2. Product Research
Once the product vision is defined, product research (which naturally includes user and market research) provides the other half of the foundation for great design. To maximize your chances of success, conduct insightful research before making any product decisions. Remember that the time spent researching is never time wasted.
Good research informs your product, and the fact that it comes early in the design process will save you a lot of resources (time and money) down the road (because fewer adjustments will need to be made). Plus, with solid research, selling your ideas to stakeholders will be a lot easier.
Conduct User Research
As product creators, our responsibilities lie first and foremost with the people who will use the products we design. If we don’t know our users, how can we create great products for them?
Good user research is key to designing a great user experience. Conducting user research enables you to understand what your users actually need. What it comes to product research, researchers have a few different techniques to choose from.
Gathering information through direct dialog is a well-known user research technique that can give the researcher rich information about users. This technique can help the researcher assess user needs and feelings both before a product is designed and long after it’s released. Interviews are typically conducted by one interviewer speaking to one user at a time for 30 minutes to an hour. After the interviews are done, it’s important to synthesize the data to identify insights in the form of patterns.
- Try to conduct interviews in person: If you have a choice, in-person interviews are better than remote ones (via phone or web-based video). In-person interviews are preferable because they provide much more behavioral data than remote ones. You’ll gain additional insights by observing body language and listening for verbal cues (tone, inflection, etc.).
- Plan your questions: All questions you ask during the interview should be selected according to the learning goal. A wrong set of questions cannot only nullify the benefits of the interview session, but also lead product development down the wrong path.
- Find an experienced interviewer: A skilled interviewer makes users feel comfortable by asking questions in a neutral manner and knowing when and how to ask for more details.
Surveys and questionnaires enable the researcher to get a larger volume of responses, which can open up the opportunity for more detailed analysis. While online surveys are commonly used for quantitative research, they also can be used for qualitative research. It’s possible to gather qualitative data by asking open-ended questions (for example, “What motivates you to make a purchase?” or “How do you feel when you need to return the item you purchased from us?”). The answers to such questions will be very individualized and in general cannot be used for quantitative analysis.
Online surveys can be relatively inexpensive to run. The downside of this method is that there’s no direct interaction with respondents, and, thus, it’s impossible to dive more deeply into answers provided by them.
- Keep it short: Don’t forget that every extra question reduces your response rate. If the survey is too long, you may find that you don’t get as many responses as you’d like. Better to send a few short surveys than to put everything you want to know into one long survey.
- Open-ended versus close-ended questions: Asking open-ended questions is the best approach, but it’s easy to get stuck in data analysis because every user answer requires researcher time for analysis. Plus, users quickly tire of answering open-ended questions, which usually require a lot of reading and typing.
Contextual inquiry is a variety of field study in which the researcher observes people in their natural environment and studies them as they go about their everyday tasks. This method helps researchers obtain information about the context of use: Users are first asked a set of standard questions, such as “What is the most frequent task you typically do?”, and then they are observed and questioned while they work in their own environment. The goal of contextual inquiry is to gather enough observations that you can truly begin to empathize with your users and their perspectives.
- Don’t just listen to users; observe their behavior: What people say can be different from what people do. As much as possible, observe what users do to accomplish their tasks.
- Minimize interference: When studying the natural use of a product, the goal is to minimize interference from the study in order to understand behavior as close to reality as possible.
Conduct Market Research
You cannot ignore competitors if you want to build a great product. To be competitive, you need to know what products are available on the market and how they perform. That’s why conducting market research is a crucial component of the product design process. Your ultimate goal should be to design a solution that has a competitive advantage.
Competitive research is a comprehensive analysis of competitor products and presentation of the results of the analysis in a comparable way. Research helps product teams understand industry standards and identify opportunities for the product in a given market segment.
A competitor is a company that shares your goals and that fights for the same thing that your product team wants. There are two types of competitors:
- Direct competitors: Direct competitors are ones whose products compete head to head with your value proposition (offering the same, or very similar, value proposition to your current or future users).
- Indirect competitors: Indirect competitors are those whose products target your customer base without offering the exact same value proposition. For instance, an indirect competitor’s primary product or service might not capture your value proposition, but their secondary product definitely does.
The product team should consider both types of competitors because they’ll affect the overall success of the product. As a rule of thumb, shoot for identifying the top three direct competitors and obtaining the same number of indirect competitors.
- Start listing competitors before doing competitive research: Most likely you will begin to learn about competitors way before you conduct competitive research. For example, during user interviews, users might share names of products that they think are similar to the one you’re proposing. During stakeholder interviews, the product owners will certainly give you a few names of products they see as competitors. It’s worth creating a spreadsheet that will be used to collect the names of competitors right at the beginning of the project, and try to fill it as you do product research. Add new names to the list so that you don’t forget them.
- Use a cloud-based tool for competitive research: Tools such as Google Spreadsheet make it easier to share the latest up-to-date research information with a larger group of people (both teammates and stakeholders) and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
3. User Analysis
After research, the product team must make sense of the data it’s collected. The aim of the analysis phase is to draw insights from the data collected during the product research phase. Capturing, organizing and making inferences about what users want, think or need can help UX designers begin to understand why they want, think or need that.
Modelling the Users and Their Environments
Based on the product research results, UX designers can identify key user groups and create representative personas. Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a product in a similar way. The purpose of personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of the key audience segments for reference. Once created, personas help product teams to understand the users’ goals in specific contexts, which is particularly useful during ideation.
- Base the persona on real data: It can be tempting to invent some details about personas to make them attractive. Avoid that temptation. Every bit of the information in the persona should be based on the research. If you don’t have some information, do research to fill in the gap.
- Avoid using real names or details of research participants or people you know: This can bias the objectivity of your personas. (You’ll end up focusing on designing for this person, rather than a group of people with similar characteristics.)
An empathy map is a visualization tool used to articulate what a product team knows about the user. This tool helps a product team build a broader understanding of the “why” behind user needs and wants. It forces product teams to shift their focus from the product they want to build to the people who will use the product. As a team identifies what they know about the user and then places this information on a chart, they gain a more holistic view of the user’s world and the problem or opportunity space.
- Turn your empathy map into a poster: It’s possible to create a nice reminder of what is user thinking or feeling by turning the empathy map into a poster. Create a few copies of the map and hang them around the office. This helps to ensure the user remains on people’s minds as they work.
To be continued in Part 3 of the series
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