All You Need to Know About Effective UX Research Part 2 – Conducting the Research

Moenika Chowdhury

A satisfied user is the best business strategy of all

– Michael LeBoeuf, American Businessman

Given how critical it has become to meet user requirements to the T, effective UX research is an indispensable part of the product design process. Effective research not only helps in better understanding user needs and preferences, it also helps designers design product elements and features in a way that drives maximum usage and loyalty.

In Part 1 – Preparing For Research of this series, we discussed the pressing need for UX research, and how organizations can prepare for UX research by training their team with a series of steps. In this part we will be discussing how companies can conduct the research, how they deal with surprises, and tips to tackle difficult users.

Conduct the research

Once you have prepared yourself for user experience research and understand the elements of effective research, it’s time to conduct the research on real users to get the real
picture of their needs and wants.

Here are some steps to follow to make it happen:

  1. Begin with an introduction: Introducing yourself to users and educating them about the purpose of the research is an important first step. You should have a fixed introduction that you repeat each time, to come across as more professional but also to ensure you don’t forget anything. This will allow you to concentrate on the user
    instead.
  2. Capture user background information: Given that you have already taken the time to cherry-pick users who are genuine and represent the required variety of basic user characteristics of your audience, you should already be aware of basic user information. You will need to question further to capture more background information: ask questions relevant to the product to uncover their relationship to the product. Make sure the questions you ask have quick and simple answers and avoid asking many questions which could lead the user to talk at length at this stage.
  3. Discuss the scenario: As you move towards conducting usability research, you’ll have to invent a plausible scenario for the user to move through the screens. Unless your prototype is complete and interactive enough to offer users the actual set of content and options, you’ll be forcing your user to select the options you’ve chosen for them. So, make it as realistic as possible. If you are conducting research on a live site, feel free to ask the user to create their own scenario based on their typical or recent use of the site.
  4. Ask the right questions: Based on what your product is about and what insights you want to unearth from your users, asking the right questions is crucial. Have a list that captures the true essence of what your users really expect from your product. Since it is easy to introduce bias at this stage, make sure to not interrupt them at all until they reach a key goal, otherwise, you might influence what they’re looking for. Once you’re done asking questions, summarize the discussion you’ve had with them; if possible, give users a rating scale to get a good idea of what they think of your product and what they would like you to improve.
  5. Repeat for other scenarios: Once you’re done with one scenario, make sure to repeat the process for other scenarios. Always check how realistic the scenario is for the user: gain an idea of what the user would actually do and keep referring to what you would do in real life. Where there are differences between what the user would really want and what you’ve chosen, it may be useful to ask the user what they think this screen should look like if they were performing their own task, and not the one you’ve invented.
Always be ready for surprises

It is common for researchers to assume that they’ve written an amazing test script with mostly open questions that will deliver answers to their test objectives. Although most researchers are prepared for the “known unknowns”, the problem arises when researchers encounter an “unknown unknown” – especially while conducting early research.

As a principle, if a user says anything that you feel you don’t understand, always ask them to clarify their stance. If they’re not sure what you mean, refer to your notes and repeat as closely as possible what the user actually said – not your interpretation. Based on what the user says, you may need to ask further open questions.

How you come across to your users always makes a difference in the answers you receive from them. Since power imbalances do exist, you need to drive efforts towards minimizing the chances of these imbalances becoming a barrier. Make sure to consider your physical appearance as well as how you speak and act. Be aware that users of different ages, genders, races, and accents need to be interacted with differently.

Have a plan to deal with difficult users

Just as there are some amazing users who perfectly fit the profile and are able to clearly express their thoughts, there will be some who make the research process long and painful. Here are some tips on how to deal with users who are:

  • Too talkative: Adopt a serious business-like attitude to say things like, moving on before we run out of time, we still have a lot to get through, we’ll try and get through this step quickly, or we won’t have time to cover it all, etc.
  • Disengaged: Try to understand if the user is just there for the incentive, or whether they specifically feel disengaged with your product. Try asking a different set of questions or move to another scenario.
  • Excessively negative: If the user hates the experience, it is surely a cause for worry. But rather than getting disheartened or trying to influence the user to say something positive, be enthusiastically cheerful about their feedback. Empower them by saying something like “the more problems you can find for us, the more chance we have to fix it”.
  • Excessively positive: If your users seem to love your product experience, it’s a reason for celebration. But make sure they have an open mind to different aspects of your product experience. If required, propose alternative design options and shift them back into a thoughtful mode. Always remember, no product is perfect.

When it comes to user research, driving efforts in planning research activities and then conducting the research is extremely important to understand user needs and goals. How you present yourself to your users, what questions you ask, and how you ask them all have a great impact on the answers you receive, the features you design, and the user experience you will eventually offer.

At Windmill, all designers are actively involved in the user research process. Since many products that we design are for big companies with many moving parts, we make sure to research a wide range of users from the beginning and always test in house first. Before we go to the client we need to practice our user testing on the team to hash out any mistakes or wrong assumptions.

This includes generative to usability testing. Of course, conducting the research is not the end objective. Intensive analysis of the data captured in the user research follows. That’s the stage that reveals the insights that will define the scope of the product design, and what you’ll find in the next blog post.

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