5 ways to maximize the value of your UX research

Christy Hogan Hutchinson Customer Experience Design, Research, UX Research

It’s all about putting humanity in human-centered design.

Qualitative user research, in the form of interviews and observations, is an incredibly important aspect of UX design and experience design. It’s in users’ stories where you find true points of differentiation and previously unknown opportunity. Here are five considerations you should keep in mind to help ensure you’re getting the most from your UX research investment.

1: Be clear on what you want to learn.

It’s easy to jump into the methodology of who you’re going to interview, how those interviews will be conducted (i.e., online or in person) and the questions you want to answer. If this sounds familiar, stop right there and take a step back!

There are different ways to use qualitative user-experience-based research, and prior to agreeing to a methodology, you must be clear on the overall objective(s). For example, is your goal to learn more about your users—their wants, beliefs, needs and thoughts? Or, are you undertaking this research to test hypotheses and evaluate designs?

The first objective is more exploratory in nature. The knowledge gained should help us uncover and understand the needs of “real” users. These insights help inform products and services design to create the best outcome without our personal biases in mind. The second is much more evaluative, allowing users to interact with products or designs to ensure that we’re achieving what we were aiming for throughout the design process.

Taking the time to clearly write down what you’re hoping to learn and ensuring all stakeholders agree will ensure the best methodology is developed for your research initiative.

Action plan:

Write out your goals, specifically and succinctly. Prioritize them if you’ve listed more than three.

2: Determine who you really need to learn from.

When it comes to user research, it’s easy to fall into one of two categories:

  1. Assume you can talk to a few users and get the insight you need to benefit all of your user segments
  2. Get overwhelmed by the vast number of user groups and feel the need to “boil the ocean” by talking to all of them to gain insights before moving forward

While ultimately the decision of who you need to interview and how many interviews you need to conduct are tied to many factors, including overall objectives, timing and resource constraints, it is imperative to take the time to determine and prioritize your audience segments.

Action Plan:

Conduct an audience-prioritization exercise. Follow these three easy steps:

  1. First, write down your segments on sticky notes. Be specific on what makes the segments different.
  2. Then, arrange these sticky notes to prioritize them from primary users to secondary and tertiary users.
  3. Review your prioritization against the goals you wrote down and determine the segments that are imperative to gain insights from vs. those that would be “nice to have” insights from.

While there is no firm guideline on how many interviews are “enough,” you must interview multiple people to ensure you don’t make decisions based off of singular individuals who may be outliers. “Enough” interviews is when the data becomes saturated and additional participants don’t provide any additional insights.

For usability testing, within the first couple of interviews, you may recognize you have a problem you must address, and it may be worth resolving that issue prior to additional user testing.

In more exploratory research, we typically look to conduct a minimum of 5–7 interviews per segment and 15–21 interviews total for an initiative to ensure insights are robust and decisions can be confidently made from the data.*

3: Create an interview guide.

While these interviews should be conversational in nature, creating a guide ensures the interviews stay on track.

Take the objectives determined in Step 1 and then establish what questions or usability tasks will lead you to reach your objective. Have your team of stakeholders do the same. Then look at all of the questions and organize them appropriately. Any questions that are leading in nature will need to be reworded.

A research guide should never be used as a checklist, and questions or usability tasks shouldn’t be based on preferences (ex: what color is more likely to make you click this button). Instead, in usability testing, it should ensure the user can achieve the desired tasks without having to “think.” And in exploratory research, it should help uncover the “why” of certain behaviors or decisions and ultimately dig into the “why” of the “why” to gain deeper levels of insight.

Action plan:

Have the entire stakeholder team align the questions they’d like to ask against the agreed upon objectives.

4: Use an experienced interviewer.

While it can feel like a simple task, conducting interviews while listening between the lines of the answers and then being able to shift and redirect questions to dig deeper is a skill set that requires practice.

An experienced interviewer knows how to set aside their own knowledge and beliefs on a topic and engage with research participants in a way that makes them comfortable explaining their thinking and points of view. Experienced interviewers know how to redirect conversations when necessary and how to direct questions in different ways to dig in deeper.

Most importantly, experienced researchers, especially professionals, are able to remain objective. It is easy for non-experienced interviewers and those too close to a project or desired outcome, to unconsciously believe they are hearing one thing from research participants based on their own beliefs without being truly objective.

Action plan:

Find someone with significant experience or hire an outside expert to conduct objective interviews.

5: Take your time analyzing findings

Record the interviews, if possible, and transcribe them for the purpose of deep analysis. It’s easy to make assumptions based on your notes and memory; however, when going through transcripts, you often find insights and opportunities you missed in real time.

Invite team stakeholders to be involved in the analysis process. When involving additional stakeholders:

  1. Ensure everyone reads the transcripts
  2. Ground the team in your research goals
  3. Conduct a workshop to uncover insights with the larger group
  4. Cluster themes that arise from the workshop for your final report

Using a team-based approach for analysis not only allows all stakeholders to build empathy with the user but also creates a greater understanding of the concerns or challenges that need to be solved through user-experience design.

Action plan:

Host a stakeholder analysis workshop.

*Note: This number is highly dependent on audience size and projected incidence rates, so this should be used only as a guide.

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