Companies that rely too heavily on traditional research methods like surveys, IDIs, and focus groups expose themselves to a greater risk of having blind spots in their data. Traditional methods lack context, are prone to bias, and are generally conducted too long from the area of interest for participants to accurately recall their experiences. This is why generative research methods like mobile ethnography and digital diary studies are growing in popularity. They provide organizations with a real-world understanding of the experiences and needs of their customers.
The blind spots of traditional research methods
User research has become integral to the development process in recent years as companies strive to build better products and services. However, relying solely on traditional research methods like in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus groups, and surveys can leave companies with blind spots that affect their ability to fully understand their users’ needs and behaviors. That’s why it’s important to incorporate remote research methods like diary studies, mobile ethnography, and other generative research into a company’s user research practices. These methods provide deeper insights into user behaviors and thought processes, enabling companies to build better products and services that meet users’ needs.
Surveys, in-depth interviews (IDIs), and focus groups are commonly leveraged in user research, but they can have drawbacks when used alone. Here are some of the most significant shortcomings of relying too much on these methods:
- Shallow understanding: They may only reveal what users say they do or think rather than their actual behavior. These methods may not uncover the reasons behind user behavior, limiting the depth of understanding for researchers.
- Reduced scope: Surveys are limited to closed-ended questions with predefined responses, while IDIs and focus groups are limited to the participants’ perspectives at a single point in time. Limitations like these can lead to narrow findings that aren’t truly representative.
- Recall Effect: It can be challenging for users to provide a precise, detailed, and accurate account of their experiences when surveys, interviews, and focus groups are conducted several days to weeks after their purchase or interaction with a touchpoint.
- Social desirability bias: Users may not provide honest or accurate answers in IDIs and focus groups. Users may be influenced to give responses that are socially acceptable rather than reflective of their true opinions and experiences.
- Limited contextual insights: Surveys, IDIs, and focus groups may not give researchers enough context to fully understand user behavior. Methods like these do not provide enough information about users’ environments or circumstances, which can greatly reduce the understanding of their behaviors.
In short, an overreliance on surveys, IDIs, and focus groups can lead to a limited understanding of user behaviors and experiences. To address these shortcomings, researchers should consider adding other remote UXR methods, such as mobile ethnography and diary studies.
Overcoming blind spots with remote generative research
Generative research is an approach that seeks to generate new insights and ideas rather than simply testing existing hypotheses. This type of remote research should involve studying users in their natural environments while observing their behaviors and thought processes. Generative research helps companies uncover new user needs, desires, and behaviors that they might not have discovered through traditional research methods. By incorporating generative techniques, companies can align products and services to real-world user needs.
Key advantages of generative research:
- Convenience: Researchers can conduct ideation sessions with participants from the comfort of their own homes and at their convenience.
- Diversity & Inclusion: Researchers can attract a more diverse sample as location, time, & other resource constraints are significantly reduced.
- Affordability: It’s less expensive than traditional in-person research, allowing companies to achieve a greater ROI.
- Longitudinal studies: Since participants can submit their ideas from anywhere, researchers can easily collect data over weeks or even months.
One of the most effective generative research methods is diary studies. Diary studies involve asking users to keep a record of their activities, thoughts, and feelings over a period of time. This method is particularly useful for understanding user behaviors and routines in their natural environments. By asking users to keep a diary of their activities, companies can gain insights into how users integrate products and services into their daily life and what challenges they face.
For example, a company that makes fitness apps may conduct a diary study to understand how users incorporate exercise into their daily routines. They may ask users to keep a diary of their exercise routines over a period of two weeks. By analyzing the records, the company might discover that users struggle to find time to work out during the workweek but are more active on weekends. With these insights, the company can develop new features or products that help users integrate daily exercise.
Key advantages of diary studies:
- Real-time data: With remote diary studies, researchers can receive data instantaneously. This means that researchers can analyze the data quickly and adjust the study as needed.
- More accurate data: Because users submit diary entries in real-time, the data collected is often more accurate. Users are less likely to forget details or modify their behaviors if they record their activities as they occur naturally.
- Cost-effective: Remote diary studies can be less costly because they don’t require researchers to travel to different locations to conduct the research.
Another generative research method is mobile ethnography. Mobile ethnography involves studying people in their natural environments and observing their behaviors and interactions from afar. Remote ethnography studies allow companies to conduct this type of research via smartphones without physically being in the same location as the users. This method is particularly beneficial to companies with users in different parts of the world.
For example, a company that makes software for remote teams might conduct a mobile ethnography study to understand how users in different countries collaborate with each other. They can observe users in their natural work environments using UXR platforms like Eth0s. By analyzing the users’ behaviors and interactions, the company can gain insights into how cultural differences affect collaboration and how their software could better support users in different regions.
Key advantages of mobile ethnography studies:
- More flexibility: Researchers can observe a wider array of users in their natural environments without geographical limitations.
- Richer data: Mobile ethnography captures authentic behaviors and emotions in context, which leads to a greater understanding of how users interact and engage with products and services long-term.
- Greater comfort: Participants may feel more at ease in their own space, leading to more honest and candid feedback. Further, researchers can see how users interact with products and services naturally.
- Increased productivity: Remote studies allow for scheduling that works for both the researcher and the participant, increasing participation rates. Additionally, remote research greatly reduces travel expenses and time constraints.
Adding generative research like diary studies and mobile ethnography to data collected from traditional methods provides companies with richer and deeper insights into user behaviors, emotions, and needs. Remote UXR methods enable companies to conduct studies flexibly and affordably while capturing genuine user experiences and behaviors that will enrich iterative designs. Companies that don’t take advantage of generative research run the risk of having significant blind spots in the understanding of their users.