User experience research is a foundation of all UX activities. Without it you are gambling that you intuitively know what is most important to your target audience. In almost every case this starts with the misguided belief that you are the same as your target audience. After you have met with enough people from your target groups, you may develop some intuition over time and begin to be able to actually empathize with their needs and goals.
Conducting a variety of UX research activities as appropriate will provide a solid understanding of your users’ mental models and behaviors.
Kinds of research activities and deliverables:
- Ethnographic studies, Field research, on-site user interviews, and contextual inquiries are all methods that allow you to see how people actually perform the tasks and achieve the goals that they desire in their work environment.With the information collected you can create affinity diagrams, task flows, and sequence/process models. You also, more importantly, see and hear exactly what people struggle with in their work.
- Usability testing of an existing website/application provides direct observations of how people attempt to accomplish their goals. Analysis of the findings can lead to direct improvements in the UI and sometimes functionality.Quick and iterative usability testing of early designs and prototypes can help avoid developing unusable interfaces in the first place.
- Card sorts, tree tests, and cluster analysis provide insight into how people organize and find things.
- Surveys allow you to get feedback from a large number of people
- Focus groups/participatory design can provide general feedback and recommendations and allow you to explore concepts. They are not always good for finding out what is wrong with your application or website. (See note on market research below)
- UX strategy & vision
- UX research & analysis
- UX architecture & design
I’d love to hear about your research plans and activities.
UX research vs Market Research
It is important to understand that UX research is different from market research in some essential ways. Market research typically is focused on identifying and defining markets. Market research is also useful for identifying information for business planning such as product preferences, pricing and supply/inventory. Where as UX research is focused on how users would behave to achieve a desired outcome. UX research can also gather information to help businesses organize product or services and present them in ways that match users expectations.
It is understandable that there is confusion between the two as we use similar research methods in some cases, but the questions asked and the information collected are different. Knowing the market you are trying to reach and actual user behavior require different approaches and not being aware of the difference will lead you to wrong conclusions about the product/service features.