So, what is UX Research? UX Research, as the name says, is the research of user-experience. It is the analysis of user behavior when interacting with a product within an environment. UX Researchers get product design cues during a development phase by examining and interpreting how people react to their experience. UX Research helps understand users and their needs which later translate as requirements of the product.
Before a product steps to the market, it goes through a rigorous process of trial and testing backed by large amounts of gathered information. The information can be anything related to market and customers. Market trends. Annual product sales. Product Preferences. This collected information acts as the foundation for product development. In commercial terms, for a product to be termed successful, it has to attain high sales and revenue. In consumer terms, a product is successful when It satisfies the needs of the customer while being user-friendly. UX Research deals with the user-friendly aspect of the product. Ease of operation, design ergonomics all come under UX Research.
There are several ways of gathering information for product research. UX Researchers used a variety of techniques to obtain market information to help in the refinement of the developing product. Here are some of the methods:
Interviews are the purest form of gathering information. All one does for an interview is to ask questions to the participant and record their responses. These responses in the form of facts and opinions shed some light over the probable features/requirements of the product. Though the simplest, interviews are not the most efficient way to conduct research, especially when there’s a looming deadline on the horizon as the process is slow and time-consuming. Still, the interview is the basic form of research.
Though interviews reveal many customer preferences, there’s always the risk of missing out on some of the minute details. Details that even the user themselves might not be aware of when responding to an interview verbally. Contextual interviews are interview based on the action responses to equipment. These interviews add functional responses to personal interviews. These interviews aim for real interaction between user and equipment/interface without interference from any foreign factor. This process lets the researcher attain more information and know about things such as the interactive aspect of the product in real-time, user preferences.
Sometimes interviews do not provide vital information that could help in product development. Take, for example, a pair of shoes. The above two interviews cannot tell the researcher about the usage pattern of shoes. It varies from person to person. In such cases, we need day-to-day usage record from users to calculate the average lifespan of the shoes to design. Hence, for these cases, diary studies are more suitable. Diary Studies monitor daily activities of the participants. It acts as a logger for user movement on a day-to-day basis. Tracking daily user activities helps researchers learn about the behavior patterns of a user, which could further translate to product requirements.
Card sorting is about grouping topics into categories. Users are provided with topics and asked to organize them based on their preferences. This method helps prioritize investment of resources on requirements of the product. Alternatively, one can use this when uncertain about what could be the main requirements of the product. Card sorting lets you know which features/requirements (topics) hold more priority than others. Hence, it would aid in planning out the resource allocation over the product development. Apart from prioritization of features, it also helps to get an insight over user preferences.
Usability testing is a much more concentrated form of a contextual interview. While contextual interviews provide the free will to interact, usability testing sees users perform a specific task. For example, it is not just having a look at microwave and pouring out your impressions. It is about performing a particular operation like setting up the temperature or installing the tray and providing feedback. Users are monitored in real-time performing an assigned task, and the researcher records the observations. It is a process of product/service evaluation by testing with user representatives. Moreover, since it is a real-time user interaction monitoring, it is easier to detect problems that need tweaking to enhance the user experience.
Why is UX Research important?
One may ask why do all this research? Isn’t research just a waste of time and money?
Here’s another example.
Say, you ask for a pen to your brother, and he gives you an eraser. Alternatively, you need a shirt, and he gives you a trouser. Would you be satisfied?
Think of yourself as the customer and your brother as a company. A company will survive only when it meets market demands. There’s no point in creating a product or service that does not have a need in the market. It is neither beneficial for the company nor the customer, as the product won’t sell and generate revenue and the customers would not have their need or demands met.
Research prevents the creation of a wrong product. It lets the development team know what the customer wants in a new product, or how they can improve an existing product. It acts as a safety net within which the development of the product should go on. It also helps clear the smokescreen, i.e. unknowns from the design process. A bit of research into the market pays out to steer clear of hiccups in the product design process because of uncertain parameters.
Research appropriately done even saves you time and money. How? A thorough investigation will reveal more market secrets than you could have expected. What it helps avoid is future problem solving due to unexpected factors emerging down the line during the development. Hence, in-depth research minimizes the chance of error rectification in the future. Last but not least, research will guide you to the right product for the right people. Apt analysis helps find more befitting customers who would be suitable for your product than your earlier market expectation.
Method and Methodology
There is an aspect of UX Research that even the people related to it get it mixed. Method and Methodology. Both have ‘method’ in them, so it is quite convincing to alternate their uses, but that is not right. Method and Methodology, both have very different identities, and we shall discuss that now.
Methods are any activity or tool that help in conducting research. Some examples are surveys, diary study, card sorting, and interview. The use of techniques is what results in the collection of data either from the market or directly from the user. Research methods are the only entity that gets customers involved in product development. Methods are of two types: quantitative (numerical) and qualitative (why, how, what).
Quantitative methods work along with statistical data to aid market research. Here are some of the quantitative research methods:
Quantitative Usability Testing
This method deals with tracking usability over a specified period and helps in competitor comparison. It is a behavioral method, meaning people’s action is responsible for data creation. Hence, it is task-based with a moderate cost involved along with average difficulty in data collection and analysis.
A/B Testing or Multivariate Testing
A/B Testing helps compare two design options. It is live behavioral testing of two different versions of the same product to know which version works the best. It is a low-cost method because of simple data collection and analysis.
Tree Testing is a form of evaluating information-architecture hierarchies in a product. It is also a behavioral and task-based method where participants need to accomplish the task only using the product structure. This method helps examine and identify structural anomalies that might not fit the user’s expectations.
Qualitative methods deal with uncountable information (reasoning why, how and what) in researches. The following are some of the qualitative research methods:
Ethnographic Field Study
It involves interacting and observing with people performing tasks in their environment. Unlike contextual interview where the user only interacts with the equipment, the user is free to interact with the whole environment. This study helps researchers understand how people’s day-to-day behavior gets affected by the surroundings, and use the information to solve a problem via a product.
Focus groups are debates among a group of people from a target market regarding matters involving a potential product or service.
Further, there are three classifications of Method:
First method. It relates to data collection. The first method helps in making decisions when the amount of data present is not sufficient for any verdict. Second method. These are the processes of analyzing data. They help in building relations between data and unknown elements.
Third method. It helps in checking the accuracy of derived results.
A methodology is the system or study of methods to solve a research problem. It is about learning the right way of conducting researches systematically. In simple terms, a methodology is the method of study of methods.
Methodology is much more qualitative focused. It is about finding a reason for the way things are in existence. It testifies the reason for using a particular method or technique in research. Alternatively, it helps to understand why a specific method was used in the research process.
To understand them better, here are some examples.
Phenomenology is the act of study of the relation between human existence and the environment. It helps to understand how human beings form a part of the broader background around them. The study of this relationship between humans and their environment can help answer questions about how, why and what of the human-environment interactions, hence, help develop a product with a better user experience.
Grounding Theory is used when there is the need to explain a process, but not to test an existing theory. It is useful when we need to study social interactions or experiences from the ground up, i.e. derived from a systematic analysis of raw data. Ground Theory comes good when there is a requirement to explain elements based on a set of data without any pre-existing notions.
Participatory, as the name suggests, lets end-users participate in the product development process. Its forte, direct involvement of customers results in better information acquisition and feedback to polish the process until its final iteration to provide a product experience which aligns with the expectations of the user. Research is a vital aspect of product creation. It is not something a company can term ‘wasteful’. Research brings the markets along with customer closer to the procedure of product creation. From customer’s perspective, it allows them to express their needs as feedback and information to the company for creation of best product possible.
Method and Methodology are two different aspects of research. Methods help conduct research, while Methodologies deal with the study of processes. While Method helps collect data, Methodologies helps reason why the specific method is used for analysis.