In UX design, research is a fundamental part of solving relevant problems and/or narrowing down to the “right” problem users face. A designer’s job is to understand their users, which means going beyond their initial assumptions and putting themselves in another person’s shoes in order to create products that respond to a human need.
Let me start off by saying that we are not “pure” researchers. We don’t have to follow a strictly scientific method. We do create hypotheses and test them. BUT we can be nimble, we can change the prototypes on the fly. We measure our success by the outcomes we reach.
There are various research methods that we can use to gather data. The widest type of them are Generative and Evaluative Research, Here I will explain them one by one.
“Research seeks to prove, evaluation seeks to improve” -M.Q. Patton
What is Generative Research?
Generative research is done to generate information about the users and ways in which they operate. It involves learning about who the users are, what they do, how they do it, why they do what they do in a particular way, what frustrates them, what makes them happy, in what contexts they take an action, etc.
This research helps define the problem under consideration. This type of research is conducted at the very beginning of the product cycle when we don’t even know what problem to solve for our customers. The purpose is to be able to formulate a problem to solve and be halfway sure that this is a relevant problem.
Of course, here the customers do not tell us their problems, we need to synthesize them, detect and understand patterns and get our own pattern and detect a problem to be solved. We do not yet have a clue about the solution.
Generative Research Process -
Why Generative Research Is Important -
Direct collaboration with users allows us to discover the mindset of people regarding a specific problem and later translate it into a feasible solution
Users are no longer perceived as passive consumers, instead, they actively participate in the design process of a product
People are creative by nature, they are after all the experts at understanding their own ways of life
Generative Research is a great starting point to develop innovative ideas through collaborative efforts
Generative Research Methods -
Concept Validation - Concept validation is a process of showing design concepts to users to discover whether the users feel that these concepts address their needs. It also allows us to get feedback from users on ideas. The combination of validation of user needs and feedback from users can then be used to narrow down to a single design concept.Here are some research techniques to gather data for concept validation -
User Journey Mapping - A user journey is a timeline of actions that describes the relationship between your brand and its customers. It's a visualization all of a user's interactions with your product, from their point of view. User journey mapping creates a timeline of all touch points between a customer and your organization, including all channels they happen in
Some techniques to do so are -
IA & Taxonomy Creation - Taxonomies are systems used to classify and organize things. A taxonomy—generally speaking—aims to understand a set of subject-specific concepts, and creates a vocabulary for those concepts, in order to ultimately organize the “physical things” related to those concepts and make them easier to find or interact with.
This can be achieved using the following techniques -
What is Evaluative Research?
Evaluative research is assessing a specific problem to ensure usability and ground it in the wants, needs, and desires of real people. Evaluative research is what most of the UX researchers doing now a day, it is done to assess something that exists, e.g., a design or an application. Its main goal is to find out lacking and difficulties in the existing product and try to find out possible solutions for it.
This research method can be conducted at any time throughout the project as long as there is something to evaluate. Early sketches, paper or digital prototypes, and implemented interfaces can all be subject to evaluative research.
With this kind of research, the goal is to know which solutions will work and if our solutions are getting closer to solving the problem we chose. In other words, it answers the question: Did we do enough explanatory research to come up with the right solutions?
“What people say, what people do, and what people say they do are entirely different things.” - Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist
Types of Evaluative Research -
Formative Evaluation - It is a special type of early evaluation that occurs during and after a program has been designed but before it is broadly implemented. Formative evaluation is used to understand the need for the intervention and to make tentative decisions about how to implement or improve it.
During the formative evaluation, information is collected and then fed back to program designers and administrators to enhance program development and maximize the success of the intervention.
Process Evaluation - It addresses three broad questions: "What was done?" and "To whom, and how?" Ordinarily, process evaluation is carried out at some point in the life of a project where we can determine how and how well the delivery goals of the program are being met.
It can also play a role in improving interventions by providing the information necessary to change delivery strategies or program objectives in a changing epidemic.
Outcome Evaluation - It is used to identify consequences and to establish that consequences are, indeed, attributable to a project. This type of evaluation answers the questions, "What outcomes were observed?" and, perhaps more importantly, "What do the outcomes mean?".
Like process evaluation, outcome evaluation can also be conducted at intervals during an ongoing program, and the panel believes that such periodic evaluation should be done to monitor goal achievement.
Evaluative Research Methods -
User Interviews - In user interviews, a UX researcher question users of a product and records their answers. The nature of the questions depend on the intent of the research, but the main goal is to extract useful insights that can be used for product ideation and improvement.
Ethnography - Want to know how users behave in their natural environment? Watch them.
Ethnography is the firsthand observation of users as they interact with things in the world around them, and it’s an effective way for UX researchers to learn if a product is actually useful or is hindered by design flaws.
User Surveys - A survey is a set of questions that evaluate users’ preferences, opinions, and attitudes about a product. Surveys are given to a sample audience that is representative of a larger population, and two types of questions are asked: closed and open.
Card Sorting - Card sorting is a relatively simple technique that provides insight into how users structure data in their minds. In an open card sort, people are given a deck of randomly shuffled cards and asked to organize them in whatever way they deem sensible.
Once the cards are sorted, they are then asked to explain the reasoning behind their way of arrangement. During a closed card sort, participants are asked to place cards from the deck into pre-existing groups, and their word associations are documented by researchers.
At last, I would say that you can—and should—do user studies at all stages of the design process. Studies that are done before you start designing can help you to get an understanding of what your target group needs; studies that are carried out iteratively during development helps in ensuring that the user experience is on track, and measuring the effectiveness of your design after the product is released.
This approach can keep you a step ahead as every dimension of your release will have been considered, analyzed, and tested before you sit down to see the results of the ultimate test (the ROI), more confident that you’ve got a winning design.