User research is the fundamental foundation on which good user experiences are created. According to Neilson Norman (aka the UX authority) it is a quintessential part of the user experience design process. This type of research is focused on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations. It helps us understand people’s lives so we can design the right product for them. Ideally user research is done throughout the product lifecycle, but always at the start, and always near the end in the form of usability testing.
User research is traditionally done by a UX designer, although there are some drawbacks in the two-for one UX pro deal. The skills, training, and career experience required to make a good User Researcher are very different for those to make a good UX Designer. Our company has always had two distinct teams to allow our employees to flex their best UX muscles.
Okay, but what is it really?
User research is built on the foundation of market and demographic research. It goes beyond market research by focusing on understanding the needs and motivations of user groups, who are segmented based on the way they use the product in question.
Imagine that you’re building a savings tool for millennials.
Traditional market research answers the “who, what, where, when” questions.
Who is the person who needs a savings tool?
What do they spend their money on? What is their financial literacy?
Where do they do their banking? When do they do their banking?
User research answers the “how and why” questions.
Why are they saving? How are they saving?
There would be a number of research techniques that go into creating a small blurb perhaps like the one below:
This brief description can evolve into a full blown persona, which is used by designers to empathize with users.
So why should I do it?
Two reasons: it’s better for your user’s experience of your product (obviously) and it’s better for your bottom line.
The business benefit
User research helps shape the product you’re building. It provides the foundation from which you can make informed strategic design and product decisions. You save time and money by building the right thing first, which leads to a better product and revenue stream in the end. But let’s allow legendary Apple designers Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini say it best:
“…uninformed company executives assume all this up-front design research, prototyping, and testing clearly must slow down the development process. Nope. When done properly, it speeds things up by catching problems early, before coding even begins.”
It also solves those pesky arguments on differences of opinion. You can’t argue with user feedback and usability testing data!
Take the millennial savings tool example
The value for millennial users is that they now have a product they can use that enables them to reach their savings goals.
The bank that developed this product did so because they wanted to reach a new market segment: millennials. The research conducted provided the bank with a far deeper understanding of their new customer’s needs and motivations around savings – giving the bank insights beyond the single product.