“Not all designers should do research,” cautioned Annette Priest, a veteran UX researcher, during a talk we did for General Assembly and AIGA Austin. Our focus was to introduce designers new to the industry to UX research. Companies are buying into the UX process. Research is a part of this new focus, and with the explosive growth in tech, the barrier of entry into UX is lower for better or worse. Given the current atmosphere in software design, what should designers be cautious about with research?
Why is UX Research So Valuable?
Investing time in research before designing informs designers of the context in which they will work. This has the biggest impact. Idean was the first company for me that really emphasized giving the designer this opportunity for nearly every project. This was not the case earlier in my career. Without any significant connection to the user or business goals, I spent needless hours and revisions trying to design a solution for a problem I barely understood. My experiences at Idean, and now IBM, have given me the space explore the culture of the users and analyze their behaviors. Ultimately, this upfront work set me up to better provide a more appropriate solution.
Why is Bad UX Research So Dangerous?
Research is a powerful tool and carries with it considerable weight.
While doing nothing can have negative impacts on a direction of a product, poorly performed research can be just as devastating. If you consider the complexity of verbal and nonverbal communication, a novice design researcher can overlook how their approach can add bias to the study.
Finding the right users takes more than asking friends or family for their opinions
Setting up your UX Research
Aside from the more nuanced considerations of context and communication, there are core practices that design researchers must follow to ensure the following:
Get the right users
Finding the right users takes more than asking friends or family for their opinions. You might get some ideas, but you will also get a lot of distractions. Theresa Neil advocates for taking the time to find the communities (physical and digital) where your potential users connect. Reach out there and screen them with an initial questionnaire. When you are comfortable with a refined group, you can focus on interviews.
I also recommend consulting with your client or product owner on who the stakeholders are. It’s a simple step that often gets overlooked. Find the right people you need sign off from early. Open a channel for their voices. Keep them up-to-date.
Use the right methods
As it is in design, there are multiple approaches to a research question. The most actionable advice I got from my former creative director, Liya James, was to avoid becoming the ‘one trick pony’ in design research. If your results seem to always come out the same, then maybe you should consider changing your methods. Before I engage any users or stakeholders, I consult a more experienced researcher on my plan.
Produce the right insights
Once you gather an acceptable amount of data from your research, you can start to synthesize it. Avoid doing this alone, and don’t wait until you are finished with your interviews to start synthesizing. I would start this after the first three interviews. At this time, you should already notice patterns emerging. Does the group feel you are getting the information you need? If the answer is ‘no’, you should consider revisiting the research plan.
If the answer is ‘yes’, then you should be comfortable with the data and initial patterns. As I do in the previous step, I also bring in a more experienced researcher to help me synthesize my work and confirm my direction.
Need to know more about UX Research synthesis techniques? Check out this post on synthesis and how it fits into the process.
My two cents on designers and research
I’ve experienced the power of research breaking down silos between the designers and users. I have also realized my faults from conducting research as a novice lacking understanding of proper techniques and approaches. Research carries the weight of science. However, the intent of UX research is not to produce scientific data. It gives designers, clients and stakeholders a deeper understanding of the user. We need to be clear on what the outcomes are. We are not looking for cold facts. We will get insights that will help us solve our user’s real problem.