A Strategic User Research Process That Works
In general, we'd say there are two distinct purposes for a user research process: confirming hypotheses about a product or prototype, which often focuses on the technology first, as seen in usability tests. This approach, while common, tends to reinforce the status quo, making it challenging to think beyond our current framework.
The second approach, which we greatly prefer, shifts the focus from technology to people. We examine their behaviors, contexts, goals, and challenges to generate new ideas and identify opportunities for innovation. This style of user research is more explorative and strategic, allowing us to detach from our existing business models and products to truly understand what people need from us. In this blog post, we will demonstrate how to integrate a strategic user research process into your projects that achieves precisely this.
You should apply user research in the beginning of your project
In our most recent post, we discussed the fuzzy front end of innovation, highlighting how user research effectively untangles complexity and provides direction. This is precisely why, in our opinion, a user research process is essential at the beginning of a project, whether dealing with a mature product or an intriguing idea. There are two main reasons for this...
User research helps reduce cost and risk by giving scope and direction
According to the rule of ten, avoiding missteps during early project stages can reduce cost that would rise exponentially later. Which makes sense: Once we’ve already built a prototype and have done a lot of work, it is really bad to find out that people don’t want it. We’ll now have to go back to square one and the project’s timeframe explodes. However, if we find out what’s desirable to users early on, we can enter the lean startup phase with more confidence and the risk of multiple iterations goes down. Thus, user research gives us better ideas of scope and direction.
User research helps discover purpose, vision and amazing ideas
With explorative user interviews early in a project, we can aim our attention at what people need as opposed at what we can build. With this as a starting point, we can build much more exciting products. The image above is from the British company Open Bionics, and one of my favorite examples in this regard. Because their Hero Arm is so much more than a mere replacement. It’s not just affordable or functional—it changes conversations in the schoolyard. This is much more exciting than just improving the tech, and can only be done if we look at the person attached to it.
A Recipe for Strategic User Research: Process, Methods, Interviews, Infrastructure
1. Mapping Out the Process and Defining Goals
Effective research starts with thorough preparation, aligning closely with your project's overall planning. In a kickoff meeting with all key players, outline the purpose and goals of your research. Determine the deliverables, the participants, and stakeholder management (a topic so vast it deserves its own post).
2. Defining Methods and Deliverables
Choose methods based on your project's purpose and requirements, ensuring you deliver meaningful results. Create a toolchain that aligns with your goals and fits your time and budget constraints.
3. Conducting Integrated Interviews
High-quality interviews require a solid interviewer guide and well-crafted questions. The trick is to connect questions to your chosen methods and elicit useful answers without asking direct, expert-level questions.
4. Building an Effective Infrastructure
Ensure your process includes informed consent detailing the research's purpose, data usage, participant rights, and privacy measures. Use a database or spreadsheet to categorize and analyze interview statements, making them ready for collaboration workshops.
Implementing a strategic user research process is a nuanced but rewarding endeavor. It requires careful planning, method selection, skilled interviewing, and robust infrastructure. By following these guidelines, you can harness the power of user research to drive innovation and success in your projects.