What is User Research? Why is it Important?

ux developer and ui designer brainstorming about mobile app interface wireframe design on table

It’s a common scenario. Your team has identified an initiative that would take advantage of a significant growth opportunity via web-based products, services or internal tools that increase productivity and effectiveness.

The plan could be to create or enhance internal tools for your employees to access and manage data, or to launch and optimize professional web applications for your customers.

This is an exciting opportunity, but have you considered all of the core metrics?

Before going further, it is important to consider a few questions through user research:

  • Do you have data on your end users?
  • How are your users accomplishing their goals as well as your intended success metrics?
  • Do you know if you are meeting your objectives with your customers?

A brief and rigorous user research insights report could help diagnose any issues that these questions raise.

Everything you need to know about User Research:

What is User Research?

User research is an objective field of methodologies that records users’ expectations, motivations, and behaviors. UX researchers leverage surveys, interviews, and other techniques to gain audience insights that inform digital strategy and the UX design process.

The purpose of user research is to understand who your users or customers are, how they may interact with your product or service, and ultimately whether your design solutions fully meet their needs.

How Does User Research Shape Products?

As digital experience experts, we research, strategize, design, build, and manage the changes that are needed between humans and digital technologies, the interactions between humans via digital technology, and interactions between humans and the physical world via digital technology.

With this human-centered design approach, we adopt a design thinking methodology, that the primacy of the user’s desires are real human needs, and that our clients should understand those human needs as viable opportunities to reach through technical possibilities.

It is critical to empathize with users’ desires in order to inform how to render the business intent of a digital product. End users need to intuitively understand the value of an interface, how it enables them to accomplish their tasks, and the benefits they stand to gain from its use.

Yet this people-centric approach can bring its own complications.

People often have competing motivations, their moods change often, and their buying habits, job descriptions, as well as cultural and market needs change all the time.

How do we know we are designing and building digital experiences for our client’s customers accurately and effectively?

End users need to intuitively understand the value of an interface, how it enables them to accomplish their tasks, and the benefits they stand to gain from its use.

Types of User Research

The primary subsets of user research are:

  • Qualitative research: Includes interviews, focus groups, and field studies. Best suited to understand the “how” or “why” of user behavior, as it involves collecting non-numerical data like consumer opinions.
  • Qualitative research: Includes collecting and analyzing results through more structured measurement methods like surveys. When performed correctly, enables you to gather objective, unbiased, and statistically reliable data.

The two main approaches to user research are:

  • Attitudinal: Listening to what consumers say, i.e. in interviews.
  • Behavioral: Watching what consumers actually do, i.e. in observational studies.

To get a comprehensive and accurate view of your users’ experiences, needs, and pain points, you may want to apply a mix of the research subsets and approaches listed above.

User Research Approach: Ask, Analyze, Design, Ask Again

The well-established and ever-evolving discipline of user research guides our design and development teams to validate decisions for what and how to build, before we even begin.

We can leverage the prototypes our seasoned and talented usability design consultants produce to plan for enhancements to the user experience.

While our teams at AIM Consulting often take our client’s ideas from concept to launch, an even more common scenario occurs when our clients have started a great initiative on their own, but did not review the idea with end users, and end up with a built experience that doesn’t live up to the goals imagined.

To save time and avoid rework, it is worth asking a small group of potential or existing users about how they use the product currently, what works well and what doesn’t, or to review mockups to ensure that a user interface will help them achieve their goal more quickly, easily or efficiently.

Survey a Few Users, Then Scale

Our experience at AIM shows that the most successful products are driven by end-user feedback on prototypes, where users can share their critiques or excitement about whether the product will meet their goals, needs, and expectations.

Users can intuitively tell product development teams where they would click first to complete the primary valuable function of an application, and other impressions on its viability from their perspective.

If they don’t understand its value to their lives, they won’t use it and will find an alternative.

By asking 5-15 current or potential end users about their qualitative expectations, understanding their quantitative needs, and measuring their improved efficiency, we can begin to confirm that business goals can be achieved at scale through deployed digital experiences.

Why is User Research Important?

Until you truly know your user and their feelings, needs, motivations, and challenges, you cannot successfully deliver a great user experience.

If you don’t ask what users need or want, you risk wasting a great deal of time and effort based on assumptions.

Successful founders know their audience because they speak with potential customers to understand the problem their business is expected to solve.

User Research – Ensuring Successful Design

User research is surprisingly straightforward, with a few basic principles and options to consider, leveraging proven methods that can be tailored to a particular situation and improve your chances of positive results.

Our customer experience strategy experts at AIM Consulting have deep expertise in helping organizations differentiate their brands, optimize their digital footprints, and excite their customers across every touch point.

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