User Research for
Product Design & Management
The history of technology devices is plagued with failures due to building products with little consideration for their end-users. User research can substantially increase a product's chances of success through discovery and evaluative research initiatives.
What is user research?
Also called UX Research or Design Research, User research is about understanding, empathising, and learning from the users (and non-users) of a product. Organisations use user research to validate products – that is, verify that their products work as intended and are easy to use – and to ideate or generate new product ideas – which entails building new or improved products based on existing pain points, changing needs, and/or new aspirations.
Discovery: research is also carried out to come up with new product ideas based on the experienced issues, pain points, and aspirations that emerged during ideation workshops and generative research.
Evaluative: user research is the function of the organisation that generates organised and insightful feedback that can be used to optimise and improve products. The methods for generating this feedback includes usability and prototype testing activities.
Why should companies do user research?
User research is important if you want to build great products that work for the users. It’s a great way to get the users of your products onboard with the building and designing of the product, via their feedback (see resource 1 and 2). When user research is integrated in the continuous development process it sets your next product iteration up for success. Studies show how even small design optimisations can lead to large improvements: new web iterations don’t confuse users, products are clearly explained and make sense to the users, etc (see resource 3). Where user research gets very exciting is when it is part of the early product discovery and ideation process: finding unresolved user issues that require new products or features, designing reimagined product journeys based on user inputs, and so on. It’s hard to put a number on how valuable research is. Using an analogy, when management come in a research session for the first time they don’t want to leave. Using a metaphor: user research is a bit like seeing and listening to those around you, how would you value or monetise your senses?...
How does one carry out user research?
Doing research is tricky, because people are tricky. The set and setting of research and phrasing of the questions will skew responses in one or another way and research results may lead down the wrong path. So each research initiative is different and requires its own bespoke approach. This is where user researchers come in. What is important is that you differentiate your evidence, mix qualitative and quantitative research methods, and triangulate these results to verify findings and let conclusions emerge (see resource 3 and 4). Importantly, you will want to get as close as possible to the phenomena you are trying to understand. This means doing interviews, going out on the field, observing people as they engage in their activities.
What are some of the outputs of user research?
Journey maps, user stories, user flows, wireframes, user personas, clickable prototypes, etc. In other words, it helps to inform and refine the product be it in the high-level product proposition or the nitty gritty of the UI design.
What areas of the business can user research impact?
User research is quite unique in this regard, because it can touch most other areas of the business through the insights that are generated from the users. Product teams (developers and designers), marketing teams (user insights), business strategy (new product ideas), internal operations, HR (culture change, workplace improvement)… I have seen user research provide valuable insights at all these levels.
Practical Ethnography by Sam Ladner provides the main arguments for the importance of research.
Don’t make me think by Steve Krug is a main issue
Ethnographic thinking by Jay Hasbrouck on the power of ethnography not just as a research method but as a way of thinking about the user.
The Mum Test by Rob Fitzpatrick for a developer’s interesting tricks of the trade of ‘how’ to conduct user testing.