User Research

No User Research is like hitting a target without bulls-eye

17 Sep 2017

7 mins read


With ever-increase in the products and services, the competition has become fierce. Understanding the customer and their requirements have become a key to a business success.

Many think that research is a waste of time and without any understanding creating a product is easy and cheap. But people don’t understand that without user research it is like hitting a target without a bulls-eye. It affects the entire strategy of the product from its conception to delivery.

What is User Research?

User Research is done to give a better understanding of what will happen when a product is released to the public. It will help designers and product owners to learn about the target audience, find a solution to their problem and create something which they will use and love. It removes any doubts and assumptions.

The informed decisions are made using the information we get from the research. The team can fix any usability issues it has or will have in the future. The main focus of any product team is to deliver a product (whether digital or physical) which is:

  1. Easy to use
  2. Customer first
  3. Features which the users will be able to use

Role of User Researcher

The role of the User Researchers is to take notes, learn about the audiences, understand their problem, what they prefer and iteratively test it throughout the design process.

There are many way user research methods can be used to gather information. The user research methods are divided into 3 categories based on the 3-dimensional framework. Those are:

  1. Attitudinal and Behavioral
  2. Qualitative and Quantitative
  3. Generative and Evaluative (or Context of use)

1. Attitudinal and Behavioral

This kind of research is related to how a user feels towards a product or service. What is their attitude/emotion when interacting with it. The opinion of the user when creating a product or service matters. The main purpose of the attitudinal research is to understand the participant’s thinking. This kind of research is done using focus groups, surveys.

Behavioral research is more focused on what users do with the product or service. It is about providing the data about how the user interacts with the product or service. It answers questions like where the user clicks first when he goes to a website or what choices do they take when using a product. A/B testing, eye-tracking are few of the methods that researchers can use to determine this type of research.

2. Quantitative and Qualitative

Quantitative research is any research related to numbers (that is which can be measured). Any research which can be counted like “how many users”, “how much the users spend their time”, etc. It hence, quantifies how the user thinks, behaves, his opinions and any other variables. Based on the quantitative results, designers formulate facts and uncover patterns. The research can be done using surveys (online, paper, digital), user interviews, analytics, polls etc. It answers “how many”, “how much”

Whereas Qualitative research is to understand “why” and “how to”. They answer questions like “why the user clicked here”, “why they did not spend time here”. It helps designers understand why people do things like they do instead of what they say. It involves engaging users and understanding their behavior, attitudes, feelings, and emotions. This type of research can be done using focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and observations.

3. Context of Use

This research depends whether the user is actually using the product or not. It is further divided into 4 categories which are:

Natural: This study is done to understand user’s natural behavior towards a product.

Scripted: Participants are given certain parameters to focus on a specific feature or a redesign. Depending on the type of study, the script can differ.

Not using the product: Study is done when the product is not used by the user to understand how they will react when using it for the first time.

Hybrid: It is a combination different context of product use. Like, participants can interact with the product’s design elements and maybe propose a solution or a new feature which will benefit them.

Basic User Research Methods

Interviews: Talking to participants and asking the right questions is very important. It helps designers understand the user their problems, thoughts, and feelings towards a product.

Surveys: It is a great way to gain insights into what users prefer, their opinions, behavior or realistic information depending on the purpose the research. Tools such as Survey MonkeyGoogle FormsTypeform.

Focus Groups: It is a popular method to better understand the motivations of users and their perception of the product with a demographically diverse group of 3-10 people. It is done through interviews in which a group of people are asked about their opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product. better understand the motivations of users and their perception of the product.

Eye tracking: This method is used to measure where the participants are looking while using a product using point of gaze or the motion of an eye.

Heat Mapping: It is a visual mapping of the data to show how the user has clicked or scrolled. Heatmaps are often used to show what percentage of people interacted with different parts of the product. The most-used parts of the page are often displayed with dark red, the less viewed part is usually displayed in green.

Participatory Design: In this method participants are usually all stakeholders (like Product Owners, Partners, customers) who actively take part in the design process to help ensure the result meets their needs. They are given design elements to create their own experience and are asked to explain why and how.

A/B Testing: It is also called bucket tests or split-run testing. Different designs (usually 2 options) are randomly tested with equal number participants to determine which one performs better. Tools such as OptimizelyVisual Website Optimizer

Usability Testing: This method involves testing of design by giving the user set of tasks and performing them in front of the researcher. It focuses on measuring a product’s capacity to meet its intended purpose. Tools like WhatUsersDoUsabilla

Ethnographic Studies: This research is done to study the participants in their natural environment where they will be using the product the most.

Analytics: Data is gathered from the website and mobile app. This helps researchers and designers understand the user, number of page views, demographics before they drop-off. Tools like Google AnalyticsHotJarKissmetrics

When is User Research applied?

User research can be done at any phase of the project. Depending on what phase of the project you are in, different type user research can be used.

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