How to start user research in a company

When we create a new product in the digital environment, the words research and usability testing are heard. Usability testing is one of the methods that can be used in research. So what is the user research, and what is it used for?

Lucia Marcinková

UX Researcher

Research as such seeks to answer three main questions:

  • Who are our users?
  • What are their concerns, needs, and wishes?
  • What do they want to achieve?

If we know the answers, we can say that we have a good foundation. We know what goals the user wants to achieve through our product and that we are creating something that our customers will appreciate. Simply put – we are creating the right product. Once we know all the necessary information, we can focus on how to create a product properly. In the first phase, we focus on information architecture, specific product functionalities, and its design. A digital product may look visually beautiful at first glance, but if the user can not do what they need in it, it is completely useless for them.

Why is it essential to do research?

Most designers who design a product may not be your customers at all. Even if they were, the question is whether their view of the issue will capture the behavior of your target group. Designers are often technically proficient people who have experience with the latest technology. They know the problem quite well, and they are surrounded by similarly focused people. Therefore, when a UX designer does not understand its users and has not enough information about them, he will design the product based on his own thinking and behavior. And it can be completely different from the behavior and thinking of your customers.

An example is the situation of one of our customers. He came to us intending to create a new desktop application – the design of the current one seemed outdated, and he wanted to add a touch to it. However, he did not want to make any major changes in the application's functionality because he thought that the current one sufficiently covers the needs of his clients. After several consultations, we agreed that we would do at least basic research through in-depth interviews with his clients before designing the design itself. Thanks to these interviews, we were able to find out that some functions in the application are not used by clients at all and somewhat interfere with them. On the contrary, the essential function – in-app search – was delayed and did not work according to customer needs. Based on these findings, we modified the application's design relatively radically, which helped increase its usability.

User research should not begin with a usability test in the prototyping phase

It's good to know who are our users long before. Research should be done in the early stages when we are thinking about the product. An undeniable advantage is saving funds. Changes and modifications at the beginning are much cheaper and less time-consuming than changes when the product is almost finished. At the end of the process, it is often practically impossible to make more extensive changes and modify the product base. Our goal should be to tailor the product to user needs; not user needs to the product. Why is it important to focus on understanding the problem at the beginning of the process and not on creating a solution? My colleague Michal explains this in more detail in his article.

How to start

When an organization starts with UX research, it often doesn't know which method to choose. Therefore, it may use only one method for different situations. So they don't choose it based on what they want to find out. Unfortunately, the research does not often meet expectations. How to choose the right method? We usually divide research methods into two groups, quantitative and qualitative.

We use qualitative methods when it is necessary to penetrate deeper into the problem and orient ourselves in it. We work with a narrower group of respondents (usually 5–8 respondents per target group). The most common qualitative methods are in-depth interviews, focus groups, usability testing, ethnographic studies, and observations.

Quantitative research is used to verify hypotheses on a larger number of respondents (tens to hundreds, depending on the type of research). Here we try to find out how big the problem is, how common it is, or how many users encounter it. The methods of quantitative research include a questionnaire survey, A / B testing, surveys, and clickability analysis.

We can also divide research methods according to their field of activity. Here we distinguish three groups:

  • market research  – here we try to find out who our competitors are and what products they offer,
  • marketing research  – our goal is to find out how we should offer our products and services to customers,
  • user research  – here we focus on our customers’ goals, concerns, and needs.

We will discuss choosing the right research method and how the individual methods differ in the next article. We will imagine specific research problems and how to solve them.

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About the author

Lucia Marcinková

UX Researcher

Lucia conducts user research for better understanding of users' needs and pains.

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