Too many companies realize why they should do user research too late, when they’ve already missed out on opportunities to make product development more effective, deliver high-impact launches and capture market share.
At the start of a project, it’s easy to fall back on myths: That user research is expensive, time consuming, or simply a waste, because people believe they know enough already. In each case the opposite is true. Kicking off a project with a strong user research process gives you the foundation for everything else you build. And there’s plenty of proof to show the importance of user research, from the successes of our own clients like Tyson, Participate and Tend to research from firms like Forrester.
“‘Does it better’ will always beat ‘did it first.’”
Aaron Levie, CEO at Box
To help mid-sized business and startups get the most value out of user research in the shortest amount of time, we’ve developed a guide for how to conduct user research in a one-week sprint. Even then, some people are hesitant. So before we get into user research methods, we’ll start with the most important question: why user research matters.
What is user research, and why does it matter?
User research is foundational to human-centered design. It’s what takes products from good to great. Today, it is not enough for companies to deliver okay products. To gain adoption, they must offer more than obvious solutions.
UX research can be described as a series of methods, questions and techniques designed to learn as much as possible about the users, so their needs and desires inform the products you build. Interviews, observations and A/B testing are some of our favorite user research methods, but there are plenty of other methodologies to get both quantitative and qualitative insights.
“Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel and experience, design is a pointless task.”
Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO
People want to feel understood. Brands can provide that by delivering products that meet their users’ needs at a deep level. User research to support design thinking is the key.
Why do user research before product design and development?
Let’s imagine an extreme example. Say Spotify has a theory that all 128 million subscribers want curated Christmas playlists in November and December. Their product team pushes all the Christmas playlists to the landing screen. Each time a listener finishes an album or playlist, a Christmas song automatically plays. The team also creates a playlist generator that lets users select Christmas music by genre. To top it off, they change the color scheme to red and white instead of black and white. Proud of their work, they release these updates to a random audience of 15,000 listeners and start gathering feedback.
Overwhelmingly, the team learns that users dislike the changes, feeling they put too much emphasis on the holiday. A large number of users even drop Spotify altogether, finding the focus on Christmas offensive. The only favorable feedback is around the custom playlist generator, which people interacted with quite a bit.
In Spotify’s case, the changes only went out to a small group of users. The product team can take the learnings, undo the changes and revise the improvements based on users’ feedback. As for the few users who dropped Spotify altogether — Spotify can afford to lose them in order to learn.
70% of projects fail due to lack of user acceptance.
Source: Forrester Research
Most companies don’t have that option. They don’t have enough users to run a low-risk, high-reward test like this. Consider a startup or midsized company with less than 10,000 users. They release a beta version of a new app to try and “test” it, hoping to grow revenue. The feedback is negative, but the company doesn’t have funds to immediately implement changes. Worse, they’ve now left their entire user base with a negative impression.
Conducting user research before you launch mitigates these risks. There’s less of a chance of offending or losing customers, and you can make more out of your launch by attracting as many users as possible. It’s not about skipping the MVP — you can still build a beta version of your app. It’s about using your development dollars most effectively the first time, so what you do put out there meets your customers’ expectations and gives them an MLP, or minimum lovable product. With research, you’re building on a solid foundation, instead of dealing with retention issues and paying for rework costs.
We do user experience research because it allows us to create and deliver products that provide value faster, increasing our chances of success in the market. By learning what behaviors and needs drive users, you can make the most of every opportunity to engage them.
Questions the UX research process can answer
UX research can answer so many questions about your product, your users and how the two come together. When we’re starting a project, here are a few questions we often seek to answer through research (plus their many sub-questions).
What will make people use a product or service?
Upfront user research can tell you why people may or may not use your product or service. Understanding the underlying desire will inform how to make the initial or subsequent iteration better, increasing the odds that the launch will make a positive impact.
88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience.
Will your current/new users like your product or service?
What about it makes it likable or unlikable? What makes the competition attractive? What do applications that are likable and used repeatedly have in common? Why do people use similar applications? Why do they not? What would customers need to see, feel, think to make them like yours more?
How likely are users to recommend your product or service?
What would someone need to see, feel, think to recommend the product? Word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective way to acquire new audiences, so you want to make sure every user recommends it to others.
Every $1 spent designing a solution saves $5 fixing the problem during development and $30 fixing the problem after launch
Source: Forrester Research
Without UX research, strategy and design, customers will still answer these questions for you. The danger is that you may get the answer too late to provide a solution. You can’t afford weeks or months of negative user experience. The product or service you launch doesn’t have to be perfect — in fact, it should continue using UX practices to improve with each iteration. But users should be able to instantly tell why your product or service exists, and how it might help them. Starting with user research upfront gives you a head start, and time you can use to build a fanbase.
“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
Why do user research? Because understanding what users want saves you money
Even the most experienced founders can’t always articulate why their customers will want to use their products or services. The right user research methodology will give you an honest answer — one driven by data, not intuition.
That data will then guide everyone involved with turning your idea into a product and bringing it to market. A user research sprint will give you the tools to find your users’ why — and the proof to back it up. When you can articulate why someone would find a feature valuable and what pain point it mitigates for your customer, you can design better solutions. With those answers, you can be confident that your product or service will excel.
$1 invested in UX earns $100 in return
Source: Forrester Research