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User Research 101

 Imagine you have one shot at launching the best product for your audience, but it is a pool of diversity in matters of ages, occupations, nationalities and even consumption habits. How would you define the strategy?

Would you feel confident with whatever comes out? Of course not, and that’s OK. You need to know your audience to maximize efforts!

Ladies & gents, with you… User Research.

Wait…what? Why?

In this era more than any other, information is power and getting to know your users before making any smart move is key for your business’ success, whether it is a launch, an iteration, a redesign, a communication, a change in the story… This is where User Research comes in handy.

User Research (UR) is the discipline that focuses on getting as much information as possible about your customers- their habits, likes, dislikes, opinions, and so on- in order to make the best decisions towards your own digital product or service. It gathers all the data available regarding specific topics and, with all that on the table, it is OK to make proper decisions.

UR is 100% user-centered. It displays a wide array of tools, exercises, and tests that will enlighten different aspects, such as finding out if your designs are easy to understand, if usability is on point, if your proposal is attractive or if it satisfied the need or needs it intended in the first place.

When should I apply UR methods? 

The answer is quite simple: whenever you feel you need some piece of information regarding your audience’s opinion and play it safe, you should run some tests. Devoting some time to finding things out will save you some serious coins afterward.

We can count on UR at the very beginning of brainstorming processes, so as to pave the way towards a better-defined digital product or service. At this stage, UR has the role of channeling conversations and decisions in the light of facts: “our audience has these habits and, as a consequence, we need to offer this product/this feature”. 

Don’t despair! You can surely lean on UR experts along the way (too).

Even though having a UR expert sitting at the table in early negotiations is a plus, you can definitely turn to them at any given time so that they can provide useful exercises that will provide the insights you need. Mind you- UR is a tool that can guide you and your team but should never be the ultimate decision-making factor. It is meant to reduce risks, not define your business.

In case you cannot resort to a pro, there are some things you can surely take into account in the attempt of performing the UR tasks yourself. Here are the basics.

No all research is the same research

In short, we find two main methods:

  • Quantitative research: tools and procedures that will provide information about behavior that can be measured, where statistics come first and numbers are the ones tipping the scale. They answer the questions How many or How much.
  • Tools: surveys, yes/no interviews, card sorting. 
  • Qualitative research: More in-depth, this research brings to light information that, although it cannot be measured, it helps the team to have a better understanding of the reasons behind decisions, behaviors, and habits. The questions here start mainly with How and Why.
  • Tools: Prototyping and contextual interviews.

But also, we have…

  • Mixed research: sometimes, we can count on usability tests that can bring up both qualitative and quantitative insights, such as usability tests in which our users make decisions that we can measure (how many clicked on a CTA or not), and also we can make questions regarding those decisions.

And what options do I have…?

Here are some examples to help you have a better grasp of UR’s reach and that most companies can take advantage of:

  • Focus groups: in this study, a researcher talks to a group of people with certain demographic characteristics with the aim of sparking debates regarding a given topic or topics. The ultimate goal of this is to guide conversations that will provide explanations that can later on be attributed to larger populations.
  • Individual interviews: these qualitative tools can be used to have a better understanding of the reasons, desires and expectations that fueled certain behaviours. They can be carried out face-to-face, online, by e-mail or over the phone.
  • Usability tests: In these tests, you invite prospect users to interact directly with your app, webpage or digital product. The researcher is supposed to avoid giving feedback so as to keep the procedure as neutral and genuine as possible. We can learn what our future users will think about, feel and expect from our design.
  • Personas: they are fictional characters that convey certain characteristics (ages, backgrounds, jobs, interests, hobbies) that will help you step out of yourself and have a better understanding of your users’ needs, goals and experiences.
  • Concept Testing: one-on-one or in a group, a researcher shows the value prop and key concepts regarding a specific product or service and determines if it is aligned with the audience expectations. 
  • Card Sorting: this is either a qualitative or quantitative method, depending on the topic to do research on, and consists of asking users to organize items into groups and assign categories to each group. Card sorting is great to examine the users’ mental models and thinking paths, so it’s very helpful when defining the architecture of a website, for example.

Each test will have specifications in order to be carried out properly, so before you jump in, make sure you read everything beforehand and, in case it is possible, hire a pro to help you.

Remember that investing in information before making any decision is the best decision you can make 😉

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