An Intro to UX Research
UX research is the process of studying your target users, their requirements and desires, in an effort to prove or disprove assumptions, understand expectations and find commonalities across the range of individuals that use your products.
By conducting UX research, we’re ensuring that we can offer our users the best possible outcome, because our research methods help us to pinpoint the most effective solutions to their business problems. UX research can also be iterative, meaning we can apply it readily at any stage in the design process and even bend or shape research approaches to accommodate any progress made up to that point.
There are several pieces to the research puzzle and your methods may comprise multiple steps. These steps may involve the continual questioning or interviewing of users, surveys, card sorts and evidence gathering – an opportunity to collect detailed data from the study of human behaviours as a way to ensure a more tailored user-centered experience.
Generative, or ‘discovery research’, is a research approach used to create a deep understanding of your users’ pain points and trigger events. Simply put, we use it to define a problem that we’d like to design a solution for in a way that resonates with the motivations and behaviours of our target audience. This approach means that we’re attacking challenges directly from the problem-space and enables us to more easily define a problem statement and re-frame it into a solution, or opportunity for design.
This type of research typically takes place before the beginning of the design and product development phases. We do this to ensure that what we’re creating is a valuable product, that we’re producing something that people actually need or will get something out of.
UX designers don’t design based on trend or assumption in the same way that a visual designer might. Therefore it’s important that everything we do starts with the discovery research process to ensure that ideas are validated and measured against the experiences, thoughts and behaviours of the people at the heart of our projects.
Evaluative or evaluation research is a type of research used to validate existing solutions or concepts so that they can be further improved. This type of iterative UX research can be used to assess a solution at a granular level to ensure optimal usability and that it suitably meets user requirements as well as the outcomes of your generative research.
Even when you don’t quite have that “final” solution, evaluative research can still play an integral role in your design process. As long as there is something to evaluate, you can conduct this type of research at any point in your product lifecycle, no matter how tangible your ideas are, no matter how early or advanced they may be.
The idea then is that you would continue to employ an evaluative approach until you edge closer to that “finished” product. The goal is to use this type of research approach in order to better understand what works, and what doesn’t – to determine whether you’re answering the questions, not necessarily correctly, but in the correct way.
Generative or Evaluative?
Both! To keep it simple; if you’re at the stage where you need to initiate a project, then a generative approach is typically required. Once you’ve delved into the product lifecycle a bit and have begun to explore solutions, an evaluative approach can be introduced. However, at all times, you should try to have a basic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve and the sorts of data you’re trying to collect.
Choosing Research Methods
With your problems understood a little better, you can begin to select your research methods or exercises. First, think about your goals or intended outcomes, your current phase in the design process and the resources you have at your disposal. Then, it’s a case of (you guessed it!) researching various methods and determining which you think work best for you.
Popular UX Research Methods
Generating those expert user insights is an integral part of that project kickstart process. This particular method is also a great way to build empathy with the people that run the show. You’ll find that you’ll begin to understand your users’ problems better if you can empathise with them. Having user empathy will enable you to set aside your own beliefs about certain challenges and gain valuable insight into your user needs and preferences.
UX surveys or questionnaires are a relatively quick way to collect vital data about your target audience and potential users. It’s definitely the speed at which information can be gathered that make them so appealing to researchers. They’re also an incredibly effective way of gathering feedback on a live product, making them both a generative and evaluative approach to research.
Card sorting is used traditionally for evaluating information architecture. It’s designed to help you better understand your users’ expectations and assess their understanding of topics or information. Card sorting can help create a robust framework for your product, giving it an organised structure that sits well with user requirements.
Usability testing is arguably the most vital research method there is. You want your product to “work”, correct? Then you’ll need to test it. Ideally, you should be making usability testing a priority. Testing with real users allows you to validate concepts or ideas at a relatively basic level, regardless of whether or not they’re feasible to execute. It’ll also help you to pinpoint critical usability issues ahead of time, enabling you to make smarter product decisions and iterate on changes faster. It’s also a great way to assess user behaviours. Understanding how your users interact with your product is key if improving your customer engagement is of top concern.
As you may be able to tell, there is no go-to research method or approach. The approaches that we’ve highlighted are designed with different goals in mind, and UX research methods should always be selected based on your unique needs, your understanding of the problems and the intended outcomes of your project. However, everything that we have touched on is incredibly valuable in its own right.
UX research is vital to the success of your product. It helps us to better understand why users engage with certain design features or how they think about performing tasks and reaching objectives that are important to them. Research provides context, perspective and enables us to respond appropriately with design solutions that suitably address critical business requirements.
Look at this way: those companies that are producing exemplary product experiences that people turn to time and time again, are almost definitely conducting their research!