Historically, businesses frequently relied on agencies, vendors, and other partners to conduct qualitative and quantitative user research prior to design or product delivery. User research in the context of innovation initiatives, however, is becoming something entirely different–and more fluid.
Businesses need solutions: a new experience from scratch, a rebuild of an existing solution, a fast and furious adjustment, insight into a new market, etc. A successful delivery depends on relevant information and an understanding of given circumstances within their market/user landscape. But how this information is collected and where it fits into the design and build workflow has changed–thanks to significant evolution of UX and development processes within the product lifecycle.
1. Accelerated Business Timelines and Existing Data
More efficient, budget-friendly business solutions. Getting a product to market as quickly as possible. These are the laws design and development live by when it comes to project expectations. How traditional user research fits into this dynamic has changed as more upfront, traditional audience and market analysis gets taken in-house.
Time and Staffing
Businesses don’t account for “extras” when they head into an innovation project. As a result, positioning user research as an a la carte item is a risk. It’s likely to be perceived as an add-on that will push out the timeline, involve more resources, and incur additional costs.
Within the context of UX design and project discovery, however, focused user research for validation, can add real value. Determining where, when and how user research investment makes the most sense is part of a successful project discovery.
Complete Market Research
Enterprise-level and other established businesses typically come “fully-loaded” with their own target audience, competitive, and market data. In short, the “marketing” research is done. Sometimes businesses have access to so much internal data and strategy documentation that any external resource or partner struggles to process all of it prior to kick-off.
User research within the product lifecycle is more refined. Validation and reinforcement of product and design isn’t usually within the scope of existing research. What the business is missing is confirmation that their data can and will inform and a unified user experience in addition to the desired business goals.
2. Emphasis on Design Discovery
As UX becomes more extensive and sophisticated, user research morphs to retrofit into the larger design process. When the discovery process defines the vision, the goal, and road map, user research must fit in wherever and whenever it is needed most.
Discovery and Early Design Phases
Clear representation of the user’s perspective in actionable terms is crucial. A UX audit is an important step, and applies to businesses who have an existing experience upon which they wish to build and improve. UX audits could include user feedback, like prototype testing, to help pinpoint areas of user frustration, as well as provide design recommendations based on best practices. In a UX audit, other types of research are factored into design recommendations (e.g. current app store reviews store, user interviews, etc).
In an ideal situation, all the boxes are checked with regard to user research, UX audit (if applicable), and competitive analysis. Actionable data informs great design, and great design creates user experiences that drive action. It is important to note that third party vendors, such as survey tools, often aid in the execution of design discovery research, alongside in-person, moderated situations.
More In-Depth User Feedback
If user research is conducted during discovery, here are a few approaches that can, individually, or in tandem, result in effective design direction:
- Focus groups (in-person, unbiased moderated situations) can get feedback using key screens and question guides.
- In-person interviews completed in-house offer a more intimate, focused experience that can yield more detailed responses to specific features and design approaches.
- Desirability studies document responses and preference to visual style options using word association and ranking.
- KANO testing helps prioritize new or existing features and add new ideas to the backlog.
3. Validation of Prototypes
User research doesn’t stop with validation of existing market research. If it did, it would only be satisfying a pure business objective perspective and not reinforcing the user experience, which ultimately drives behaviors that deliver on the business goals.
Usability testing, which can be viewed as back-end user research, can either be conducted via moderated InVision prototype with a vendor, or completed in-person and in-house. Regardless of how it’s done, gathering more information in the prototype stage can be extremely valuable, helping optimize iteration processes.
Gathering feedback on the UX flow, not just visual style directions or high level features, is crucial. Common quick design iterations resulting from prototype feedback are copy changes, button placement and screen order (versus adding a new feature or changing the look and feel).
High or Low? It Depends…
Testing either high or low fidelity prototypes, with or without fully-executed visual design, will dictate what kind of data can be delivered through usability testing. Each approach has benefits and is often determined by the stage of product lifecycle and given business requirements and circumstances.
Low-fidelity prototypes, often done in the earlier stages of a product design, offer a quick, simple entry point into user feedback. It’s more about ideation and gathering directional input before putting any real time and tech into the design. Users can make more broad conclusions about concepts and ideas.
High-fidelity prototypes, which are usually considered to be later-stage prototypes, also offer great value to usability testing. Being more finished and presenting a more “real-life” presentation of the product experience elicits more focused, pointed feedback. Users are more likely to respond to certain features, interaction elements, etc.
User Research: Focused and On-the-Move
The name of the game is efficiency and cost savings–and user research accomplishes much more than mere validation of past data. Whether a business is looking up at a blue-sky discovery, building a 2.0, or embarking upon a high-stakes project rescue mission, user feedback reinforces goals and enhances user experience. And with the evolution of project discovery, product management, and UX design, user research and usability testing have transformed into more fluid, modular aspects of the product lifecycle.