Abstract: The UXR process involves four main phases: Discovery, Exploration, Testing, and Listening. Each step is critical to designing products and interfaces that meet the needs of users.
Trust the process, specifically the UXR Process.
It can be tempting to dive right into solutions, but this generally creates more problems than it solves. First, designers should get acquainted with the tried and true User Experience Research (UXR) Process. UXR is a trendy word currently, but few people are actually practicing it—often blaming a lack of resources, time, money, and dedicated researchers. However, UXR has never been more attainable and easy to implement. On Zoom or over text, research can virtually take place anywhere, anytime, and with anyone.
As more unresearched products and services flood the market, companies will need to invest more time, money, and people in research. Through a complete cycle UXR process, teams should expect to research across four methods: discovery, exploration, testing, and listening.
All good UX research starts with discovery. Discovery is the method for bringing light to the shadows in your understanding. The aim during discovery is to find out what it is you don’t know and begin to understand it. This may seem obvious, but it is more challenging in practice. Discovery relies heavily on asking the right questions to understand the nuances affecting your scope of research. Poor discovery methods ultimately lead to inadequate products and poor market performance.
When performing discovery, there is no one-size-fits-all plan. Instead, your scope and aims for discovery will determine what would be most beneficial to your needs.
UX Field Studies: Digital Ethnographic Research, Contextual Inquiries, & more
UX Field studies occur in clinics, labs, offices, public spaces, and homes. UXR can genuinely meet users where they are and study them there. By doing so, researchers can glean insights that will make a difference in the everyday lives of their users. UX field studies include generative research, digital ethnographic research, contextual inquiries, direct observation, requirement & constraint research, and stakeholder research.
During digital ethnographic research, researchers set out to understand users “in the wild”. With this methodology, researchers can unveil the interactions and contexts that surround the natural use of a product or service. The key benefits of digital ethnography are:
- Identifying unmet needs of users
- Gaining insights into hypothetical solutions
- Understanding the nuances within a particular problem-space
- Revealing possible competitive advantages to develop
With digital ethnography, researchers can understand the potential impacts without sinking large amounts of resources, money, and time on an unfounded assumption. Essentially, digital ethnography provides researchers the basis to develop working hypotheses that explore the problem space.
Make the most out of your studies by casting a large net when recruiting participants to observe. UXR has had a lengthy history of lacking a representative participant pool; however, with the advent of self-serve recruiting platforms like UserInterviews.com, there has been no easier time to gather participants from these previously under-researched groups.
When it comes to digital ethnography and field studies, researchers should try to conduct a longitudinal study. Extended studies often lead to significant patterns of use, greater contextual understanding, and a view of users’ internal feelings and thoughts over varied conditions, constraints, and requirements.
Users are the main focus during UXR, so it is crucial to understand the context that surrounds their use of products and the attainment of services. Contextual inquiry is a conversational interview with a base structure. During interviews like this, the conversation is meant to feel natural and encourage users to voice their opinions and challenges about using a product or service. During a contextual inquiry, users are often in their natural environments and asked to interact with the particular elements in question. Contextual inquiry is incredibly beneficial for:
- Researching and understanding the constraints users face during usage
- Exposing the physical, social, and technical interplay that occurs in product usage
- Seeing and hearing first-hand accounts of usage
The discovery stage is the foundation of any solid UXR plan. This is the method to start including and evangelizing stakeholders. Be sure to get ample information and perspectives about the problem space. It will help you narrow the research scope and ensure that business goals influence possible solutions–finding a way to balance business goals and user needs through UX solutions.
Once researchers have uncovered significant gaps or needs of users, they can move on to exploring the problem space through more actionable means. When evaluating users’ everyday lives, researchers can utilize diary studies to understand users fully. During diary studies, researchers can employ two methods: In-Situ or Snippet. Researchers can use remote technologies to suit immediate responses or video recordings to study in-depth with these methods. Diary studies become extremely important in mapping out user journeys and understanding significant decision points they face.
With journey mapping, researchers create a task analysis that looks at the jobs users believe must be done before an activity is considered complete. The latter part of task analysis looks at simplifying tasks users must perform to ensure later usability and efficiency in the application of a solution.
Researchers must be cognizant that representation matters when it comes to UXR. Therefore, they must keep to identifying and observing a diverse range of people. Design diversity exploration allows researchers to understand the unmet needs and challenges that diverse populations may experience. For example, it is important to understand the extra steps involved for someone with a disability or how imagery may alienate certain groups of people during usage.
As researchers move toward holistic practices that incorporate varied experiences, task analysis, and journey mapping, they can move toward persona research and development. At this stage, researchers compile various traits, goals, and challenges into personified composites to utilize in user stories. Researchers often leverage user stories in business meetings to win over internal support for a project. Empathy is key to user stories as it provides the “why” behind the “what”.
When it comes to exploring, researchers must be agile and adaptive. They must be ready to dispel hypotheses that don’t serve the problem space. They must be prepared to sell their takeaways convincingly and proactively.
UXR is impactful because it relies heavily on testing. And researchers do not do this testing haphazardly. Instead, researchers do this testing once they have gained insight that crosses over into expertise. Then, with sound hypotheses to test, researchers can begin to see what solutions could potentially work, what would need to be modified, and what should be scrapped altogether.
It is important to note that all testing based on discovery and exploration is highly informative, even if the test “fails”. These failures often give researchers more significant insights into alternative solutions that would be better adapted to users. All of these tests should be stored in the repository to guide future research.
Researchers should primarily focus on the qualitative aspects of UX and Usability Testing. UX and usability testing give greater weight to the stories of data. Researchers can genuinely understand how a solution solves or exacerbates usage problems by focusing on thoughts, feelings, and engagement. Aside from empathizing with the user, researchers can also understand the ease of use experienced, how well the product or service was understood, and whether a need was satisfied, and to what extent.
Aside from traditional UXR methods like UX and Usability testing, researchers can lean into social media during testing. Social media is a free, evolving, and publicly accessible space that can be exploited for UX research. Like diary studies, researchers can get those “in-the-moment experience” snippets on almost any day. With more and more people creating content, social media is rich with insights on product usage, adoption, and longevity.
With the emergence of diversity, accessibility is becoming a key topic in UXR. It is crucial to understand how accessible products and services are. Accessibility isn’t just making the typeface bigger; it’s about making the experience available to a variety of users within varying contexts. Accessibility should be heavily considered during exploration, and those findings should influence a solution to test. It is essential to engage people with accessibility needs in a participatory manner that allows for the design and development of a solution that is inclusive.
Listening is always the most difficult method, especially after researchers have logged countless hours in discovery, exploration, and testing. Regardless, listening is the culmination of research. This method starts from a place of humility, and researchers should not be married to solutions. In fact, they should be extremely open and adaptive to changes.
As researchers begin to move through this methodology, they should be heavily recruiting participants for Usability Bug Review. Researchers should be ready to incentivize participants to join future study cohorts that will uncover severe issues found in products and services with which users interact daily. Usability Bug Reviews look at severity through the frequency of occurrence, the extent of the impact a problem has, and whether the issue persists across multiple sessions. This is essential for older industries that grapple with legal constraints like forms on government websites, hospital platforms, and banking apps.
Researchers don’t have to look far for an FAQ on most sites, and this should spur countless possible ideas and problems to solve. FAQs cut to the root of the problem as their appearance on a site signals there is an issue that has users looking for workarounds and information. Aside from FAQs, researchers can utilize surveys to understand better how users interact with products and services in their daily lives. Surveys are cheap, easy, and a great starting point to uncover potential gaps in the problem space. Keeping surveys narrow in scope, easily understood, and easy to complete is crucial.
From demos to conferences, researchers can see what users want to know about products and how they may use them. There is a direct interaction between users and researchers in workshops and demos that allows them to explore this problem space together. Researchers have the added benefit of understanding and addressing questions and concerns a design may spur.
Any time researchers can work directly with users, it is advisable. With the increasing connectivity of the world, researchers can do all of these tasks remotely. UXR is flourishing in the information age as researchers now have a direct lens into the contexts of a user’s everyday life. Additionally, UXR methods are producing better products due to the growing ease of researching fringe groups and diverse people, making solutions not only marketable but, more importantly, inclusive. There are many methods when it comes to UXR, but there is no formulaic approach that will yield the exact findings you will want. Researchers should be careful to define the scope and depth of their problem space before applying methodologies. Upon definition, researchers will be able to discern which methods would best be applied.
When it comes to UXR, the researcher is there to discover problems, explore solutions, test ideas, and listen intently. Without these elements, users will go unsatisfied, and businesses will fail. Users deserve products and services that understand them, and it all starts with UXR.