As with all design projects, user research is a vital part of defining your goals and some limitations you will face along the way. Strong user research is essential when it comes to making some of the tough design decisions you have to wrestle with throughout your projects – something that can ultimately determine the success of your work.
User experience should be at the centre of your design process and the best way to get concrete user data is to go out there and get it yourself. Which sounds great, but in reality user research takes time, effort and normally some hard cash to get the job done properly – which doesn’t sound so great after all. However, the impact it can have on your work is huge and if you want to take that step into designing serious work that earns serious money, it’s an essential investment.
1. Start Your Research Before The Design Stage
You’ll see a number of articles out there that say user research should be the first stage of any design project, while others maintain it should happen throughout the design stage or even after.
If there is a right answer to this question, it’s that user research should happen before, during and after the design stage – as often as you can afford it. You can never know too much about the relationship between users and your design and the more time you spend getting to understand your target audience, the better equipped you are to design for them.
Starting On The Right Path
Research before the design stage means you can single out the needs of your target user and the frustrations they have with similar products. The aim is to tick all the right boxes and meet their UX expectation – but hopefully also solve a common user issue they have with similar products.
Staying On The Right Path
Throughout the design stage audience research helps you test and refine your product to meet the best needs of your user. Let’s say you’re trying to solve one of those common user issues I just mentioned – you have a lot to gain by testing your solutions throughout the design stage to genuinely solve the problem without creating any others.
Checking You Made It
Before the final designs get sent for approval it pays to test the finished product on your target user to make sure you achieved achieved your goals. Sometimes you find one design solution creates another problem and when you spend so long working on something it can sometimes be difficult to spot the obvious. Essentially, there is no such thing as too much research and the real question you should be asking yourself is how much user research can you fit into any given project?
2. Ask The Right Questions
There are two main types of question you want to ask your target users – objective and subjective. Objective information is factual data, like how many people use your application and how long they use it for. Whereas subjective info includes opinions, expectations and impressions – and the more people you have in your sample group, the more reliable your research findings will prove.
Subjective information is much easier to get out of people, while objective information means you need to measure results if you can expect them to be reliable. Interviews, focus groups and surveys are the traditional methods of user research and you should definitely take this route if you have the time and resources.
If this isn’t an option then you might want to take the social media route and find your target users online. Google+ is a great place to get opinions and feedback from fellow designers, professionals and the kind of audience your design is targeting. You might find similar opportunities on LinkedIn and other social networks where you can conduct some user research for free.
3. Create Your User Profiles
User profiles need to be specific when it comes to UX design and you need to know as much about your target audience as possible if you expect to create a killer experience for them. Vague profiles will get you nowhere when it comes to designing web applications and the more focused your design brief is, the more focused your user profiles need to be.
A Useless profile:
- 30-40 yrs old
- Home owner with above average income and education
- Married, at least one child
- Is an ambitious career-minded individual with creative ideas and eyes on that next promotion
None of the above information tells you anything about the UX needs of this specific user. A wedding ring shouldn’t change what someone expects from an application and although age can have an impact on how users interpret your design, it’s not nearly as important as their tech experience.
A Good User Profile:
- Small to medium business owner
- Interested in their own industry and business in general
- Most active on Twitter and LinkedIn
- Looking for a single app they can use on all their devices to collect, save and organise content for when they have more time.
Notice there is nothing about age, marital status or education in this user profile – instead you have their primary interests, what they are looking for and where they go to find it. Bingo. Your target is a business owner who is pushed for time and wants a single app that he can use on his iPhone, Android tablet and Windows PC at home.
4. Think Devices, Lots Of Devices
I just mentioned three of them, but there is a plethora of technology waiting to change the consumer electronics market with smartwatches and other wearable technology. Which means you can expect an even broader range of displays, operating systems and other variables to influence your future designs.
So it makes sense to find out what devices your target users own and get their opinion on the coming wave of wearable technology – especially if they want one app for every device! You may not be able to design for everyone, but you need to know what devices play the biggest role in the lives of your target users and focus there.
You also need to know the devices themselves too. Smartphones brought a new range of hardware like cameras and volume buttons into the UX design game and Google Glass brings head movement into the equation, while removing the touch element of tablets and smartphones.
5. Look At Design Patterns (With Care)
Design patterns are there for a reason – so use them (with care). Some design patterns exist because they are ingenious solutions to problems that have plagued users and you would be mad to ignore them. While other design patterns exist because they are the in thing and either designers or users are so caught up in the glitz of the latest trends that they overlook the UX implications.
Which one sounds better to you? Yeah, I prefer the first one as well so try not to fall back on design patterns purely because they are there and always try to find or create the best solution to any given design problem. If that happens to be a design pattern and it fits with the first description above then you can’t go far wrong.