We can gather data about what customers do and when customer do from data providing services, however, we can't gather why customer do, and how we can design more effective solutions to the problems. User Research helps us to get these data.
User research shows us how people live their lives, so that we can respond more effectively to their needs with informed and inspired design solutions. It also helps us to avoid our own preconceptions, because we usually have to create design solutions for people who aren't like us.
So, how to plan and conduct user research? Erin Sanders (Sr. Interaction Designer at Frog) created a method, called "research learning spiral". The following steps will help you to avoid collecting inaccurate data.
1. Objectives: this step tends to identify what the target of the UX research is.
2. Hypotheses: this step tends to identify what we already know about the user.
3. Methods: this step determines the methods that will be used in the UX research.
4. Conduct: in this step the team starts the research and collects the information.
5. Synthesis: this step analyzes the collected data and builds a clear understanding of the user experience.
There must be a clear objective. The objectives phase should define the main purpose of UX research and the added-value of conducting the research. To find out the objectives, you can ask your team to generate a series of framing questions to help them identify which gaps in knowledge they need to fill. Questions can be written down on sticky notes, one question per note, which ensures easy discussion.
The framing questions would take a "5 Ws and 1 H" structure.
*Who for determining demographics; “Who is the main segment of the product?”
*What for clarifying what people might be doing; "What are the users’ impressions of the product?”
*When for determining the time when users might use a particular product or technology as well as their routines; "When do users tend to visit the arch-rival's website?"
*Why for explaining the underlying emotional and rational drivers of what a person doing; "Why do they use Instagram to watch little kitten videos?"
*How for going into detail on what explicit actions or steps people take in order to reach their goals; "How will this product solve the current user problem?"
After questions are written down and began to be asked, you can narrow the focus of your questions. When you get a good set of framing questions, you can prioritize and cluster the most important ones, translating them to research objectives. Remember that research objectives are not questions. Rather, they are simple statements such as "Understand how high school students in Warsaw who spend at least 10 hours on Facebook in week choose to share their moments".
At this stage, we usually don’t have a clear understanding of either the user or the relation between him/her and the product. However, we should start with a number of generic ideas that need to be tested during the research. Take your framing questions from when you formulated the objective and, as a team, spend 5-8 minutes to individually sketching answers to them, You can use sticky notes again. Your team can come up with three types of hypotheses.
1. Attitude-related hypotheses:
"High school students like to share photos in Facebook."
2. Behavior-related hypotheses:
"High school students regularly shares single photos in Instagram."
3. Feature-related hypotheses:
"High school students are highly more likely to share their moments via story feature in Instagram instead of Snapchat."
We have defined our research objective and plenty of hypotheses. Now, we are ready to consider which research methods are most appropriate to achieve the research objective. It is possible to combine more than two methods to achieve your goal.
Usually research methods are categorized under two main sections as primary research and secondary research. You collect either quantitative data which focuses on accurate numbers and measurements or qualitative data which focuses on opinions, experience, and non-measurable information.
This gives more accurate data because researchers collect the data themselves and tailor it the research questions to meet the objectives. On the other hand, it is more expensive and requires more time compared to secondary research. Main methods of primary research are;
Offline and Online Survey: A quantitative data method which the team collect information based on questionnaire that can be delivered to the user through printed format or online (such as Survey Monkey) or phone calls.
Interviews: A qualitative data method which the team observes the feeling and impression of users about the product. It can be face-to-face, online or through the phone. It requires preparation for the proper time and location.
Focus Groups: They are similar to interviews, however, they include more than one user, during the session and are run by a facilitator. It provides to get feedback from more than one person at the same time. However, users may be affected by each other's opinion.
Observation: It is observing how users use the product and interact with it. It gives an idea about how to improve the product. This method is effective when combined with other methods (especially quantitative methods such as surveys).
This data depends on information that was collected before for a similar research. For example, UX research done for a previous project, data collected from government information center, data selling companies, journals, libraries, books, etc. This type of data is easier to find, as well as being time and cost effective, however, it isn't comparable to primary research. Because the data collected is old, also it is not done for your current objective. It is commonly used as a Gerilla Marketing Research where there are limitations in budget, time or team.
After your team decide which method will run, the stage starts by collecting the data from the targeted segment. At this stage, the collected data are raw materials and separate pieces of information that need to be organized and analyzed in the next step. In the interviews and focus groups, the facilitators must ensure that users are only affected by their experiences and avoid any preconceptions from the other users or facilitators themselves. Otherwise, the data will not be representative of user experience.
You gathered the research data, now it's time to capture the knowledge required to answer your research questions. In this stage, you are trying to find meaning in your data. These data can be organized in a form of a persona empathy map that describes what the users love and hate about the product, to understand the users’ emotional relations with the product.
In the synthesis stage, regularly ask yourself and your team the following questions:
“What am I learning?”
“Does what I’ve learned change how we should frame the original research objective?”
“Did we prove or disprove our hypotheses?”
“Is there a pattern in the data that suggests new design considerations?”
“What are the implications of what I’m designing?”
“What outputs are most important for communicating what we’ve discovered?”
“Do I need to change what design activities I plan to do next?”
“What gaps in knowledge have I uncovered and might need to research at a later date?
So, what did your team discover from the research? High school students like to share their moments and they share the same story on both Instagram and Snapchat. They enjoy stalking each other's stories and being aware of what they usually do. They share multiple photos if they have a series of photos that are likely to tell about a story.
Now your team will have more confidence in the solution, and when your designs for the feature have been coded, you’ll take another spin through the research learning spiral to evaluate whether you got it right.