Research Methods - Understanding the different types of research
Research, both user centered research and other forms are frequently divided into two categories; quantitative and qualitative forms of research method.
Quantitative methods are recognised by its ability to be framed as specific quantities or data. This may look like statistical percentages for a demographic. Typical forms of quantitative analysis or research are surveys and formal experiments surveys and formal experiments.
Qualitative methods are research methods which result in more varied and detailed information. Often through reportage of specific experience. This type of research is more exploratory and creates a deeper understanding of the user or demographic. Surveys which result in more written feedback, interviews and often usability tests are examples of qualitative research. Whilst often harder or more time consuming to analyse qualitative research can help draw out pain points or needs which may otherwise be missed in quantitative research.
Understanding the Benefits User Research Can Bring
Irregardless as to which category they fall into, each research method has its advantages and disadvantages. This means in order to identify which one has the outcome you most need we must have an understanding of what it does and how it works. There are also usually practical concerns to consider such as time, budget and access to users which normally links to the kind of project that you are working on. All of them will take time and money so it is worth exploring why it is valuable to your design process to include user research. With that in mind, let’s look at some different reasons for why you should involve users in your design process.
Relevant Design - user research
gives insight into your users.
User research allows you to create a design which is completely relevant to your desired users and avoid generic assumptions which may miss the mark. It is fairly obvious that if you have no understanding of your end user then it is impossible to create and design a system or service which works for them. For a design to be a success it must be relevant and meet some of the needs of your user. The more needs that are met by your product or service, the more traction it will create with them.
Empathy is key to this, but empathy created through assumption rather than research is of little use. Interviews conducted within the service context or even simply observing a user can give true insight into that user and help build a clear picture of what is necessary and relevant. This kind of user research is often situated at the beginning of a project amongst intelligence gathering and initial ideation.
User-friendly Design - testing
your designs with users
User research can help to create designs which not only work, but work well, making the experience enjoyable for the user. This reason pertains to usability, accessibility and how ultimately how successful your product or service design is. You may have created something which ticks every box your user requires, but that is of little use if they can not then work out how to use it!
Companies such as Apple owe a large amount of their success not only to the quality of their products but also their intuitive design. They are masters of user experience, even considering how they package their electronics in order to build anticipation. Frustrating or inaccessible design is not good design. It can create poor experience within your systems and services and negative memories of your overall brand.
User research is essential to understanding how functional your product is as when we ourselves create something we struggle to come to the product or service with fresh eyes. Difficulties may not be apparent as a result. This is completely to be expected, so new insight which is detached from the creative process and therefore able to differentiate between what is and isn’t understandable. This is where user testing can be extremely useful.
For simpler designs there are many tools that can assist with this. For some designs, for example, we can use tools to test for accessibility with regards to colour usage and visibility, guidance for font and specific conventions for development are also available to learn from. There may well be instances where internal user testing can be undertaken by a member of our team who is not involved in the design or development and so is bringing a clean slate to the table. However where more niche needs have to be met for specific demographics it is useful to test with that demographic. If one were designing an app for an age demographic with limited experience of technology, such as young children or the very elderly, using a designer would not work as they would have a greater level of knowledge then the user.
Clearly the extent to which one can conduct user testing is dependent on budget, timing is also a factor to consider as the design has to have high enough efficacy to be testable and clear but not be so late in the process that any findings are pointless.
The greater the competition is in your field the greater the need for frictionless user experience. When done well this can be a trust builder for your company, as well as a delight which users will want to pass onto their friends, and colleagues as recommendations.
Creating Buy In - justifying the
costs through added value
Lastly, user research can help you understand and explain the necessity for user centered design. If you are able to evidence return on investment (ROI) of your design, it is much easier to create buy-in from stakeholders within the company who may not see the value in it quite so readily. If you can clearly show the difference in interest or value a product or service which has been designed with users in mind can help make sure that you as directors are investing wisely and help with decision making. Decisions based on clear evidence of results not personal preference are always going to be easier to justify. The most common example of user research which can help show ROI is A/B testing. This is where two iterations of the same services or product are presented and the behaviours or reactions of the users are noted and used to decide which option suits the users best. In web pages and apps, various analytics which will inform you of patterns of user behaviour can also be built.