Abstract: To design is to understand, and to do that, designers will need to cultivate a solid UXR process. The key to UXR is discovering needs, exploring contexts, testing assumptions, and listening deeply. UXR separates industry leaders from run-of-the-mill organizations.
What is UXR?
Simply put, UXR is User Experience Research. Many designers know what they want to design and what they want that design to incorporate, but the reason many designs flop in the market is a lack of research. It is important to realize that context is king in UX design, and often, the context is far more nuanced than designers realize.
Contexts can be vast and sweeping with a myriad of different lived experiences of users. Designers can tap into real users to understand how to serve them better. Often designers are trying to attract the user to the product, but what they should be doing is making products that people actually need. When it comes to design, it’s important to remember that you are not the user. Your experience as a designer is vastly different from most people using your products. You may even find yourself designing a product for a specialized group that requires an immense amount of understanding and UXR to design and develop successfully.
UXR is the key to building better products and services for users. Instead of duplicating competitor products that aren’t working, UX designers who leverage research can tap into what their users want and how they would use it throughout their everyday life.
Why is UXR important?
Through ethnographic studies and user interviews, designers can utilize these nuances to supercharge product designs. It’s not only essential to understand the impact a product has, but it’s more so important to understand how users leverage the product in their daily life.
For example, navigation maps that haven’t been engineered with the user in mind may not deliver instructions at the correct times. This absence may lead to the maps being unable to locate precise locations in dense cities, or it may not be optimized for mobile design, or it may default to navigation modes like driving for car-less users. Though seemingly innocent, the frictions involved in these interactions would be enough to lessen user engagement and adoption. Though the designer set out to make a navigation app, getting from Point A to Point B isn’t the only point of the product. Since there are thousands of navigation apps, navigation apps need to understand how users will utilize them in their daily lives to stand out and be effective.
To build better products
How many grocery store apps does the world need? Frankly, not anymore, but designers are still designing them. So how do designers make a product stand out in a highly competitive market? UXR. In a competitive market, research is the key to innovation and expertise.
Many designers rely on imitation, but expert designs know that innovation is genuinely where products become better. Not only more usable but more rewarding, products built for easier intuition that lead users to their ultimate wants and needs won’t have to rely on gimmicks and flashy marketing. For example, food ordering platforms are a dime a dozen, but the ones that have gone on to understand their users are the ones that continue to stay around. UberEats and GrubHub have dedicated talent to UX research for this precise reason. These individuals have studied their users to not only understand how to design the app but design the experience. From the homepage display to the order tracking and after-delivery experience, these researchers have cultivated a deep understanding of their product and their users to develop experiences that can withstand the test of time.
One-hit wonders are everywhere in this market. There is an abundance of solid starting designs, but all designers know iteration and new feature building are the true differentiators in competitive markets. A critical understanding during iteration is remembering that you are not the user and that your expertise is limited.
Great design comes from collaboration and ongoing UXR. From diary studies to usability interviews, researchers must continue to iterate as the user’s lives, behaviors, and wants are in constant flux. For example, Facebook was the leading social platform over a decade ago, but now it has become less popular. One could argue moving away from what it was once good at is the issue, but the real issue seems to point to the fact that they don’t listen to their users. Products that direct use instead of intuiting it will ultimately fail to entice, engage and excite users.
Where should you start with UXR?
Go for qualitative data – capture the emotions, the thoughts, the needs, the wants, and the behaviors of your users. The stories captured through qualitative analysis are the heart of your future products and iterations. The best place to begin when pursuing qualitative data is to discover.
With discovery, unknowns, user needs, and constraints come to light. Designers can use discovery to really dig into the needs of their users. From co-creation/ideation sessions to journey mapping, there is an abundance of methods that serve designers in the discovery process. Discovery methods are meant to communicate and promote a collaborative approach to designing for what has been illuminated during discovery.
As designers begin to explore and test, they will start to draw deep conclusions on context. The stories unveiled during exploration show the challenges, pain points, emotions, and environmental impacts that may be hindering product usage. UX and usability tests are becoming easier than ever to implement remotely with real users. Designers can finally get a true representation of their user base in these studies and then use these findings to iterate even better products.
When designers and UI/UX Agencies make an effort to listen, they will find that the users are a wealth of ideas. Expert designers know the key to the puzzle lies in the user, and they know that using the right research methods will produce that key. Diary studies are an extremely effective way to listen to users. Quickly scaled and flexible, diary studies unveil the big picture. Diary studies enable researchers to share the story behind the data finally. When companies don’t listen and don’t conduct UXR on an ongoing basis, they are fighting for their survival, often producing reactive designs instead of engaging and innovative products.