your team, or otherwise, be in the role of understanding, empathizing and communicating user findings yourself.
Through experience, I have learned that user research is a hidden superpower when used in combination with design. If you want to make better design decisions, start with research.
But with great powers, come great responsibilities. One unfortunate outcome after all the effort that goes into user research is that the findings fall onto deaf ears.
Here are some simple habits to help you make the most out of your next research effort.
1. Ensure research insights are actionable
Understand the actionable part of your research:
- Does your team have budget to take action? If the answer is no, your role might be to make a case for why more budget is necessary.
- Are there core features that your target customers must have?
- Are you timing the studies so your research results have maximum impact?
Start your process with finding needs and gaps versus selling solutions.
Reporting is half the effort. Analysis paralysis can be an uphill battle (for that part of us that likes to wade through all the data).
Takeaway: In this age of information overload, too many meetings and cluttered inboxes, lead with ways for your audience to empathize, prioritize, and take action.
2. Good research should narrow the gap to the customer
There’s ways to make the process of learning from research more personal: you can add a mix of real stories along with data, invite as many cross-discipline team members to be involved (while being practical about their time), and avoid the dreaded information dump at the end of a process by giving bite-sized updates.
Good presentation design matters. The presentation design shouldn’t overwhelm the information. Instead, incorporate the right image, visual, or video clip rather than using a page full of text. Smaller chunks of information can make findings more palatable.
It’s easy to get derailed by subjective opinions during share-outs (i.e. I hate this shade of blue, I liked the old way better, etc.).
Takeaway: Focus the product discussion around the customer, the hypothesis, and how well a proposed solution ultimately adds value to the customer.
3. Anticipate that things will go wrong
With Murphy’s Law, things that go could wrong, will.
First, determine the right questions — what can feasibly be answered or can’t be answered with research and given method.
Second, remember to over-recruit participants, assuming there will be no-shows, and that some people might just not be a good fit for the study even with a careful screener. Be wary of scope creep from too many stakeholders.
With any live session, there may be issues with call quality, connection or video. Try to have a backup for prototypes, such as a simple slideshow presentation. Make sure to pilot the sessions as it’s easy to miss things once you’ve begun feeling comfortable with the content.
Takeaway: Fresh eyes are helpful to check for leading questions and unnecessary jargon. Have another researcher check that your questions are answerable, neutral, and clear.
4. Moderate with the audience in mind
Ramp up your question difficulty, to help someone get adjusted to the conversation.
The experience of sharing feedback on a product is not always natural. You have to speak your thoughts out loud, to a stranger (who might be rapidly taking notes), sometimes over the internet.
Your role as a researcher is to set expectations for how the session will go and make the person on the other side feel as comfortable as they can be given the situation.
Takeaway: Note the contradictions between behavior and what people say. People enjoy helping others and are generally agreeable by nature. They will try to answer the question you ask and give you the answers you want (even if the question is poorly constructed).
5. Track the core questions
Grouping questions under themes can help you to solve multiple problems in fewer actions.
Note whether you’re trying to understand “why” (qualitative) vs. “how many, how much, how often” (quantitative) questions. There’s a bias toward generalizing big data because of the numbers involved can feel impressive and fail-proof—surveying 500 people seems like a great thing as opposed to just doing interviews with 5 subject matter experts.
Yet without understanding the “why” behind actions, observing and listening for needs beyond what is obvious, big data can become a crutch for speculating that we already know what we’re looking for.
Takeaway: At the end of the day, it’s ok to end up with more questions, as long as they are better questions.
The process of continual learning is a necessary part of healthy product development. Designers can benefit by learning from user researchers, and vice versa. Try these habits to make sure your research efforts aren’t wasted!
- A UX designer’s guide to interpreting human behavior
- The biggest mistakes I made as a new UX Designer
- 11 tips for presenting your UI/UX designs to non‑designers