User research (also called UX research) can be defined as “the process of understanding the impact of a product on its audience.” In simpler words, we can say that user research emphasizes on understanding the user behaviors and requirements by the use of observation, interviews, analysis and other feedback practices.
Designers conduct this process in the start of their project so that it assists them in developing ideas for their designs and in weighing in the possible solutions.
User research is usually divided into two categories:
- Quantitative research: This research uses tools such as surveys and other formal experiments that could be used to evaluate statistical analysis of the user’s influence in the form of measured, numeric data.
- Qualitative research: This kind of research involves gathering of descriptive data by the use of examination tools such as interviews and usability tests. It focuses on getting more detailed idea of the audience’s feelings, opinions and behavior.
A productive user research mostly relies on both of these types, as they both collectively help form the complete image of the data needed to be extracted from the research results.
Conducting User Research:
User research can be called the groundwork of the whole project as it helps the designer to recognize the actual problems of the users that need to be solved by the project. Thus, he can decide what kind of solution could be appropriate to use and in what way could it be implied to provide more efficient results. Without doing this kind of research, one would never know what kind of propositions the user is exactly expecting, and would depend on a lot of assumptions and guess work, which is never a reliable method to choose for developing a project.
As discussed before, the research should use a healthy combination of both qualitative and quantitative research. Along with conducting interviews and tests, one should also focus on observing the user behavior, as people often are not able put their exact feelings and requirements in words. Furthermore, the research generates better results when conducted on user groups rather than on individuals.
After one has collected data from the research, following are some concepts that should be understood regarding the scope of the product that has to be designed:
- Who are the users?
- What are their needs?
- How do they do the things in the present?
- How do they expect to do them in future?
User Research Methods:
There is a vast collection of methods available that one can choose from while planning to perform user research. The choice depends upon what the type of application would be, and in what timeline and environment the design has to be developed. Some of the methods are explained briefly below:
These consist of customized questions that help to gather direct information from the users. These enable us to understand the user’s opinions, feelings, and anticipations related to a product or service.
These are forms that consist of a series of questions with answers that users can choose from (or simply questionnaires). This method helps us collect a large amount of precise data about a problem or a service.
This is a kind of research which asks the users to categorize some items into different groups. The practice tells if the design architecture of the product is according to the audience’s expectations.
- Focus Groups:
This method is used to gather collective information from a particular user group. This could be done by discussions and similar group activities, and helps understand their ideas, needs and behavior.
- First Click Testing:
This kind of testing is performed to collect user views about the navigation of the application. This focuses on testing which icon or button is first clicked by the user when trying to complete a task. The testing could be done on the original application or a prototype version of it.
- A/B Testing:
Different designs are compared with each other in this type of testing to check which attracts the user more. This helps in understanding the impact of different types of design elements on the user hence resulting in making better decisions about their look and placement.
- Web Analytics:
In this method, various aspects about the website are analyzed, including the information about what attracts the users more, to which part do they navigate more often, which part of the website they tend to avoid etc.
- Eye Tracking:
This involves observing the eye movement of the users while they are navigating through an application, i.e. where their sight falls more frequently.
- In-lab Testing:
This is the process of observing user’s behavior and interaction with the application while providing a controlled environment. Along with mere observation, users can also be asked to describe their experiences concerning the particular service.
- Guerrilla testing:
This is the opposite of the previously described method, and involves the testing of user behavior in a free environment. This can be considered as the cheapest and easiest method of research as the users are asked to perform basic tasks in an open or public environment, thus resulting in minimal cost and much independence as compared to other research methods.
User research assists the product owners in many ways during the whole course of the designing process of a product. It helps them recognize and test their assumptions, discover the common requirements of the targeted user group, and understand their psychology, hence understanding their needs and expectations from the service. In short, the product cannot be presumed to provide relevant and efficient results without the aid of a good user research.