Putting the users’ needs first is integral to design and innovation. User research is a thorough and iterative process undertaken to understand users’ inherent and unspoken needs, behaviours, motivation and expectations. User research uses systematic and investigative procedures to identify these needs and also people’s pain-points. User research is used to inspire design, innovate, evaluate design solutions and measure its influence in people’s lives. As such, User research places people at the core of the entire design process.
User Research in UX
An essential virtue in User research is empathy, i.e. a continuous effort in removing one’s assumptions of the users and instead of striving to build products that truly connect with their sentiments. In the context of user research, being able to uncover users’ needs and expectations and developing a deep emotional connection with them helps prioritise product features and gives shape to design principles. User research aids the focus towards a more user-centric approach- which is the core of UX design.
User Research Methods
The complexity of design evolves with the diversity of potential users. Thus, user research ought to be on-going and iterative to execute the development of a product or service successfully. Therefore, we classify user research methods into two types- qualitative and quantitative.
Qualitative methods involve an open-ended and subjective exploration of people’s feelings and desires. They generate data about behaviours or attitudes by observing users directly and interacting with them without constraints. It gives designers the ability to ask questions, probe more in-depth, or possibly even adjust the research protocol to meet its objectives better. Some standard qualitative methods of research are ethnographic studies, observation, interview, focus group discussions.
A quantitative approach helps study trends and patterns in measurable terms. Quantitative methods measure the frequency of a behaviour or reaction. The data on behaviour is indirectly gathered, through a measurement tool such as a survey or an analytics tool. Insights derived in quantitative methods are from the mathematical analysis since the instrument of data collection gathers massive amounts of coded data numerically. Some standard quantitative methods of research are eye tracking, controlled usability testing, heat mapping, data analytics.
What is key in user research?
The answer is understanding the needs of the users. How can UX designers capture the real needs and interests of end-users, even those not perceived by themselves? It requires observing and engaging with people first-hand to understand their psychological and emotional needs, and that requires an inherent ability to empathise with the user. Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ is one of the best-known theories of motivation that explains the varying complexities of human needs from simple to complex. The needs of the user are personal necessities that fulfil their everyday lives. Identifying user needs help to add value to a product. And according to Abraham Maslow, our actions are motivated to achieve particular needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory
At the base of the pyramid are the physiological (or primary), human needs vital for survival, such as food, shelter, water, sleep, etc. A person will fail to function due to unfulfilled requirements.
Once we gratify our physical needs, security takes priority that includes safety, financial security, health and well-being. These first two levels are essential to the physical survival of the person. Once individuals have essential nourishment, shelter, and safety, they seek to fulfil higher-level needs.
The third level of need is social. When individuals have taken care of themselves physically, they can address their need to share and connect with others. Sources of social connection may be professional organisations, clubs, religious groups, social media sites.
The fourth level is esteem needs, which represents the natural human desire to be appreciated by others, through the recognition of success or status.
The fifth level of the pyramid is self-actualisation. At this stage, people feel they have reached their maximum potential. Self-actualisation refers to the continuous need for personal growth that people have throughout their lives. Self-actualisation occurs after fulfilling an important goal or overcoming a particular challenge.
It only goes to show that people are never static and focused on one particular need. As every user evolves in terms of their age, psychographics, behaviour, social conditions, cognition and environmental changes, so do their needs. With the fulfilment of any requirement, people’s desire for gratification only keeps rising. Not to forget, with rapid advancement in technology, people want more, and they want it immediately. To keep up with new and emerging behavioural trends, UX designers and companies ought to conduct systematic user research to gauge the gaps in the market so they can provide better design solutions to people.
The Objectives of User Research is
How not to do user research; (Dilbert, by Scott Adams)
- The goal of user research is to understand how people perform tasks, the flow of their performance, and how they fulfil their needs through using the concerned product.
- User research aims to identify new needs of the users, fills in any gaps in knowledge and aligns our vision to the challenges personally faced by users.
- User research intends to provide perspective and explains the context in which users’ make use of a product. It addresses the designer’s assumptions and misconceptions about a population and encourages empathy.
- User research puts the designer in a position to respond to problems in a beneficial, streamlined and productive manner.
- User research also lays the foundation for the preliminary design and validates its growth in the right direction. Its primary purpose is to ultimately design products and services that improve the current practices and satisfaction levels of users.
- Continuous research ensures the product is keeping up with fleeting times and upgrades in technology and culture.
- The results found during user research becomes an integral part of the design process, as it allows the team to begin testing from an early stage.
- User research avoids the possibility of ‘featuritis,’ i.e. the way overloaded functions and features tend to make any product rendered useless. It makes the designer responsible for validating every feature and function of the product against a set of standards by empathising with the user. A great example of a featurette design gone wrong is the traditional TV remote control. They are vague, unintuitive and covered with unnecessary buttons that result in frustration on the part of the user.
Understanding the User Research Process
ImaginXP User Research Framework
User research is an end to end process that requires diligent planning and execution. At ImaginXP, we constructively look at this discipline along a 5 stage process called the User Research Framework.
Before tapping into core user interaction and data collection, a pre-requisite to research understands the business or the brand itself. It means gathering secondary data or data that already exists. If you do not ask the right questions within the organisation and interact with its key members, then looking for answers is a lost cause. Much of the initial knowledge to user research is readily available to us, i.e. data from secondary sources, competitors’ performances, stakeholder alignment, customer reviews, analytics data etc.
At this stage, you should begin aligning elements of the business strategy with your upcoming user research plan.
It accomplishes two things:
1) It shows that you have reviewed and understood the business documents, so your work will be more likely to catch the business people’s attention.
2) It makes your research plans more comprehensible to concerned stakeholders.
Having defined the business requirement and problem area; at this stage, we start to lay down a reliable user research plan on paper.
We will want to explain the following for everyone on board to evaluate:
1. Project title
3. Research goals and business goals
4. Research method
7. Budget and timeline
This stage also covers the research methodology you will follow to conduct the research and participant recruitment strategy. When planning your research, it is essential to outline the research goals, user goals, research questions, problem statement, ethical concerns, tools of data collection.
After having defined the plan, recruitment strategy, and the desired research method, this is where we go headfirst into the implementation of the design. At this stage, we design the data collection tools in keeping with the research design. These tools are administered on the field with the selected participants. It is essential to note that before we finalise our data collection tool, we must first do a thorough pilot testing from the previous stage, i.e. test your interview schedule with peers to test its effectiveness. The main focus of this stage is to gather information from participants, moderate the session, and debrief the participants after the session.
By this time, you will find yourself neck-deep in rich, insightful user data, both qualitative and quantitative. At this stage, we filter the data to keep what supports the goals of the study, we compile the data, summarise and analyse it for results and evidence. A critical step here is to analyse user data to design deliverables like persona, empathy maps, CJMs.
We draft and refine our final analysis reports. The goal here is to come up with significant findings and recommendations for all the client’s needs. It is essential at this step to go back to the test plan and business vision board to see if results did meet the business goals and requirements. It is the final crucial step as it compiles multiple deliverables to communicate the discoveries from user research and paves the path for future developments.
How Samsung Revamped its Design Strategy through User Research
In 2005, the Korean electronics giant, Samsung, changed its entire design strategy through user research to suit the needs of the customers. It conducted several ethnographic studies that changed the way people might have earlier thought about the household television. Samsung’s research team visited people across various countries to study how they live and the role of a TV in their lives. At the time, most TV manufacturers designed a TV keeping technical features (picture, sound, etc.) as the focus area. The TVs were designed to exemplify technical capacity. But to Samsung’s surprise, research revealed that people mostly viewed the TV as a piece of furniture. The typical household didn’t take it to be something of a show-off as it took up space when it wasn’t in use. Samsung found that people tried to hide away the TV as much as possible as it was rather inconvenient to have box-shaped furniture occupying a space of the living room.
Following this insight, Samsung revamped its design strategy drastically. The focus now became to make the TV slimmer with a minimalistic aspect that would deliver a seamless user experience. While technical specs were still important, they balanced it with design choices that would tastefully fit into people’s living spaces. ‘Home’ was the driving force here, and Samsung worked relentlessly to bring in this transformation. It brought about a change in converting people’s homes from being a showroom to a harmonious living space. It shows the exponential impact Samsung’s design strategy had not just on its product but also in people’s experiences. By 2007, Samsung’s shares had doubled in the global sphere.
According to the Walker 2020 Progress Report, user experience is said to overhaul price and product as key brand differentiators. It means to win users’ trust in this highly competitive market; a company needs to offer more than just a great idea or marketing campaign. While several leading companies have already established tools and methods to discover trends and collect user data, they are also increasingly realising the importance of taking measures to analyse user needs and behaviour. User researchers are joining in on this purpose to carry out extensive qualitative and quantitative research to aid leaders’ knowledge of people’s identities, their motivations and emotional experiences surrounding a product.
Findings from systematic user research inform the tone of design and development of the product or service. The final product will then potentially reflect the users’ emotional motivations and needs while also fulfilling their goals and convert them to loyal customers.