User Research. What's it all about?

Explore Assurity 18 February 2018 Rupert Burton

We perform User Research to improve products and services so they better meet the needs of current and potential users. A report from Forrester stated that “70% of software projects fail due to lack of adoption”, meaning a project can meet all its functional requirements, but without user uptake, it’s doomed to failure.

There’s increasing competition for user attention, particularly in the digital marketplace. At the same time, it’s getting easier for customers to transfer their loyalty. The banking and power industries are prime examples of this. It’s never been quicker and easier to switch providers with such limited personal effort. Even when the consumer has little choice, such as in the government sector, there is a demand for digital engagement. Without a user friendly and effective system, users are often unwilling to persevere and simply bombard the service provider with expensive support calls.

“User research focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies”

When should I do User Research?

User Research can add value at all stages of development:

  • Talking to your customers early will help determine their needs and desires, validate ideas and resolve disputes
  • During development, talking to the potential users of a product or service will ensure that the development is on track to deliver the right outcomes and stimulate further ideas
  • Post-delivery, User Research can help measure success, highlight pain points and identify the next steps for improvement

How do I do User Research?

There are many User Research techniques from large-scale surveys through to intimate interviews – from the highly technical utilising the latest technology (such as Virtual Reality) through to the simplest offline approach of talking. Each has its pros and cons and suitability for different situations. You may already be collecting valuable information such as analytics or support call feedback.

Common techniques include, but are not limited to:

  • Task-based interviews – getting feedback directly from users as they use an application, service or product
  • Surveys – asking questions remotely to inform about user attitudes or response to a design or output
  • Focus groups - moderated discussion with a group of users
  • Card sorting - getting users’ perceptions of category groupings to inform the information architecture process
  • Contextual interviews – feedback from users in their own environment (usually work or home) to help understand their holistic needs, not just the product usage
  • Expert review - utilising the knowledge and experience of the analysts to identify potential issues before engaging users

Can’t we just do it ourselves?

You certainly can and we would encourage you to do so. Even talking to one user will likely reveal insights that you had not considered. But it’s not always as easy as just talking to a few users. Designing research that’s appropriate to the situation and avoiding cognitive biases can be a demanding process.

A professional user researcher will:

  • Talk to the appropriate stakeholders and identify a suitable approach for the project
  • Be independent of internal agendas
  • Consider a wide variety of tools and techniques and select the most appropriate for the context
  • Design the research and verify expected outcomes with stakeholders
  • Facilitate or otherwise execute the research in a manner to avoid potential bias
  • Objectively analyse the output of the research and report findings in a thorough, but easily digestible format

Where can I get help?

There are a number of companies offering User Research or you may have an in-house UX team that could help. Many UX professionals come from a design background and perform User Research to inform the design process. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it tends to be design-focused and subjective.

Assurity’s User Research service is different, offering User Research independent of both the design process (we're not the designers in the traditional ‘user interface design’ sense. We do not have a vested interest in a particular design. Our research reports may include recommendations related to design, but are more in the context of service or experience design). However, our research results include analysis and recommendations related to design and internal agendas.

Most of our consultants come from a test or business analysis background. Having worked in development and delivery teams, we understand the pressures and practicalities involved. We consider the holistic situation and have experience of embedding ourselves within existing project teams or providing external advice.