UX Research: Just Do It!

Let me tell you a little secret: the first time I did UX research, I did it for free, in my free time. Worse: I even bear some of its costs from my own money!

I did so, because I wanted my designs to be better: I’ve signed up for this job to make the life of users better, and I had to ensure for myself that it indeed does — I knew that there will be no one checking this for me, and that once I’ve presented my designs, they are out of my control.

I’ve signed up for this job to make the life of users better, and I had to ensure for myself that it indeed does

So I’ve needed to make sure that the designs I did are indeed fit, and whenever a stakeholder requested a change, I had to check, that:

  • they didn’t ruin my original goal (make people life better)
  • I had good arguments against it in case they did

The best way to back up my case seemed to be gaining direct user feedback.

One of the first clients, it was a furniture shop… I was given 2 paid hours to give an expert review of their current site. I’ve spent 4 hours on it instead, by giving it to my girlfriend with a little usability test task (buy a sofa), and then repeating this test with a friend as well. They were excited but didn’t give me more money to do it, they just wanted a “design review”.

When I have joined the first big company as a UX Designer, I had a “FedEx day” coming within the first month I was there. I’ve decided to spend it on usability testing. I’ve invited a friend over, who just quit a job where she did a similar role as was required by our software, and handled her 6 basic tasks to complete on the computer.

Then I’ve shown the results (around half of the tasks failed for usability reasons) to my executives. They didn’t believe me. First, they told me my friend is surely dumb (she isn’t). Then they told me she is not of the target user group (she was). Then they have claimed that she didn’t ran through the official training materials and that since the machine we had used already had the program installed, we have skipped the onboarding process.

First, they told me my friend is surely dumb

So I have repeated the test with our receptionist: I was called out that she isn’t an engineer (she had an engineering degree, although not of IT).

It only worked after I have shown the video, with her facecam included, personally to our Senior Vice President. Then it clicked. Then he understood that it was the product which was at fault.

I showed the video in person to our SVP. Then it clicked. Then he understood it was the product which was at fault

I nearly immediately got a ticket to Florida, to research our product in a real-life setting.

That trip resulted in the cancellation the further development of an added-value product: simply put, it turned out that our users had better tools to do this task already, and it explained why that product performed poorly.

That trip resulted in the cancellation of a product, as it explained why that product performed poorly.

But in a month, I had to move on. My next project involved introducing user research to an investment banking IT provider: first they told me finding users is impossible, I have still found a way to do it. After they saw what could be the result, they’ve told me, they don’t want their products to be more usable as it would lessen the number of support calls from clients, which is their main upsale channel. Fair enough, moved on again.

Next came FIBA: the International Basketball Federation, with the request to help 3x3 Streetball reach the Olympics. On my second workday, I’ve looked up events nearby: found out there is a big event right in town at the weekend. I’ve asked a quick permission to reach out to an organizer in the name of FIBA, and I’ve spent my 5th workday on a field trip already.

I’ve spent my 5th workday at my new workplace on a field trip already

That weekend, I went out to visit that championship: in my own free time, and using my personal “savings”, I’ve bought some nutrition bars ($20) so that I had some incentive to give out, as we didn’t have time even to organize company badges for myself, let alone swags.

using my personal savings, I’ve bought some nutrition bars so that I had some incentives to give out

The project of going out to the field became a success again: I visited Bucharest, Prague, amongst others and participated at huge events: besides being very educational for the project, I had great fun as well. Of course all these were fully paid field trips.

Since then, I mostly sell research services, and I am known for my Hungarian blog on ux research, and sometimes people volunteer to be our test subject just to see how I am doing it (Krug-method, nothing special).

Now about you: do you do research already? Do you do usability tests? Do you watch people in their usual habitat doing the stuff your app is supposed to help or eliminate?

I did it because I wanted my designs to be better: I wanted to make sure that they are really user-centered, it isn’t just me talking about it. I wanted to become a better UX designer, and I was willing to invest my free time and other resources to become one, even if my companies didn’t pay me for such originally — eventually I got paid not just in money, but time spent in beautiful locations and interesting people as well.

I was willing to invest my free time to become a better UX designer — and eventually I got paid back fully.

Now the question is: are you willing as well?