Whether you call it a field visit, a contextual inquiry or a customer discovery interview, the goal of early stage research is the same: to uncover users' needs. Here are 5 mistakes I've seen crop up time and again in this kind of research.
When carried out in a lab, user experience research is gear heavy. You need technology to record audio, video and the screen of the device under test. In contrast, when carried out in the field, user experience research is more lightweight. Even so, there are a few non-obvious items of kit that I find essential on a field visit.
If you compare the UX research methods we use today with the methods we used 16 years ago, something interesting emerges. We see that UX research is becoming increasingly remote and increasingly unmoderated. In other words, we're moving to a world where UX research is becoming automated. We can learn a lot from automated research. But it comes at the price of understanding our users.
Being able to see things through the eyes of someone else is one of the most important abilities a designer can have. But it's also very difficult for most of us to do. Could a rather dramatic break with convention put designers into the shoes of the people they design for?
UX researchers are storytellers who have devised tools like personas and user journey maps to tell the story of their research. Focusing on the story, rather than the tool, is a powerful way to become more effective.
We've always treated the informed consent process seriously and we have always gained explicit consent from people that take part in our field visits and usability tests. Although I think we do a good job of gaining consent, the advent of GDPR gave us an opportunity to review what we do. We were interested if there was a way we could improve our practice.
Engaging a representative sample of participants in user research sounds like a good idea but it is flawed. It requires lots of participants, does not work in an agile development environment, stifles innovation and reduces your chances of finding problems in small sample usability tests. When combined with iterative design, theoretical sampling (where theory and data collection move hand in hand) provides a more practical alternative.
A common mistake made by novice researchers is to ask users what they want from a new product or service. Although this seems like the correct way to do user research, in most cases users don't know, don't care or can't articulate what they need. It is the design team's job to establish the underlying problem, identify the best solution and then validate that their solution works. Design ethnography is the first step on that journey.
When planning user research studies, there are four fundamental principles from psychology that user researchers must know. These are: your users do not think like you think; your users don't have good insight into the reasons for their behaviour; the best predictor of your users' future behaviour is their past behaviour; and your users' behaviour depends on context.
The concept of strength of evidence plays an important role in all fields of research, but is seldom discussed in the context of user research. We take a closer look at what it means for user experience research, and suggest a taxonomy of research methods based on the strength of the data they return.
This workshop is one of 20 UX Strategy Workshops to take your business idea from concept to validation. In this workshop, we create a user journey map from data collected during field visits. A user journey map describes the entire user experience when people are achieving their goals. It's the first step in coming up with design solutions that are truly innovative.
One challenge faced by teams new to user research is simply getting started. Enthusiasm quickly gives way to frustration as teams don't know where to begin—especially when their product is aimed at 'everyone'. A practical solution is to identify a group of users that is easiest to get to and that provides the best opportunity for validated learning.
A knowledge of psychology can help user researchers be more effective when they plan research, make observations, analyse data and present the results.
Running a good customer interview is a fundamental step you'll take in trying to understand your users' needs, goals and behaviours. You can learn a lot from any customer conversation, such as a 'pop up' interview in a caf' or library, but you'll learn even more by running the interview in context: in your user's home or workplace.
In which we go on safari, stop at a red light, meet a zoologist, and discover four classic questions that can help us design better user research.
Fundamentally, all user research answers one of two questions: (a) Who are our users and what are they trying to do? (b) Can people use the thing we've designed to solve their problem? You answer the first question with a field visit and you answer the second question with a usability test.
Gaining informed consent is a cornerstone of the social sciences. But it is sometimes poorly practiced by user researchers. They fail to explain consent properly. They mix up the consent form with a non-disclosure agreement. And they mix up the consent form with the incentive. Improving the way you get consent will also improve the data you collect because participants can be more open and because it makes user researchers more empathic.
Contextual research is the gold standard in user research. But sometimes the user researcher is called upon to run an interview out of context. How can you structure a face-to-face interview to best help users tell their stories?
One of the most important questions faced by start-ups and established companies alike isn't, "Is my system usable?" or "Is this a great user experience?", but "Do people actually need this thing?" This article presents a structured interview technique for checking if you have identified a user need.
When I run training courses in user research, I get a host of questions that span the range from "What's the difference between a field visit and a usability test?" through to "How do you analyse the data?" Here are my answers to the 7 most common questions that I'm asked.
Most companies would claim to design products and services that are simple to use. But when you ask customers to actually use these products and services, they often find them far from simple. Why is there a disconnect between what organisations think of as "simple" and what users actually experience?
The great promise of user experience research is to go beyond asking people what they want and instead to discover what they need. But goal-based interviewing is difficult because it requires a very different approach to user interviews than simply running through a list of prepared questions. Two approaches that offer some promise are story elicitation and 'jobs to be done'.
People in small companies or people who work as a UX team of one often find it hard to gain commitment to do field research because it's perceived as too expensive or too time consuming. What quick and low-cost alternatives are available?
The new year is as good a time as any to review and improve the way you work. With a good user experience now widely seen as the key attribute of many high-tech products, it makes sense to review your own products to see how you can give them that user experience edge. Here are 20 quick, simple and virtually free ideas you can apply in 2012.
You may not get many chances to visit and observe your customers at their place of work, so you want to make the most of the opportunity. But what's the best way to run a site visit? Highly effective ethnographers show 5 specific behaviours. They create a focus question, audio record the sessions, take photographs of the environment, take notes and write up a short summary of the observation immediately.
Does your organisation use personas to describe users' characteristics, goals, needs and behaviours? Although they are a popular tool for communicating knowledge about users, many personas are little more than anecdote, hearsay and rumour. These kind of fake personas rapidly fall into disuse. Make sure your own personas get used by validating them against this 7-item checklist.
Site visits are the best method we have of gaining real insight into the way customers work — to understand what customers do, rather than what they say they do. But to get the most from a site visit you need to polish your interviewing skills. Great interviewers show 5 characteristics from which we can learn.
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Our most recent articles
- Nov 4: Common traps in user needs research and how to avoid them
- Oct 7: Transitioning from academic research to UX research
- Sep 2: The minimalist field researcher: What's in my bag?
- Aug 5: The future of UX research is automated, and that's a problem
- Jul 1: Talking to computers (part 2): VUI as an error recovery system