Preparing for User Research: Effective UX Research Part 1

Effective UX Research Part 1: Preparing for Research

Moenika Chowdhury
  • UX & Design

“Want your users to fall in love with your designs? Fall in love with your users.”

– Dana Chisnell, thought leader in civic design

Achieving delightful user experiences in today’s ever-changing climate is a challenge. Designers must implement design elements in a way that best delivers the user’s core values, which are sometimes not obvious. The modern user is complex and needs to be understood from all angles to know how they will interact with the product. Enter user research.

The need for UX research 

Modern products are multifaceted, and sometimes put design and development teams under pressure to deliver high-quality products to users quickly and cheaply. This pressure, however, can lead to building products nobody wants or needs – particularly when teams skip the crucial step of research. 

The process can seem slow and perhaps unnecessary when you’re in the thick of it with looming deadlines, but remember that doing it properly is critical to the success or failure of your product. It also means you’re focusing on the most important part of your product first; the user, and adopting a completely user-centered design lifecycle from the start.

The 4 Elements of Great Research

  1. Set test objectives: Why are you conducting this research and what do you want to get out of it? Instead of focusing on broad objectives such as how users interact with the product, or what usability issues users are facing, focus on specific elements like who could benefit the most and why. When do users need our help and why? How do users make a decision and what information do they need?
  2. Write the test script: A test script is a set of instructions that drives users to provide answers aligned with the test objectives. There are many methods to creating them, such as writing a story or gamifying it with a list of small tasks for the user.
  3. Make the research happen: Remember who we are designing this product for; the users! So you must recruit suitable users that represent a good variety of basic characteristics to implement your research with. You should not only have one trait of the ideal user. After finding the perfect candidates, take time to sort out procedural and admin issues to ensure that they get the support they need to make this activity successful. There is always something new with technology or company regulations to complicate the process that you need to be aware of.
  4. Run tests and analyze results: Once everything is in place, it’s time to run the test interviews. Don’t lead the user but rather focus on understanding what users do, and how the product can fit with their goals. One session won’t be enough, so plan a few initially. Multiple testing sessions will help discover aspects they missed in previous testing and uncover opportunities for further improvement of test scripts. It is essential that after each test interview the researchers build a report of what they learned, and what can be improved for the real deal. This can be constantly revisited while designing the product as well, which is key. Remember, users are far more forgiving of imperfect details than an entirely wrong concept.

User Research Training @ Windmill

At Windmill we take user research seriously, hiring experts and disseminating knowledge throughout the wider design team. It features heavily in our weekly knowledge sharing sessions. In these 90 minute sessions one team member will build a few fun tasks to complete in groups of 2 or 3 focusing on one element of the research process. We implement a 5-minute self assessment after each training exercise, in which each team member can track their progress without the pressure of sharing it with anyone else. We find they can then be honest about where they are in their journey. The learning never stops!


In Part 2 of this article series we will take a look at conducting user research with real users, based on work we have done at Windmill.

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