How to Conduct Effective UX Research – A GuideUX Design | 28th March 2018
Today, modern business has to move past old advertising methods that scream trite slogans in big bold letters, such as “Try X. We are the Best!” or they risk being left behind.
The obvious problem with this outdated, lazy approach is that there are too many comparable products in the marketplace that also claim to be “the best” in their respective product categories.
To survive in a world oversaturated with competition, companies must invest in developing their websites, apps, services, and other customer touchpoints around an overall user experience. And the best way to assess the potential user experience is by doing user research.
The Case for Low-Cost, Effective User ResearchThere are plenty of methods for conducting user experience research; however, many of these methods are resource-intensive and can be slow. In other words, they tend to be expensive and take a while to implement. They don’t have to be - there are many low-cost and simple ways to do user experience research.
For companies operating on a limited budget, pushing out a working product may be more important than UX research. However, that could prove to be a fatal mistake. Not taking the time to do at least some user research that informs the product’s design may have a crippling, detrimental effect on the success of that product.
No money = no research? Not true. Designers can employ multiple cost-effective methods to conduct user experience research.
Why Is UX Research So Important?
Despite lacking the financial resources needed to conduct in-depth user experience research, UX research is a must, even for small companies and startups. One could raise the argument that it is even more important for these small players, as they need to find innovative ways to level the playing field, allowing them to remain competitive in the face of strong competition from bigger companies.
Here are a few methods that will help you conduct user research on a budget.
In the old days, in order to conduct adequate user research, companies had to go into the field with teams of workers in order to collect data. These days, there’s an entire world of research information at our fingertips via the web. To get a head start on user research, you can bypass traditional primary user research and employ secondary user research.
The key takeaway here is that you shouldn’t limit UX research on user behavior to your specific industry. Browsing data collected by other industries may answer some of the questions you have about your audience and help build your product’s personas.
Nowadays, usability testing is almost a requirement for web and mobile app designers. It involves watching users navigate your apps and recording their reactions and statements as raw data for the design team to analyze. Large companies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on usability testing, but the process doesn’t have to be super expensive in order to yield useful results.
Usability testing doesn’t have to be an elaborate and expensive endeavor involving usability labs with many participants. Especially in the case of startups and MVPs, elaborate usability tests can be a waste of resources. In fact, testing with just five people will allow you to find almost as many usability problems as you’d find using a larger group of test participants.
Usability testing and A/B testing can be conducted on a tight budget.
Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy is a simple, direct, and right to the point cookbook for testing product design at any stage—from a sketch on a napkin to a fully-functioning website or mobile app. It offers great insights into the finer points of usability testing.
A/B Testing PrototypesA/B testing involves showing users two slightly different prototypes and asking for feedback. Ask users for a list of pros and cons for both prototypes and to gauge the overall experience. After they have selected a prototype as a preference, ask them about additional aspects of your product that you think could benefit from additional user research.
UX designers will take this data and refine prototypes to eliminate design flaws or use these pros and cons to make a new hybrid prototype for another round of user testing. The Handbook of Usability Testing does a great job of discussing usability testing and A/B testing.
Online Surveys and QuestionnairesAnother inexpensive UX research method, commonly used by big and small business alike, involves online questionnaires. It’s simple enough to disseminate questionnaires to hundreds or even thousands of participants with just a click of a button. However, a significant amount of time should be dedicated to preparing surveys, publishing them, and ultimately analyzing the findings.
Online questionnaires are cheap and extremely useful tools for user experience research. But it's best not to overdo it (from QuestionPro).
Use social media, online networking platforms, and email lists to enlist respondents for your questionnaires; in order to eliminate inappropriate participants, be sure to write good screener questions. Remember that the point of the survey is to dig into the user’s psychology. How are they finding information? What types of information do they find relevant and useful?
The right questions will uncover your customer’s needs, desires, and pain points. It’s important to remember that the value and quality of results generated by online questionnaires and surveys varies depending on the type of questions asked and the quality of your audience targeting.
This is why it’s critical to develop a set of well thought out screener questions and to properly analyze the data once it is collected. Be aware that many users disregard such surveys, so don’t expect a huge response rate.
Guerilla UX ResearchGuerilla user experience research (a phrase popularized by Steve Blank) is essentially a buzzword for low-cost field research, although there are some differences between the two. Regardless of this, the point is: Companies sometimes need answers on short notice.
While surveys are useful, the quickest way to get specific information is to take your questions straight to the people most likely to use your product. To find the best data for your UX research efforts, target the areas where your particular audience likes to congregate. Go to places where your audience will have the time to help you, like in a cafe, park, or sports venue.
Guerrilla research does not have to cost much at all, provided you have time to spare and don't mind approaching people for feedback.
Often, going up to people and asking for their time and opinion on a product prototype in exchange for a coffee and a snack works really well. At work, you can ask “regular folks” who may represent the product user base, such as non-designers, non-product people, and non-engineers to give you feedback on a design.
You’ll be surprised at the usability issues strangers point out. It’s also important to note that you are likely to get data from people who might otherwise not be interested in your product. This is not a bad thing. On the contrary, expanding your target demographic and getting comments from casual users can prove quite useful. Since you didn’t view the product from their perspective, they might point out some issues you never thought about. Don’t ignore these seemingly indifferent people; they can provide useful feedback and help make your product more appealing to other casual users.
Focus GroupsFocus groups are a moderated user experience research discussion with a group of representative future users, allowing you to learn about user attitudes, ideas, and desires. Again, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Gather users together in an informal setting to discuss your products and services. User researchers have been using this method for eons, but have been criticized for focus groups’ propensity to encourage “groupthink” and ignore unmet needs.
Focus groups and remote interviews allow you to source targeted and in-depth user information and to receive valuable feedback.
You need to take your time and ensure your focus group demographic is diverse. Prepare for the meeting, identify key areas you would like to discuss, and make sure you have adequate resources and background info so you can answer any questions your group may direct back to you.
How can you recruit participants for low-cost UX research? This free 190-page report from the Nielsen Norman Group gives you 234 guidelines on how to set up and manage a recruiting program. It also offers advice on when to outsource to a recruiting agency and when to use in-house recruiting.
At Hi INTERACTIVE we use some of this techniques to develop user research for our clients. If you are looking to improve your UX, send us a message here.