User Research

This is the practise of defining the users and the environment they operate in, by examining their behaviour, demographics, activity, and user needs using a variety of tools and techniques.

Why conduct user research?

User research is essential for creating a design which is relevant to the user and their needs. Having a sound foundation of knowledge about the user will establish an emphatic attitude towards their wants and needs. User research, although typically performed at the beginning of the design process, should be acknowledged and referred to throughout, ensuring the project is following the original design intent. Approaching the design process from the user’s perspective will ensure the final product is both focused and validated; it could also help to iron out potential issues which could appear further into the project, and it is therefore much more cost effective and quicker to become aware of the user’s needs right from the beginning.

More than just the user

The goal is to understand the user’s overall motivations so you can design a product or system which is relevant to them. Identifying the array of contextual factors which influence these motivations, such as their environment, skills and people around them, will allow us to empathically understand. Contextual factors are important to acknowledge as they may play a large role in the user’s approach to their experience.

Acknowledging past experiences

When designing a product or a system, you need to acknowledge how the user is currently addressing their experience, in order to improve on this. This may be the tasks the user does to meet their goals, or if they currently use any products or services which allow them to carry out similar experiences or have in the past. User research will give you an insight into whether they found these past experiences useful or not, thus allowing you to design an improved product, tailored to them. Addressing pain points of existing products or systems is an effective way of condensing significant problems and turning them into focused solutions.

“Qualitative research aims to uncover thoughts and behaviours, enabling us to profile and understand the users we are designing for”.

Quantitative or qualitative?

There are many different user research techniques, all of which should be explored to decide which ones will be most beneficial to your project. User research can occur using both qualitative and quantitative techniques. Qualitative research aims to uncover thoughts and human behaviour, through the means of techniques like interviews, where the participant can speak at length about their feelings. Whereas quantitative research focuses on capturing numerical and statistical data, through techniques such as surveys. Common user research techniques are listed below.

  • Ethnographic & contextual studies
  • Usability testing
  • Surveys
  • Observation research
  • Depth interviews
  • Stakeholder research
  • Emerging trend, behaviour & market analysis
  • Behavioural segmentation and persona creation

Some questions you might have

What stage in the project should we start to involve users?

The sooner users are involved in the design process the better. User research is typically conducted at the start of the design process to ensure the project has a sound foundation of understanding about the users needs and goals.  Research techniques such as interviews, allows the designer to get to know the factors which influence their behaviour. It can also be beneficial to involve users throughout the design process to ensure you are complying with their needs.

How many techniques do I need to apply to my project for significant results?

This is dependent on your type of project and how much time you are willing to invest in the primary research stage. In many cases, simple tasks such as demographic research can tell you a lot about your type of user you are designing for. However, the more research that is conducted, the more focused your design decisions will be.

What happens if I choose not to do user research?

The final design outcome risks not being relevant to user needs or goals. Although on the surface you may think this stage of the design process is not necessary as you already know what your users need, this could be misinformed. Once you get into design and development it can then be very costly and time-consuming to make changes, so it is highly recommended that some form of research into your user is conducted to avoid this.

How do I know my idea is relevant to an audience?

If you have an idea which you wish to progress with, it is always sensible to conduct some research into whether this is something users would actually be interested in. Firstly, start by looking if similar products or systems are available, so you can grasp the types of people who use it. Secondly you could conduct a focus group session with this type of user to assess whether they would find this concept useful.

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Farnham, Surrey

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