What Is User Research? Definition and Overview
User research, which is also referred to as design research or UX research, consists of a wide range of systematic studies surrounding your target population.
It involves understanding users’ needs and problems by employing various methods such as interviews, field studies, usability tests, surveys, customer feedback, and observation. These methods acquire the best possible insights that can be used to make excellent designs.
Your product design derives its inspiration from user research. In fact, it acts as a point of reference to the development team to build a user-friendly product. User research evaluates your solution and measures your impact.
Keep reading to learn more about how to use user research for your business.
What Are the Types of Methods Used for User Research?
Qualitative and quantitative are the two types of research methodologies in user research.
Qualitative user research is in-depth and exploratory in nature. It provides an understanding of why the user behaves the way they do. It is difficult to calculate this data using statistical methods. Methods such as interviews and field studies are a part of qualitative research.
Since user research acquires a lot of non-numerical data, it is important to handle it with extreme care.
On the other hand, quantitative user research is quantifiable. It is gathered structurally and objectively. It helps understand what the users do or how they behave.
Methods such as surveys and experimental conditions are examples of quantitative research methodology. Since this type of data is objective, it does not provide in-depth insights about the reasoning for the user’s behavior.
Apart from these two, user research can be approached in two ways – attitudinal and behavioral.
In the attitudinal user research approach, the researcher carefully listens to what the user has to say. This is usually done through interviews. However, there may be problems that the user has not verbalized through the interviews or is not consciously aware of. Such problems become beyond the researcher’s reach.
In the behavioral user research approach, the researcher observes the actions and behavior of the user. This is usually done through field studies or naturalistic observation. However, it is easy to misinterpret the behavior purely based on observation. In some cases, an observer’s bias may also play a contaminating role.
The best way to understand a design problem is to gather user research through a blend of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies along with attitudinal and behavioral approaches.
All methodologies have their own sets of pros and cons. Nevertheless, they can be used to accomplish different goals.
The type of method you choose depends on the kind of problems you are catering to, the type of project you are assigned, your budget, your time limit, and practical concerns.
Why Do You Need User Research?
Irrespective of what product idea you have if you don’t know what your target population is then it’s pretty much a wasted effort.
Before your product launch, user research helps identify what kind of people would be interested in buying or using your product.
Apart from that, user research also helps you find users who give valuable feedback on your product.
Imagine you found your target users but your product doesn’t cater to their needs. Do you think you can make enough sales? Probably not.
Finding your target user is not helpful by itself. What is also important is that you understand them.
Once you understand your target user, it becomes easier to know their issues and build products that solve those issues. This way, you can build highly relevant products.
Remember, the more relevant your product is to your target market, the more successful it will be.
If you’re at a store, would you buy toothpaste with a traditional tube or toothpaste powder for which you have no idea what purpose it serves? If you buy traditional toothpaste, your behavior is like the majority.
The ease of usage is very important while launching a product. User research is really important because it lays the foundation for a design concept and ultimately the product strategy. To create an optimal product, a high level of usability is important. By using user research as a reference point, design decisions and strategies can be implemented for maximum ease of the product.
What Are Indicators of Good User Research?
The first indicator of good user research is conducting it with the end-user in mind all the time. This is a very common mistake that results in the failure of a product.
When the focus is on the end-user, it helps empathize with them and understand their issues at a deeper level. This can help derive product ideation and design thinking.
Make sure that your user research is detailed enough to provide insights and references for decision-making and design strategies.
If a hypothesis comes up, it is also important to back it up with relevant and credible user data to derive a satisfactory conclusion.
It is also important to discard any inconclusive hypothesis so that the team is not directed in the wrong direction.
With user research, it is important to keep it as bias-free as possible.
It is understandable that no human is free of judgment and some bias is bound to be there because that is what makes us human.
Despite that, keeping our biases and judgments at bay can help to obtain an objective idea of the end-users.
How Do I Run User Research?
Following are the step-by-step keys to go about conducting user research.
Foster Customer Empathy
Before you go ahead and start looking for customer problems, be prepared to imagine yourself in the shoes of your customers.
It is not surprising that whenever you are targeting a user-centered design, empathy is the foremost concern.
Through empathy, you can put the user first. This way, it is easier to develop an emotional relationship between the user and the product. This ultimately helps increase the product’s success.
Define Your Objectives
Once you have fostered customer empathy, you’ll know what issues users are facing in their day-to-day lives. This can help you define one problem that you are aiming to solve for them. All the ‘wh-‘ questions are answered in this stage.
It is also important to study this problem well so that the needed design process can be known and strategy can be framed. Keep in mind that half knowledge is dangerous. Be sure there are no knowledge gaps between your objectives and the customer’s problems.
Framing the Hypothesis
In this stage, the goal is to put together all the knowledge that we already have about the customer.
Hypotheses work both ways. We not only note what our team assumes about the user’s behavior, but we also note down what we think are potential solutions which can work out in the favor of resolving that issue for the customer.
Framing hypotheses helps reduce your team’s bias by becoming aware of the issues. Being aware of your hypotheses can also help you select suitable research methods.
Choosing the Research Method
Based on your time constraints and the availability of resources such as budget and manpower, you can choose which research method you want to consider to test your hypothesis.
As mentioned before, many times, organizations use a combination of research methods. These methods can range from online surveys to face-to-face interviews.
Careful selection and refinement of your research method is a design task in itself.
Using a top product management software like Chisel will give you access to various user research tools along with the audiences if you don’t have one.
Once you have finalized a research method, your next task is to gather relevant data that suits your needs.
For instance, if you chose the survey method, you go about circulating your survey on various platforms. If you choose the interview method, you start by fixing appointments with your potential target users.
This is a phase where your initial hypothesis will be proven right or wrong. If it turns out wrong, you start over and find something that is, in fact, impactful.
It is important that proper analysis and examination of data is conducted in this stage.
This is the stage where you prove or disprove your hypothesis. In other words, your data is turning out meaningful. It helps fill in the knowledge gaps, draw a conclusion, and discover opportunities for product designing.
It is important to have a “why” behind every piece of data that you have gathered.
If there is enough time dedicated to this stage, more meaningfulness and insights can be extracted from here.
Actionable findings are implemented for strategic purposes such as marketing penetration, product launch, release plan, sales, and roadmaps.
What Are the Skills of a Good User Researcher?
There are a certain number of soft skills and hard skills required to be a successful user researcher. They are as follows:
Curiosity – It is important to have an intrinsic inquisitiveness so that the right questions can be asked. They spend so much time interviewing and analyzing the data, which requires curiosity about users and their pain points.
Open-mindedness – While looking for answers, confirmation bias can come into place. Confirmation bias is a human tendency to interpret data in a way to confirm their own beliefs.
To eliminate this, it is important to keep an open mind right from the start without committing to a particular research conclusion.
Empathy – Because the user researcher is working on understanding the client in detail, it is not possible to do so without being empathetic towards them first. It enables them to ask better questions, pay attention to detail, be observant, and gather deeper insights.
Persuasiveness – This is an important quality for user researchers because they often have to convince the team to invest in good user research for effective results.
They have to persuade potential users and target audiences to communicate their issues with them.
When presenting conclusions to stakeholders, they must convince them that the user research gathered is correct and verified.
Problem-solving – User researchers are not only responsible to point out issues and problems but also recommend solutions.
Good problem-solving skills can help to devise solutions that are helpful to designers as well.
In fact, researchers and designers can even work together to address the user issues with careful consideration.
Design skills – UX designers can often be user researchers. However, researchers need to have a sense of good design and at least be familiar with the basics because recommendations for increasing usability can only be given when the researcher knows what they are talking about.
Writing and analytical skills – To be able to make sense of the data gathered, the researcher needs to have good analytical skills.
They have to make reports and presentations of these analyses to present them to the other group members, which requires good command of writing skills.
Communication skills – Since the job of the researcher involves interacting with the clients, team members, and stakeholders alike, it is important to have a good command over the spoken language.
They may also be required to represent their findings from time to time, conduct interviews, value propositions, and field research. For all instances, effective communication goes a long way.
Companies that have solid user research are at the pinnacle of their industries. Using these insights can land your company there, too.