How to approach user research for UX strategy?

One of the most important thing to keep in mind while laying out your UX strategy is ‘The real user of the product that you are designing for is not YOU’. So, user research is all about understanding your real users, their goals, and impediments that they are facing in achieving those goals.

Let’s consider following three scenarios

  • Book a movie ticket
  • Buy furniture online
  • Provide inventory status over phone-calls

For each of the above mentioned scenarios user will be using the system with specific goal in mind. And to design any such system you must understand the context where the system or product will be used. There are many interesting methods like surveys, focus groups, contextual interviews, filed-visits and so on. However, by throwing all of them at once you may end up with too much information that you need to analyse. So, best is to select only those that are most suitable to shape your first version of minimum viable product(MVP). Especially when you are designing absolutely new product or system. Because unless you roll-out first version of your product and allow people to use it to achieve their goals you cannot assume what impediments they may face! As you iterate and roll-out better versions of your product you can get closer look at your users thus, improve their user experience.

The real user

By observing users as they carry their tasks and achieve their goals you can understand the messy reality that users might be dealing with day to day. However, visiting and interviewing the right users is very important. At times, stakeholders are providing information about who the users are going to be for the product. You may be directed to people who were in the role of the user sometimes ago. So, any knowledge that you gain about your users from stakeholders or other users will have assumptions about ‘user needs’ that you will need to verify later. That means to find out actual ‘user needs’ you must visit real users of your product to see the context where the tasks are being carried out, also called contextual inquiry or field visit.

If you consider above mentioned scenarios, while booking a movie ticket your user might be surrounded by group of friends and his decision might be highly influenced by comments provided by his/her friends. He might be using a tablet or a mobile to book tickets either at home or at a cafeteria. On the other hand, a customer care executive providing inventory status may be using multiple monitors to view inventory-details while verifying customer-details side by side.

Capturing info about real users

During field visit you have a chance of interviewing your users where they carry-out their tasks. As you approach your users they may see you as an expert. However, for successful ‘user-centered’ design it is important to make the user comfortable enough while you observe and interview them to let you see the real picture. So, treat the user as an expert and let them carry their job/tasks while you observe the following and take notes.

  • How is the environment where the task is being carried out?
  • What activities they have to carry to complete the task?
  • What Interactions that they have to do while carrying out the tasks? Do they need to get approval from someone in the organization?
  • What Kind of tools and objects your users are dealing with while carrying out the tasks?
  • What is their skill-level and education?

As you observe your users carrying out their tasks make sure you verify any assumptions that you may have done before. Make sure you ask the right questions that are open ended so you can get the broader view of the system. After taking prior consent from your user, taking photographs and using audio or video recorders may help you capture great amount of information about your users.

Some of the common questions that you may ask

  • What would make a great work-day for you?
  • What part of the system you use often?
  • What are your favourite aspects of the system?
  • What activities you think waste your time a lot?
  • Do you use any short-cuts to perform that task?

As you interview more people, you may observe some kind of pattern that are pointing to same aspect of the system. May be there are multiple users facing the same problem! Or they may share favourite aspect of the system! To get most useful actionable research results you must interview reasonable number of users depending on the types of users you may have for your product or system, availability of those users and available time-frame to interview those users.

Finally, you need right tools and techniques to understand your user’s point of view for the system, also called ‘mental model’ that your users follow to achieve their goals. In the next post we will discuss different ways you can analyse all the information you just collected about your users.


Krishna Meet

Krishna Meet is a software scientist having core interest in analytical dashboards. Majority of her career span was into tech-writing and UX-design. However, she thrives by intersecting multiple skill-sets : SQL & NOSQL databases, business analysis, and UX design. She is a voracious reader and possesses Masters degree in Computer Science. Her interest in agile methodologies and user-centered design has landed her a techno-functional role at Brevitaz.

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