Let me begin by giving a small disclaimer before I narrate the context.
This article unlike many that you may have come across doesn’t come from an expert. It comes instead from a novice and a beginner, in an attempt to share new found learnings.
As a design student for a couple of years, my inclination towards design research had always been there. But it was only a few months back, post a masters in a multidisciplinary design field, that I decided that UX Research is what really fascinates me and aligns with my skill set. I hence went on a quest to read up everything there was on research methods, best practices, recruiting users etc.
You name it and I consumed it — blog posts, articles, podcasts, etc. on how across the globe, researchers were digging up insights and experts were using it. I was nothing short of fascinated! Brimming with ideas and a head full of information!
However, when I took up my first project, without supervision, I realised a lot of information and ideas that I had read were conflicting (of course!). Some methods just seemed too time consuming while others too fast. I had too many questions and, I hate to say this, but I was confused!
I had to find a way to learn better and I did!
I decided that I needed to learn more under some expert supervision and, trust me, that was the best decision I ever made. So two months back I joined a company that really aims to listen to its users and believes in making a change. Hence, I got to work with some of the best people in the User Research and Data Mining domains and was constantly overwhelmed.
It was here that the missing dots started appearing and I realised what I had read was only the tip and not the iceberg itself. ‘The nuances no one talks about’ hence had become the crux of my confusion and, I am assuming, the same for many like me.
These are, thus, some of the learnings and myth busters about conducting User Experience Research that the internet or the books didn’t teach me. As practical as it could get!
1. Know what people already know and what you need to find answers to.
While an enthusiastic learner like me is waiting to pounce on the ‘WHY’ of a problem, one must not forget that some things are just obvious and most people are aware about these. It’s important to note two things here. Firstly, to understand what stage (exploratory, usability, foundational) is the research supposed to be carried out at. The second part is to set clear goals accordingly and note specific questions.
Someone also recently mentioned about acquiring the skill of “comprehending the context”, and all of a sudden it dawned upon me how it could be a life skill for survival and growth in a fast paced environment.
2.Don’t jump to field research first thing.
The most common mistake that we may do is reaching out to the users without even defining what we are seeking from them or are they even the right people to talk to. This can be both misleading and an inefficient use of time. The best time hence to jump in to the field would be when you have a wireframe of the research and have already defined the user segment. Moreover, a clearer structure for user research would help you get more precise and directional insights.
Build your hypothesis, trust your gut and then test it.
This works for a few research, mostly foundational and contextual, but it gives a structure, direction and pace to research, which otherwise for us — non seasoned researchers, can be a long winding road with overwhelming amount of information without a set line of reasoning.
3.Read, Read, Read !
As someone who had read enough about “Most effective ways of User Research” (mostly on field), literature review seemed not just non-existent but also lacking in immediate action. Myth Busted! It is one method that you can not afford to give a miss. Literature review gives a deep understanding of the space you are venturing into. Sometimes, it may present you with interesting insights without even stepping or investing on field research.
4.Data Science (DS) is vital and already has a lot of answers that you are struggling to seek.
Another major learning came in the form of numbers! While we, User Researchers, may find strong qualitative insights, holding hands with quantitative data helps validate our hypothesis, directs the research and helps us understand the real impact. DS can even be put to an effective use just before starting the research to analyse the data and observe behaviour pattern to then dig deeper into.
Personally, I have observed how quantitative and qualitative data put together makes a stronger case for an actual implementation of collective learning.
5.Stakeholders are important- and they are not only your users.
Brutal peer reviews were definitely not my thing 2 months back. It was only after my first review that I realised how each feedback actually digs upon nuances and helps fine tuning research for a strong proposal.
Multiple Stakeholder Aspect
Another important learning was to understand how different aspects of research is important to different stakeholders and how one must be answering all of their questions while presenting them.
For example, a Product Manager would be keen on understanding insights related to implementation, while a senior researcher might be looking at behavioural patterns of users. The important bit here is only to understand how all these aspects help develop and synthesise a better research from all viewpoints.
6.Last Thing — be open to surprising outcomes. That’s what your job is!
One of my biggest learnings as a researcher is how we may come across interesting or sometimes even un-aligned insights and how we may optimise them. The best way would be to archive these and study the patterns because you never know what your learnings can do, even if they are small learnings on behaviours , user aspirations or fun facts. Another important aspect here is how we must refrain from subconsciously assuming the outcomes and always leaving that blank space for answers you just didn’t expect!
While most of us know all of this, when it comes to implementation and giving answers, we forget the order, miss a few steps, don’t read enough or just simply assume things.
So as I discover more things in the UX universe in the coming months , I also look forward to logging my learnings and reflecting on my growth not just as a researcher but also as a philanthropist. I am, hence, curious to see what becomes of my learnings and where my UX research quest takes me. Anyway, I will keep you all posted!
Also, here are some interesting reads –