Tips on carrying out User Research

User research was the focus of a recent London Product Tank meetup. There were 3 inspiring speakers as always so I thought I’d summarise the key themes I noted and add some thoughts of my own.

1. Do it, some is better than nothing.

A key theme from every presentation or article I’ve read about user research is that no matter what, doing some sort of user research is better than doing nothing at all. Get out there and talk to users, observe what they are doing – you might be surprised!

2. Ask to see their job, not how they use the product

One of the most valuable lessons I learned when I started to do user research was to ensure the approach focused on uncovering what the users of your system are trying to achieve more generally, not just from your system.

For one system I worked on, the key objective was to increase the overall efficiency of the job done by the users – a complicated research process. In the first session I sat with a user and asked them to show me how they used the system, over an hour of observation I struggled to see any way of significantly improving the user experience so that it provided efficiency gains.

In the next session, I took a different approach; I asked the user to show my what their job was. This was a lightbulb moment for me, over the course of the next hour the user spent maybe a couple of minutes using the system, everything else was done in a variety of other places. Never forget people will use your product if it makes their life easier or better and they have a life outside of your product which you need to understand.

The guys at user onboarding sum this up perfectly in this great article and with the below graphic – “People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves”

3. Get to the real users

This can be a big problem when trying to carry out user research in large corporates, the head of department wants to tell you what his people need. Of course it’s important to get an understanding of what the product needs to delivery to the business to support the strategic goals for the business; this is the value senior management can provide. However there is no substitute for sitting with the guys who use the system day in, day out and observing real interactions to help inform how design can support both the users day to day needs and the overall strategic objectives.

4. Share with the team, get them in front of users

It can be very valuable to get more of the team in contact with users, either by sharing your research findings, or showing them videos of observations, or by using Personas. However where you can try and get the team to spend time directly with users so they can understand more about how the product is being used and to help build empathy.

Depending on the way your organisation works it can also be incredibly insightful to get the product team to spend time working on production support, by dealing with real user problems on a day to day basis they will quickly develop empathy and a good understanding of the issues users face.

5. Start small, research light, make it valuable

When resources are limited (when aren’t they!) it is important to get the most out of your research activities. To ensure this is the case:

  • Make sure you have a clear goal for your research, maybe a hypothesis of where there may be a pain point.
  • Approach your research with the aim of testing this idea as quickly and simply as possible
  • Turn that insight into an actionable (and measurable) change.

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