10 January 2019 - Dave Jackson

Why research is essential to the UX lifecycle

Without research, there is no UX

Design is a solution based around an interpretation of a problem. Before design work begins we must identify, define and validate the problems that need to be solved. Problems that are highlighted to a designer are often from the clients own perspective and may not always reflect the end users views.

In other cases, the designer will interpret a problem, but this is only their own point of view and may not match the users’ feelings. Clients and designers, regardless of their viewpoint or experience do not have assumed empathy with users.

Who are the UX experts?

We have studied and been working in UX design for many years. Recently there has been an increase in the awareness of the benefits good UX can bring to a product or service. As UX professionals we find the biggest pushback regarding UX research is usually down to time and/or budget constraints. Quite often there can be presumptions that as UX experts we can perfect the UX of their interface while working in a vacuum. If only this was the case.

There is no such thing as a UX expert. If anything the only UX expert is the user of a particular product or service, they know what works for them and what they want. A good UX professional will be an expert on the process, techniques and research required in order to find out what the user wants from a particular UI. They will have mastered how to gain user empathy and the key to this is research, it is the foundation of any good UX lifecycle.

Assumptions can be the enemy of good UX

An assumption is an informed guess. It might be biased and is definitively unproven. We all make assumptions every day, we have to. Assumptions are based on our own experience of the world and the more experience of the world we have the more accurate our assumptions might be. Most ideas for a business start life as a solution to a problem, this business idea stems out of the assumption that others will have the same problem.

Assumptions are good and are often the birthplace of creativity. Where an assumption can be bad is when it is not properly challenged or validated, not everyone perceives the world in the same way.

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
Isaac Asimov

A client may come to us with the assumption that they need us to create a new website with an improved design to drive more online sales. Through research, we might discover that the brand messaging is misleading or that the client has been targeting the wrong market demographics. All projects need to start with an open mind. Our design goal is to create a solution that is truly relevant to its users.

A mantra that we use within the Friday Agency and with our clients is “we don’t care what you think!”. All input is valuable, but the only assumption made throughout the UX research stage of a project is that nobody on the project team including the client is the end user.

UX Research

There is no one size fits all UX research process. Every project requires a different approach and set of tools that are tailored around the product/service and overall project goals. In all cases, we need to gain empathy for the client and more importantly their user base. Research doesn’t have to be extensive or expensive but should never be avoided.

Client empathy: First off we need to understand the business behind the product or service, who the team is behind it and what their motivations are. We need to understand the brief we have been given and what the clients’ expectation is. We need to understand the product or service ‘as-is’. The problems it is designed to solve, how it works and how effective it is.

User empathy: User empathy is the key to creating a good user experience. In order to gain empathy, we must understand our target audience intimately; what makes them tick, their goals, motivations and frustrations. It’s time to forget everything we know and listen. UX research encompasses a variety of qualitative and quantitate research methods to identify issues, requirements and add context, focus and insight into the design process.

“Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
Zora Neale Hurston

Here are some of the research techniques we use at the Friday Agency throughout the UX lifecycle. They are a mix of attitudinal and behavioural as well as qualitative and quantitative research methods. These are crossed checked against each other for better validation.

  1. Heuristic Evaluation
  2. Stakeholder Interviews
  3. Competitor Analysis
  4. User Interviews
  5. Focus groups
  6. Analysis of analytics
  7. Analysis of reviews
  8. Online Surveys
  9. Usability testing
  10. A/B Testing
  11. Personas & scenarios
  12. Card sorting & affinity diagrams

Tales of the unexpected

It’s well documented that in medicine, some of the biggest discoveries have been made while monitoring the unexpected side effects of the testing of new drugs. Viagra surfaced during clinical trials of a cardiovascular drug in the early 1990s. Looking for a solution to one problem can uncover an unexpected solution to another.

One of the greatest things that can come out of UX research is the unexpected, what we were not looking for. This can sometimes be terrifying to clients but is always both enlightening and positive. We have been involved in projects where a clients entire business strategy has changed as a result of UX research, something came to light that may have been overlooked or assumed and the new knowledge helped transform their business for the better.

We’ve all heard that knowledge is power but don’t forget that research is an investment in knowledge.