Intro to UX Research

Get out of the building — and into users’ minds

Ben Ralph
February 13, 2017

In this session we cover introductions to:

“In design, you’re solving for user needs and business goals. In research, you’re solving for a lack of information.” — Erika Hall

UX Research isn’t as scary or intimidating as it may sound at first — we’re not writing a PhD or discovering a cure for cancer! UX Research is about being inquisitive, asking questions and then following a systematic process to find answers. The stakes are much lower than with ‘pure scientific research’ and so too the amount of scientific rigour expected.

Instead of being a scientist, be a detective.

Detectives need to be thorough, accurate and have evidence to back their claims. They solve their cases not in the lab, but in the field — talking to people, asking questions, understanding motivations and looking for behavioural clues. In UX you won’t catch a killer but you might design a killer banking app! 😉

The process you follow and techniques you use to find your answers depends on what you want to know. Start with your sprint questions.

Define the research problem clearly

A large problem with UX Research is knowing when to stop. Defining your research problem statement clearly will help with the issue of never feeling finished.

Try to rewrite your sprint questions using a verb such as describe, evaluateor identify. Avoid using more open-ended words like understand or explore. It is much easier to know when you have finished describing something than when you have finished exploring it.

Selecting the right techniques

Now that you know what you want to know, it is time to go and find the answers. Below is a list of common UX research techniques and resources to get you started.

1. Contextual Enquiry

Contextual Enquiry is a structured approach for interviewing and observing users while they use your product (or a stand-in for your product) in the context of their everyday life. Interviewing a user about buying health insurance in a quiet meeting room is very different from watching a user trying to navigate your many pop-ups and terms of service screens while they are at home holding a screaming child. This is by far the most valuable type of UX research because it gives you the best approximation of how real users will encounter and use your product in the real world.

2. User Interviews

Although not as effective as a contextual enquiry, there is still a place for User Interviews. A User Interview is not the same as a focus group and should be conducted one-on-one to avoid more dominant members of a group crowding out everyone else.

3. Surveys & Questionnaires
When you’re not sure where to start, try a survey or questionnaire. They are quick, relatively inexpensive and can give you an idea of where you should target your more in-depth qualitative research. They won’t give you the full picture but can be a fantastic diagnostic tool.

4. Competitor analysis

When deciding who your competitors are, think broadly. Ask yourself ‘what user problems does my product solve?’ and ‘what other products or services also solve that problem?’

The answers aren’t always obvious.

If you own a shop that sells milkshakes, the problem you might be solving is (a) ‘quenching a thirst’, but equally, you might be solving the problem of (b) ‘where can two friends who don’t drink coffee go to catch up’.

In Option A your competitors are coffee shops, service stations, vending machines and any business that sells milky drinks, but in Option B your competitors are gyms, restaurants, parks and all other places two friends might go to have a chat.

If you were in the business of selling DVDs a decade ago, your competitors weren’t only other DVD rental shops, they were Netflix, pay TV and YouTube. Users weren’t buying DVDs somewhere else — they were choosing to consume content differently.

Sometimes the best inspiration comes from businesses in other industries that solve similar user problems.

5. Ask an Expert and Stakeholder interviews

While getting out into the field is incredibly important, don’t forget many people within a business or organisation have daily interactions with users, and so also have valuable user insights to share.

The best colleagues to tap on the shoulder are salespeople, customer service, call centre representatives, the technical support team, social media teams and the complaints department.

6. Analytics

If you already have a website and you are looking to update or upgrade, then analytics software (like Google Analytics) can be a source of great user insight.

Document your findings

What good is all this research if you have no way of sharing it?

Personas and Journey Maps are just two of the most popular ways to distil your research. Convert those hundreds of sticky notes, multiple hours and countless user insights into a format that is easily shared, quickly understood and look damn good on the walls of your office.


Journey Mapping

General UX Resources / Books

Hi, I’m Ben. By day, I’m the Founder & Head of Product Innovation at Beaker & Flint, where I help organisations design and deliver amazing customer experiences. By night you can find me running a trail or tinkering with code.
If this post sparked a question or idea you want to run by me, I’d love to chat it over with you. Reach out via the comments below or start a conversation via email here.


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