Why use user research?
As a product manager, you are constantly tasked with determining what features to implement and how to go about doing so in order to get your product into the testing phase. One somewhat inadvisable way to go about this would be to rely on your assumptions about how users will interact with your product.
However, as a product manager, you want to make the best decision possible and this requires gathering and using as much data as possible. This is where user research, otherwise known as design research or UX research, comes into play.
User research is helpful as it proves or disproves our assumptions that we hold and helps us to recognize their needs, goals, and mental models.
In this article, we will try and look at the various different elements of user research so that readers can get a better understanding of how to use these user research techniques to arrive at the minimal viable product.
What is user research?
User research, at its core, has two different parts: collecting data and analyzing data in order to draw conclusions to benefit the product.
At the start, it is important to fully understand what the product is trying to do, how this helps to serve the end-user, and what the various key stakeholders want from the product.
This can be accomplished by conducting surveys and interviews of the target audience and existing users and by reviewing any current data that might exist about the product.
Then, once a better understanding of how product works has been gleaned the researchers can try and figure out what features would be best by conducting A/B tests and surveying the target audience about these features in order to test assumptions.
Different types of user research
Not all data that is gained from user research involved has numerical answers. Rather, user research contains both qualitative and quantitative research.
Qualitative research results in descriptive data which looks more at how people think and feel. It helps to find your users’ opinions, problems, reasons, and motivations. This often happens in interviews and conversations where the researcher has the space to ask these questions.
Quantitative research, on the other hand, generally produces numerical data that can be measured and analyzed, looking more at the statistics.
Quantitative data is used to quantify the opinions and behaviors of your users which is helpful when understanding what percentage of users are performing certain tasks on your product.
User research methodologies
There are a wide range of different techniques that are used to conduct research, however, they all stem from a few similar key methodologies that help guide the research process.
First and foremost, reach requires a great understanding of what is occurring.
A good researcher can easily understand what a specific technique is trying to achieve due to knowledge of the product in addition to how the interviewees are feeling.
Observing what is transpiring and taking good notes is essential in helping determine patterns in the future that will improve the product.
A good user researcher understands the mental model of the people they interview or are otherwise testing their product on.
A mental model can be thought of as the ideas that come to mind when thinking of a particular situation or item.
In the case of testing, this would mean that the user researcher would understand the mental model of the people in regards to the product being tested.
Understanding mental models are necessary as interviewees are not always perfectly clear when trying to share information.
Therefore, getting a better understanding of mental models helps the researcher better improve the product.
Analysis of data that has been gained is critical in ensuring that decisions that are made about the product are made correctly.
Analysis is the process of identifying the patterns in data via both quantitative means and also testing hypotheses and intuitions that one has.
User research techniques
Usability testing involves asking the target market of a product or service to complete various tasks and observing how they are going about doing so.
With this being said, there are two very popular common methods of usability testing.
Moderated usability tests: These are tests where the user is asked to perform tasks while being watched in real-time.
Often the researcher or some other facilitator of the tests gives these tasks by speaking with the user and asks questions about why or how the user is doing these things at the given time
Unmoderated usability tests: These tests are conducted asynchronously and are often done online.
The various tasks are presented to the interviewee in either a written or recorded video or audio format.
One major benefit of unmoderated tests is that they can be cheaper to conduct and many websites have the ability to run them.
Tree tests are another common form of testing. They are often used to ensure that the way a website’s UI is designed is pleasant for a user to navigate.
The test involves taking a user to a tree of the sitemap and asking them to walk through how they would go about completing a task given that they have the sitemap.
The user, however, does not have access to how the actual pages on the site would operate.
A/B tests are often performed when there are two competing ideas for a designer on how to implement a specific page and they both seem equally viable.
What an A/B test does is randomly show users one version of a site and then record various analytics about how the users ended up interacting with the site as a result and then the better version is chosen.
A/B testing is very useful when redesigning an entire website or comparing something to an older version.
Surveys are an incredibly popular form of user research. With a carefully crafted list of questions, a survey can allow researchers to gain a lot of quantitative data about aspects of a product that might not be immediately apparent to the user.
This exercise helps the researcher understand how users think various parts of a product relate to one another and certain key criteria.
The researcher creates a set of cards to represent a certain feature or idea and groups where they ask users to place those features.
This can be particularly helpful when designing a website and when done in conjunction with tree tests.
Micah Lasovsky is an author at Chisel Labs.