The User Experience industry has been growing. User-friendliness now outweighs price comparison in market competition for most industries.
UX Research or “User Research” represents a niche specialty under the UX umbrella. UX researcher leads to insights that inform product decisions.
Roles focused on UX Research have increased to account for 25% of design roles in startups today. Tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon employ hundreds of dedicated UX researchers. Now startups are catching on.
My User Experience Research Journey
Before UX, I spent several years working as an investigative journalist. Hungry for more product impact, I poured my skills and experience into UX research. I quickly fell in love with creative problem solving and user-centered design.
Today, I have developed a track record of identifying key user insights that lead to user-friendly products and ultimately, improve performance. Here are my top 10 tips for startup teams interested in building better products:
1. Never ask anyone if they like your product
When chatting with potential users, asking if someone “likes your product,” leads to highly-biased answers. Instead, try asking open-ended questions that lead to stories about product usage or relevant topics.
“The first rule of research: never ask anyone what they want.”- Erika Hall, Just Enough Research
Practice active listening to understand user motivations, goals, behaviors, and pain points. Try assessing user research using these three perspectives:
- What people say
- What people do
- What people build
To discover more useful insights practice reframing your questions, looking for patterns, making observations, and repeatedly asking why.
2. Test early and often
Usability testing is one of the most familiar UX research methods. This evaluative method can provide rapid insight into your product’s functionality.
Use regular testing with five participants instead of extensive usability testing studies that occur less often. The Norman Nielson Group, the gold standard of UX for 20 years, studied the value of usability testing with five users.
Focus your usability tests on key user tasks. For example, if you were to usability test a meditation app, you might focus on the user goals: “start a meditation session” or “set up a mindfulness reminder.”
Qualitative usability tests will help you to gather observational findings of design features. Quantitative usability tests will focus on performance metrics such as task completion rates or time on task.
3. But first, use expert reviews
Traditionally, 30% of most errors are caught using this evaluative method. Using expert or “heuristic” reviews before usability testing, will make user sessions more valuable and help you get to a baseline 85% usability score.
The NNG synthesized the top 10 usability heuristics for User Interface Design. You can drop these usability principles into a spreadsheet and assess your product’s usability based on key user tasks and user flows.
4. More than usable and desirable, great user experience is…
Early in my UX journey, I learned about the Honeycomb Model. This model has served as a helpful reference when communicating UCD to stakeholders.
5. Get on board with Design Thinking
The Stanford d.school and IDEO have been teaching this creative problem-solving method for decades. Here are the the five iterative design cycles:
- Empathize (listen to your users)
- Define (identify key problems)
- Ideate (brainstorm solutions)
- Prototype (build a solution)
- Test (test the solution)
Check out the now-famous Gift Giving Experience by Stanford d.school to up your creative problem-solving and user-centered design skills!
6. Use personas to keep the user in focus
Personas are fictional characters who represent your target audience. Personas are archetypes, and you will likely have more than one. You can categorize these personas into “primary” and “secondary” based on which audiences are the most valuable to the business.
Useful personas are created as a result of user research. Personas based on user data work as design tools to ensure that you are addressing real needs in a way that matches true motivations within context to meet user goals.
The sample persona below was created after conducting eight in-depth interviews with current web users.
Note: if you are short on time, energy, or resources, start by creating a proto-persona (not based on a research) as a starting point to test user assumptions and to keep the user in mind during product development.
7. Learn to make research-informed design decisions
Some research methods are easier to use, cheaper to conduct, and simpler to assess than others. For example surveys or questionnaires and desirability studies are really accessible methods to begin understanding your users and evaluating visual design decisions.
A/B testing or Multivariate Testing (MVT) are more highly accessible tools for quantitative analysis of your website or app. Google analytics makes running these studies easy.
Great visual design can also be quantified. Desirability studies require little time and effort and provide a great deal of objective and informed decision making. If you are looking for a site that is “trustworthy,” “modern,” and “accessible,” you can test that to attain statistical significance for a design.
8. Try mapping your product ecosystem with the team
Showing what you mean is much more impactful than just telling. Taking the time to map out the players and environmental conditions in your product ecosystems will lead to insights and development strategies. For example:
- Identify dilemmas or opportunities
- Explore conditions to change
- Consider ways to influence that change
- Ideate new innovations or functions to introduce in the ecosystem for a positive impact
Ecosystem mapping promotes teamwork. Try creating an ecosystem map at your next strategy meeting for a new perspective and a more aligned team.
9. Get to know your users in their natural habitat
Try conducting some ethnographic research, sometimes referred to as “field research.” This UX research method involves visiting your users in their natural habitats for product usage.
For example, if you produced an innovative coffee making machine, you might schedule research sessions in users’ homes or at their offices.
“Ethnography is so beneficial that it will spread widely, helping firms truly understand customers and adapt to fast-changing markets.” — Harvard Business Review
Conducting onsite observations can lead to powerful insights that will impact the product development for a better product-market fit.
10. Map out the details of your customers’ journey
Consider every step along the way of the context in which users will engage with your product. By considering elements such as what they might be doing, thinking, or feeling, you have a better chance of identifying key opportunities to improve the user experience.
Norman Nielson Group created a thorough explanation of what to include, why the tool is useful, and step-by-step instructions on how to use it. The “insights and ownership” part can be especially helpful for follow-through.
“A good experience map feels like a catalyst, not a conclusion,” — The Adaptive Path.
If done well, this deliverable can provide insightful documentation to share across your organization and with new recruits.
Good user experience is good for business. Getting the user interface right will save you time and money. UX activities reduce development inefficiencies.
“Every dollar invested in UX brings 100 dollars in return,” — Experience Dynamics
Bring out the sharpies, sticky-notes, and whiteboards! It is never too early to start learning about your users and their pain points, and the best design meets user, customer, and business goals.
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