Why do user research? How is it important? There is a simple answer and complex answers to these questions.
The simple answer is that talking to customers fosters empathy and reduces the likelihood of making decisions based on assumption. Here is the more complex answer. Without the voice of the customer, there is a very real possibility that resources, budgets and time – all of which are already constrained – will be wasted on a product or service that is not solving the problem(s) our users are facing.
What is UX?
I have spent over 10 years in various marketing, project management and product management roles. All of these positions have involved strategic planning of a product or service, and with that, customer communication in some form. In most of these roles, I didn’t use the term “UX”, or “User Experience” often. However, at the center was focusing on the experience of our users during design, development and marketing efforts.
After I began working at ConnectFive, an agency dedicated to enhancing the User Experience of products, I quickly realized that many of the efforts in my previous roles were very much “UX”, however I never called it that. All product roles should, in my opinion, involve talking to customers and users. It is important to ask them questions, watch them use the product that is being designed, uncover the gaps and discover the needs as well as iteratively design a product that matches that user need.
Creating a good user experience depends on having empathy. Empathy is necessary to understand what users are experiencing, to feel the pain they are feeling and to fully realize where they need assistance. Without empathy, we are only making assumptions of what our users want.
This also opens us up to making decisions based on vanity. When we assume we are the experts, even more than the users themselves, we open ourselves up to silly mistakes that can be costly.
Often times, this is not intentional. When we get too close to a problem or solution, often times the tunnel vision makes us blind to the emotion of it all. Bringing empathy back into the equation reminds us, as the developers of the solution, why we are working on it, why we want to create the solution, what pain we want to alleviate. As the solution designers, we must be intentional about remaining empathetic and understanding the problem.
Now the next question inevitably is “OK, empathy, I get it…but how?” Easy - simply talk to users. Go out and find them, wherever they may be. Use social media, surveys, open houses, events, impromptu visits to the mall to grab people for a quick conversation; whatever is comfortable for the team. A two-minute conversation can lead to insights that teams would have never uncovered working in isolation. It is quick, cheap and invaluable. By asking users why they are doing certain actions, what they want to accomplish and how they feel when they are using the product, we can empathize with the customers and humanize the problem that needs solving.
While you do not have to do anything formal to gain insights, you do have to have a plan. You do have to have users to talk to. And you do have to have goals. Other than that, simply do what feels natural as a stepping-stone to get started.
There are many ways to get the vital user information. Surveys, digital behavior tools, split testing and face-to-face conversations with users, are just a few of those tactics. They all have a place in the toolbox and all are necessary to maintain empathy and keep a constant pulse on the problem that needs to be solved. With empathy, we can stay connected to our users and create products that they need.