How to Make User Research More Efficient

Everything but your research is taking more time than it needs to.

Validately is an end-to-end solution for user research. To learn more, visit our website or schedule a demo.

This article is part of an ongoing series by guest writers on the topic of user research.

Guest Writer: Laura Klein

Laura Klein has spent 15 years as an engineer and designer. She’s a Principal at Users Know & Author of UX for Lean Startups.


One of the most common excuses I hear people give for not doing research is that it takes too long. In my experience, user research and usability testing are important enough that I typically tell people to do it anyway.

But they’re not entirely wrong. Research can take a long time — much longer than it needs to.

Luckily, there are several things you can do to speed up the research process without sacrificing quality. The trick is to identify and simplify any part of your process that isn’t research. Let’s take a look at a few examples.


Research Plans

I am never going to tell you not to write a research plan. Research plans are an indispensable part of research. They help us understand and articulate what we’re going to be trying to learn from our users and the methods we’ll use to learn those things. They also help us communicate to our teammates what they should expect from research and what their roles will be.

That said, they often take far too long to write.

Image courtesy of sciencemag.org

Why do they take so long?

There are a few reasons that research plans take so long:

  • When plans have to be commented on and approved by multiple stakeholders, it can take several interviews and iterations just to get them finalized.
  • Designers and researchers can treat plans like final deliverables and spend hours or days making them beautiful and convincing.
  • Different people within the organization can have different expectations of the research, and it’s the person in charge of the plan who has to make sure that the study covers everybody’s concerns.

What can we do about it?

Instead of having one person run around to dozens of different stakeholders within the company trying to get consensus, try running an interactive, collaborative, time-boxed session with as many of the stakeholders as possible. Your goal is to surface all the needs and concerns about the upcoming research, so that when a plan is written, it won’t be a surprise to anybody.

Once you’ve got consensus on a rough plan, leave it alone. Don’t turn it into a work of art. It’s an interim deliverable, and it should be understandable, but it doesn’t need to be gorgeous.

Finally, say no to some people. You don’t need to have a single, perfect plan that covers everybody’s concerns and answers everybody’s questions. If you’re conducting research regularly, you won’t feel the same pressure to find a way to research every single thing about your product and users in a single study. Be flexible. Run multiple, smaller, more targeted studies. If two stakeholders want answers to questions that can be answered together in a single study, that’s great. But if somebody really needs something answered with a diary study and somebody else needs a usability test and a third person needs a card sort, don’t try to jam those all into one session.

How Validately helps

By making things like recruiting and launching studies easy and quick, Validately can help you run multiple studies in parallel. Validately’s tools allow you to run moderated and unmoderated studies on desktop and mobile. Test any web-based prototype, including Axure and InVision, or run seamless native app tests on Android devices without installing an SDK or adding any extra code.

Validately offers a moderated and unmoderated testing tool. Test any web-based prototype or website desktop and mobile, as well as seamless native app tests on Android devices.

Recruiting

While we’re on the subject of things that are absolutely necessary but that always seem to take forever, let’s talk about recruiting. Sure, once in awhile you get an easy recruit, but most of the time it seems like you need to find a left handed dentist who owns a practice in a town of no more than 500 people and who breeds Labradoodles for fun.

Image courtesy of dogtime.com

Unfortunately, most advice about shortening recruiting time boils down to either compromising on the type of participant you’re getting or paying somebody a huge amount of money to source users from a panel in hurry. And even then, it can take weeks.

Why does it take so long?

Recruiting takes forever because:

  • Your product is almost certainly used by a specific type of user, and there are only so many left handed dentists to be found.
  • When you’re working with enterprise clients, there can be corporate politics keeping you from talking to your real users.
  • Scheduling just takes awhile. We’ve put a man on the moon, but somehow, we still have to send a dozen emails back and forth to find a time that works for a one hour meeting between three people.

What can we do about it?

New apps like Calendly, Assistant.to, YouCanBook.me, and a dozen others can make finding a time to meet easier than it used to be. Since the potential participants can see which time slots are still available, it reduces the number of times you have to go back and forth to get somebody on the calendar.

In order for that to work, you still need to have somebody to schedule. Keeping and curating a database of participants who are willing to help with user research can make it easier to recruit for specific studies. It also means by-passing gatekeepers like account managers in many companies.

Of course, none of that solves the problem of finding and screening people in the first place. Using social networks and ads can work, depending on the type of participant you’re looking for. But if speed’s your goal, it often makes sense to pay somebody to find the right people, and luckily, Validately’s service is much cheaper and faster than traditional research recruiting agencies.

How Validately helps

Validately is the easiest way to recruit qualified test participants. Their team manages all logistics with recruiting, including sourcing, screening, scheduling, backfill, day of tech checks, and incentive payment so you can focus on research.

Validately manages all logistics when recruiting your test participants.

Validately actively sources test participants on social media to ensure you’re speaking highly representative and non-trained test takers. They also have the ability to source users from your database or customer list.


Editing Video & Producing Reports

Perhaps the most frustrating waste of time is the production of the research report that nobody ever reads. The more time we put into crafting beautiful, well analyzed, comprehensive reports with charts, graphs, and even video, the less likely stakeholders are to use the information, since by the time we’ve produced the thing, all the decisions have been made and the project has moved on!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Why does it take so long?

Analyzing research data, finding video clips, and putting everything together into an attractive package is a time-consuming experience.

  • First, you have to go back and re-watch all of your videos and make notes which, even at 1.5x speed, can take you twice as long as the original research.
  • Then you have to spend time finding patterns and insights for which you can find supporting evidence.
  • Finally, you spend hours (or days, or weeks) turning it into a Powerpoint or Word document that sits on a server somewhere.

What can we do about it?

The first step to shortening reporting time is to avoid going back and re-watching hours and hours of video at the end of a study. Instead of leaving analysis until the end, debrief after every session with research observers. Gather their notes and top takeaways from the session immediately, and start organizing and identifying supporting clips right after you’ve shot them.

If you’re sharing raw videos with other members of the team (and you should!), you can ask them to note specific insights and to mark the times, so you can go in and view specific clips.

If you have a bit of a budget, paying to get transcription and time coding done your videos can make them easier to search. It’s almost certainly less expensive than paying a researcher to watch them over and over again, and you end up with a useful and reusable source of raw data.

Ideally, of course, we could do away with reports entirely — or, at least, with the sort of slick, formal reports that take so long to produce and that often have so little real impact. Instead, try leading a collaborative debrief and discussion with stakeholders where you do the analysis and come up with key takeaways together.

To capture the insights, try something like a rough Empathy Map, User Map, or Rainbow Spreadsheet. There are dozens of other visual canvases that might work for conveying whatever you’ve learned to the rest of your team, and they’re almost all faster to make than a formal research report.

How Validately helps

The Validately Insight Report feature largely automates the process of writing post-study reports.

Validately’s Insight Report uses hashtags to automatically create post-study reports

Through the use of hashtag, Insights automatically compiles all notes, clips, and test data across multiple sessions into one editable report, so you can get out of the business of producing reports and get back into the field, learning from users. With Insights, you can create reports in minutes and share your recommendations with stakeholders with a URL.


Validately is an end-to-end solution for user research that includes a comprehensive testing platform, recruiting services and automated reporting. We help researchers to conduct 2X the user research and testing in 50% less time.

Click here to request a demo