Some research is better than no research, but when you’ve got very little time and a tight budget what do you do?


User research gives us the opportunity to inform our designs with the reality in which they’ll exist. When done correctly it can uncover new insights and help shape the product. If done incorrectly you risk confirming your assumptions because the research is conducted with biases. Guerrilla user research is a good option if you have very little time, very little budget, or you’re fighting for a formal user research budget.

What is Guerrilla User Research?

Guerrilla user research is differentiated from formal user research by time, cost, and rigor. With formal user research, there are administrative costs associated with setting up a study, recruiting participants, conducting the research and analyzing the results. With guerrilla research, many of the set up and recruitment costs can be minimized by technique selected. And rigor? Typically with guerrilla research your insights will not be as detailed but they’ll be enough to identify problems and point you in the right direction.

How do I do it?

Step 1: Who should I do research with?

That depends on what your product is, and who your target user group is. If you’re a sport tracking app and your target users are fitness enthusiasts and data junkies you should consider where you can find those people. Perhaps hanging out at a gym would give you access to your user group.

With guerrilla user research, you’re not going to be able to screen and recruit people that fit the exact persona you’re looking for. It’s not as hyper focused but you’re getting closer to your target users.

Step 2: What should I test?

You can get feedback on just about anything. Your product concept, navigation, functionality, key tasks, and interfaces are all fair game. Just don’t try to test everything with every user, you won’t have enough time, especially if you’re not incentivizing participants.

Step 3: Where do I do it?

You can test anywhere you think your users might be, and if you’re allowed to be there. With the sport tracker app example if your users will be using it at the gym or on their runs consider testing in the apps ‘natural environment’. Ask a gym junkie for 10 minutes of their time, do your research, and buy them a smoothie afterwards as a thank you.

Step 4: When do I do research?

You can do research as soon as you have something to show. It could be a concept, some sketches, or a functional prototype. if there is something your users can look at and provide feedback on, you’re good to go.

Step 5: So… How do I do it?

Depends on what you’re trying to learn. Are you looking for qualitative or quantitative feedback? Qualitative insights are focused more around user behaviours, feelings, thoughts, and general feedback. They’re generally easier to ask but harder to analyze. You could do impromptu interviews and usability testing. Quantitative feedback provides you with some hard statistics if you’ve got a large enough sample size. However, these questions are harder to ask without bias and easier to analyze. Surveys are a great cheap tool. Using both methods together can provide some solid insights if they’re conducted properly.

Some tips:

Ask open ended questions: What are you expecting? What would you do? Etc.
Avoid bias, and acknowledge it when it exists: With the sport tracker app example the bias is in testing with gym users as opposed to people who work out in general. As long as you acknowledge this bias you can design around it.
Don’t lead participants: Using leading language or directing them through the app introduces your bias to the test.
Capture all the information: Ask to take a recording, take notes, etc. You’ll need these artifacts later when you inevitably forget some of the details.
Be honest and ethical: Just a general tip for life, always make sure you get all the necessary release forms.

Strengths and Limitations of Guerrilla User Research

As mentioned before guerrilla user research is a good option for specific situations, but it’s not a replacement for formal user research.

The Strengths:

• Guerrilla user research is cheap (…er than traditional user research). You can conduct a guerrilla study for no more cost than your time, and maybe some smoothies.
• It doesn’t take a ton of time. If you know what you’re doing and you’ve got a plan you can set up an interview guide, run out to a gym, and analyze in two or three days.
• With the proper planning, you can get actual helpful feedback.

The Limitations:

• If improperly set up, your research can miss things. Your results can end up being shallow and unreliable.
• It can be difficult to find users who are willing to participate for no initiative
• If this research is conducted by designers it can be hard to hear harsh criticism on your work, and the skill sets for research and design are very different.

Guerrilla user research can be a great option if you’re stuck and don’t have much time or budget, or if you’re trying to convince your boss to give you a formal research budget. Know what you’re getting into and know when it’s time to invest in formal research or hiring a user researcher.