The Real Reason We Do User Research
Sean McGowanAugust 14th, 20174 minute read
Sean is a technical researcher & writer at Codal, authoring blog posts on topics ranging from UX design to the Internet of Things. Working alongside developers, designers, and marketers, Sean helps support the writing team to ensure Codal produces engaging web content of the highest quality. When not writing about the latest innovations in app design, Sean can be found cooking, watching old movies, or complaining about the shortcomings of his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.
“Why do user research? Don’t you know what users want already?” It’s a question we receive more often than not from our clients, and we certainly don’t blame them for asking. Despite the acceptance of user experience design as a necessity in the software world, there’s still many misconceptions that surround it, especially user research.
And even though we’re stalwart supporters of user research, we understand the skepticism. It can sound like a gimmick; a wishy-washy expense a digital agency could tag on the bill to inflate their design process.
What UX Researchers Look To Capture (Source)
Or it can come off like a boring roadblock, especially when clients have an exciting, disruptive idea they want to deploy to the market as soon as possible. And finally, returning to the original question and title of this post, it can make UX designers look inexperienced. Shouldn’t we already know how to design a stellar application, or an intuitive, engaging website?
This blog post aims to answer that question, and to address some other common misconceptions about user research, or even UX design in general.
“What Goes Into User Research?”
But before we get to that, some housekeeping. As I’ve mentioned, many don’t understand the details behind user research, or the extremely valuable information it produces, both for us and for the client.
When a UX design agency conducts user research, it collects both quantitative and qualitative data, leveraging both hard statistics and user feedback to not just draw conclusions, but make informed, data-driven design choices based off of them.
To achieve this, UX researchers typically:
When we conduct UX research, we’re not investigating the color blue. It’s more akin to a surgeon, who (you would hope) extensively studies his patient’s medical history, their individual response to the disease or injury, and how they might react to different drugs or procedures.
UX research isn’t just for show. We observe, study, and investigate your specific user base to decide how to design for them. In short, to answer the inquiry in the title of this post: We know how to design a platform for your users. We just need to know your users.
“But I Know My Users!”
Those who say this usually aren’t wrong! But you might not know them as well as you think. Most companies never see how their users are actually interfacing with their product, and those who do won’t be able to translate that information into design strategy like a UX researcher can.
It’s also not uncommon to see confusion between user research and it’s more familiar relative, market research. While both explore a target audience, and even employ similar methods to do so, their differences lie in the questions they answer. Market research concerns itself with “who” and “what”. While user research recognizes these, it’s focus lies in the “how” and “why”.
Atop all of this, I also often argue that the term “user” itself can be a vague, often blanket term. Users describe a variety of drastically different people, all which have their own goals, objectives, and agendas when interacting with a platform. It’s pointless to try and characterize them without intensive research and analysis.
In short, user research discerns what your users want from what you think your users want. Without research we risk making design decisions for ourselves, rather than the users.
“But What Does This Do For My Bottom Line?”
Despite our obsession with designing apps, websites, and other software solutions, we understand that these platforms don’t exist for their own sake. We’re creating products that are a means to an end—specifically helping support or achieve a client’s business goals.
And that’s why we’re always happy to answer this question — how does user research translate into profit?
Because Codal offers both design and development, we usually cite the stark reduction in development costs first. UX expert Dr. Susan Weinschenk cites that 50% of engineering time is spent solving unnecessary issues that could’ve been avoided from user research.
Whether it’s a false assumption about how users will interact, a feature that nobody wants, or a navigation that confuses users—a design choice made in the UX stage that misses the mark on users will be felt in the development stage, and consequently the time and money spent on it.
For the marketing-minded, user research can also support lead generation. Typically the two routes for boosting leads is either increasing traffic or conversion rate. With a research-backed user experience, accomplishing the latter is cheaper and easier as well.
In short, the reported ROI for quality UX remains impressively high, and that quality UX is powered by quality user research.
User Research Is Tied To Your Success
Ultimately, a platform’s success — whether it’s an app, a website, or any software solution — depends on the users. It depends on how they perceive it, how they interact with it, and how they feel using it.
User research may be misunderstood, but we love when clients ask the type of questions we discussed in this post. It means they’re engaged and willing to learn about our design process, and it means we get to talk our trade.
As a mobile app development company, we often craft platforms that have to compete in the crowded markets. Users are fickle and ruthless; if you don’t deliver a stellar experience the first time, they’ve already gone to the next competitor. Don’t take that chance—invest in user research.