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Fuel Cycle Blog: What is User Research?

What is User Research?

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Websites, mobile apps, interactive digital displays…what do these have in common? UX design.

These are just a few examples of the many digital assets brands are using to convert their target audiences. But one thing that’s certain, is that their functions have all been carefully strategized to appeal to the user.

A substantial amount of this strategy is attributed to user research. To help understand just how impactful user research is for maximizing user experience, we’ve put together a complete field guide. 

User Research Defined

You’d be hard-pressed to find UX designs that haven’t been derived from extensive user research.

User research is the umbrella term for undergoing a myriad of research trials to answer critical questions having to do with user experience. Because user research is so important, it has a prominent place in all phases of the product development phase, and long after a UX design has been launched for continuous improvement.

The core principle of user research is that it’s people-centric. It places the end-user at the center of your UX design process and products The Interactive Design Foundation emphasizes that the objective of the user research data you collect is to inspire designs, evaluate your solutions, and to measure your impact.

A Closer Look at The Purpose of User Research

Design Better Products

The effectiveness of UX design products relies solely on the user’s response. A faulty UX design has a high cost, but one that has been thoroughly researched for optimal user experience can better position organizations over there competitors.

To give you an idea of just how important user research is in UX design is the fact that according to Measuring U, 85% of issues related to UX can be detected by performing a usability test on a group of 5 users.

Save Resources

Sending UX designs back to the development phase due to complications post-launch is costly, especially as it’s estimated that developers spend about 50% of their time fixing UX design issues which could have been avoided with adequate research. To put into perspective just how costly that is for organizations is the fact that fixing a problem in development costs 10 times as much as fixing it in design, and 100 times as much if you’re trying to fix the problem in a product that’s already been released. All of this accounts for time and money that could’ve been saved.

Generate a High ROI

Investing in user research for UX has an incredibly high ROI, consider how much can be saved from fixing errors post-launch.  In fact, experts say that for every $1 invested in UX typically results in a return between $10 and $100, including user research.

3 Reasons Why You Should Do User Research

While there’s a laundry list of reasons that conducting user research is important, ultimately all they all fall under three core arguments.

To Create Relevant Designs

UX designs have to be relevant to that target user, otherwise, they will never drive your bottom line. You’ll be left with a waste of resources due to a complete lack of conversions from not implementing a user-centered design. Alternately, relevant, strategized UX designs have immense ROI potential. How much? Experts say that intentional and strategic user experience has the potential to raise conversion rates by as much as 400%. 

For Optimal Usability and Design

User research is vital in gaining insight into what creates a successful user experience in terms of design and usability. Without this insight, you risk losing a substantial amount of engagement with your target audience. In fact, it’s reported that 52% of users said that a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with a company. In today’s competitive climate, companies can’t afford that kind of dip.

To Understand the ROI of Your UX Design

UX Designers and researchers will be the first to tell you that user research has immense ROI, but its key stakeholders who ultimately need to buy-in. Therefore, Ux designers are commonly having to make their case in order to obtain the resources they need for their work. This often means having to spell out the bread crumb trail between UX design and sales. Fortunately, user research can support this, as it was user research that discovered  Amazon’s $300 million increase in sales after changing their button text from “register” to “continue”.

Types of User Research Methods 

Within the Stages Of The Product Life Cycle

Discovery –– Early stages of the UX design process present ample opportunity to do exploratory research. Here, researchers can begin to ask critical questions that are vital in answering prior to design, including:

  • What do users need?
  • What do users want?
  • What’s working? What is not?

Research methods in this phase are often one-on-one user interviews, focus groups, competitive analysis, benchmark studies, ethnographic research.

Development –– The development stage features a completely different line of questioning, aimed at analyzing and validating whether or not UX designs will help users solve problems.

According to UX Planet, questions to ask here would include:

  • Do users understand how it works?
  • How do users interact with your prototype?
  • Can users find what they are looking for?
  • Do the features look and feel right?

Research methods you’d find in this stage include moderated and unmoderated usability testing, prototype testing, card sorting, preference testing, A/B testing.

Live/Launch –– User research never stops once a UX design goes live. In fact, this can be one of the insightful stages to conduct research, as it measures how well the product meets the user’s needs. The main objective within this stage is the same as would be with a marketing campaign –– to optimize the experience.

The best insight here will mostly be from gaining direct user feedback. Doing so may include executing methods such as surveys, data analysis, and bug reports. Ideally, you’ll use this feedback to revise and adapt to optimize products.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

Quantitative –– The term “quantitative research” is very telling, as it involves numerical measuring. Questions that could be answered through quantitative research could be or example, “How many people eat at our restaurant each week?” or “What percentage of users drop off at this page?”. Quantitative research examines large samples of data to discover emerging trends and patterns. Examples of quantitive research include surveys, data analysis, and A/B testing. What’s important to note about quantitative research is that it won’t tell you the “why”.

Qualitative –– That’s where qualitative research comes in, as it focuses on examing the ‘why’. It’s qualitative research that can answer questions such as “Why are users dropping off at this web page?” and “Why aren’t shopping cart items being converted to sales?” Examples of qualitative data are user interviews, field studies, usability testing, and customer calls.

It’s this type of research that deep-dives into more subjective data such as user’s attitudes, collective behaviors, and opinions, which when successfully paired with the corresponding qualitative research data, can help paint complete pictures. 

Attitudinal vs. behavioral

Attitudinal –– Attitudinal research aims to discover why users have certain attitudes or perceptions towards products or experiences. Common questions attitudinal research could answer are “Are users enjoying the mobile version of my site?”, “How are users reacting to our new design features?”, etc. Common attitudinal research methods include focus groups, card sorting, surveys, questionnaires, and participatory design.

Behavioral –– On the same token, behavioral research aims to discover what users are doing with the product in question. Question behavioral research could answer is “Are users clicking on the homepage slider?”, ”Where are users looking first on the web page?”, etc. Some common behavioral research methods include A/B testing, eye-tracking, click-stream analysis, and usability studies.

What Happens if You Don’t Conduct User Research?

Despite how important user research is, only 55% of companies are currently conducting any user experience testing.

What are the other 45% missing out on?

Dismissing user research can have implications that, in general, can cause companies to have a great disadvantage in the long run. UX Planet warns that those 45% not conducting user research run the risk of:

  • The product has great features that don’t solve the user’s problem
  • The product isn’t user-friendly as false assumptions are baked into the form and function of the product
  • The product causes confusion for the user

Naturally, these are all very costly, not just in resources to fix them post-launch, but also in the missed opportunity that your competitors could be taking advantage of.

Stakeholder and Team Buy-In

User research is only as good as what is done with it after having been conducted. In order to drive ROI and get the most out of the results of the data, research should be shared with every relevant team within an organization to help optimize campaigns, production, etc.

Plus, engaging your entire team will help increase the chances of stakeholder buy-in. Particularly if, as previously stated, you’re able to show the bread crumb trail between designs and dollars, the way Amazon did.

Plus, distributing critical data points with everyone effected can help avoid revisiting the drawing board post-production, which can be costly.

User Research Best Practices

Effectively conducting your user research means using best practices within each of the five steps of the user research process:

1. Objectives

  • Identify the knowledge gaps that need to be filled
  • Identify the problems that need to be solved
  • Specify over-all research goals

2. Hypotheses

  • Identify what you understand about users
  • Speculate outcomes

3. Methods

  • Based on time and manpower, select the proper research methods
  • Identify resources needed

4. Conduct

  • Gather the research data utilizing the selected methods
  • Thoroughly and accurately record the results

5. Synthesize

  • Analyze the research outcomes and findings
  • Use the analysis to fill in the knowledge gaps, prove or disprove our hypotheses, and recommend opportunities for UX design efforts.

Key Takeaways

  • User Research Defined –– User research is the umbrella term for undergoing a myriad of research trials to answer critical questions having to do with user experience. The core principle of user research is that it’s people-centric. It places the end-user at the center of your UX design process and products The Interactive Design Foundation emphasizes that the objective of the user research data you collect is to inspire designs, evaluate your solutions, and to measure your impact.
  • The Purpose of User Research –– To design better products, save resources, generate a high ROI.
  • 3 Reasons Why You Should Do User Research –– To create relevant designs, for optimal usability and design, and to understand the ROI of your UX design.
  • Types of User Research –– Withing the stages of the product development stages (discovery, development, launch), quantitative (the numerical “what”), qualitative (the “why”), attitudinal (research regarding user attitudes), behavioral (research uncovering certain user behaviors.)
  • What Happens if You Don’t Conduct User Research? –– You’ll have so insight into what your users need in a UX design which could place you at a large disadvantage amongst your competitors, and it can be very costly.
  • The Fives Stage of User Research –– 1. Objectives, 2. Hypothesis, 3. Methods, 4. Conduct, 5. Synthesize.

At the end of the day, user research creates an optimal UX design which fuels a successful user experience. Not taking the time to gain this critical insight in today’s competitive atmosphere can be financially detrimental to a company. Soon enough, brands will realize this and the 45% not currently conducting user research will decline…you might as start now.

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