Monthly Archives: September 2010

What is User Research?

“User research is the process of understanding the impact of design on an audience.” – Mike Kuniavsky, Observing the User Experience

Sometimes I feel like we struggle to explain what User Research is all about. Too often we get caught up in the day to day implementation of User Research, and lose touch with how to explain what we do in plain language. Our job as User Researchers, is not to simply run usability tests, and communicate the results. If you tell your friends, colleagues, etc. that all you do us run usability tests, they will give you a blank stare. We don’t just run usability tests, we help dev teams understand the impact of their product, feature, system on its intended audience.

But I think a more powerful question is: what happens when you don’t think about the intended audience? What happens when you don’t conduct user research? Here are three consequences of not thinking about the intended audience, and how User Research can help:

* Your product could become ‘incomprehensible.’ Often times, products and systems are made, but people saying they can’t understand what the product is for, what to do with it, what problem it solves, let alone how to use it. User Research can identify this early, before launch, and can generate ideas to better communicate what the product does to the end user.

* Endless internal debates about scope, audience, purpose, and functionality. Many times, those working on a new Web design project feel like they can identify with the user. They will say things like, “I never like it when sites do this…” or “I always expect to see…” When project scope, audience, and purpose is defined by the those on the project, and not by those who will use the end product, debates sky rocket. However, when User Research is involved, you can find out what users think is most important for the project. After doing even a handful of interviews with users, suddenly your scope, purpose, functionality, etc. of the project can become much better defined. User Research makes everyone more aware of what is most important to the end user.

* Creating a solution that doesn’t solve any real problem. Solutions are sold because they relieve pain points for people. You need to conduct User Research to understand the problem, and the kinds of people who have this problem.

Bottom line: User Research is about identifying and defining problems, not creating solutions. It is about looking into problems, and spelling those problems out for the people who build the products – to those who have the power to solve the problems. Designers are inspired to solve problems, and user research inspires them.

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Blogging through “Observing the User Experience”

I’ve decided that if I really want to learn and grow as a User Experience Researcher, I need to read and apply more best practices. I was really inspired by Julie and Julia, the story of a woman who blogged her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as a way to commit to learning to cook.

In Observing the User Experience, Mike Kuniavsky from Adaptive Path writes why user research is good, and how it fits into product development. He also addresses various research techniques, and ways to communicate results. Much of what I think, worry, ponder over all day every day.

I look forward to reading and writing about the book, and how I apply it daily.

Stay tuned!