Product Designers should be Killer at User Research
UX heuristics are useful guides for product design but empathy for users is developed through user research. Testing designs improves and refines designs. The combination of empathy, heuristics, and user research lead to successfully designed products.
Each product has a unique set of users.
Understanding the user’s goals, motivations, behaviors, pains, and context are vital components of product design. Successful products are made by individuals and teams that know their users. When teams design without fully understanding the user’s goals and pains, their designs are mere guesses.
Research shapes products.
Product Designers who conduct user research shape the product based on the goals of the users. User research surfaces these goals as design tenets which guide the design process.
Even expert Product Designers can be subject to bias at times. User research reduces bias and builds empathy by revealing user context, natural language, knowledge, and mental model.
To design a robust product, generative user research is required at the outset. In fact, the beginning stages of product design are the most crucial for developing empathy with users, since this is when initial ideas are developed into working prototypes.
When updating existing products, design decisions should be made and confirmed based on summative user research, even when heuristics are employed.
Designers must understand research methods, costs, and outcomes.
Designs must adapt to changing trends, behaviors, and technology. The skilled Product Designer will have a set of research methods to understand where designs have missed their mark. These designers use a variety of research methods, comparing against data from a variety of sources, and socialize their findings with the teams they serve.
Research assists the designer in mapping out customer journeys, service design, user flows, and user interfaces, with the goal to build a cohesive user experience.
Personas are sometimes considered a stand-in for user research. While personas are useful for helping establish empathy with a user type and outlining attributes, goals, motivations, and behaviors, habits, culture, or social context, a paper persona cannot interact with the product.
Product Designers should be aware of four basic types of user research, along with the strengths and weaknesses of each.
- Attitudinal—user perception and preferences
- Behavioral—user interactions with product or situation
- Qualitative—surfaces meaning and the social reality of users, typically through observation
- Quantitative—measurable numeric data which can be categorized or ranked
Understanding the cost, time commitment, depth, and value of various types of research will help Product Designers select the right method or combination of methods at the right time for the needed outcome.
- Group (e.g., Focus Groups or Innovation Games)
User research should take place at every major iteration of a design.
Every project is different and research needs will vary, but this general guideline covers common research opportunities:
- Discovery Research (generative)
- Personas (from gathered research)
- Product workflow (from gathered research and ideation)
- Information Architecture
- Testing Information Architecture (generative)
- Wireframing (from gathered research and ideation)
- Lo-fi Prototype Usability Testing (generative)
- Hi-fi or working Prototype Usability Testing (summative)
- After Release Usability Testing (summative)
- Ongoing Metrics and Analytics evaluations (summative)
User research is not a lone sport and does not belong to a person or department.
To facilitate a shared understanding from research, Product Designers must involve product teams in post-research debriefs. When Product Designers value research and involve teams in surfacing insights from observations and meaningful statistics, the entire company benefits.
User Research helps avoid big design mistakes.
User Research reveals the jobs users are trying to accomplish, how the user accomplishes this job, and the pain points they experience in the process.
Well-designed products are based in user research and follow heuristics and design principles. When Product Designers base designs on heuristics alone, they risk designing by assumption. Product Designers who combine user research with design heuristics use valuable insights about users to influence designs, resulting in well-designed products.