Propellerhead NZ
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Propellerhead NZ

User Research is the secret ingredient to designing market-leading software

Read Part Two in my series on User Research here

We’ve all been there, whether it’s a website or app, and been utterly flabbergasted at how to navigate them, make sense of their design, use them to their full capacity and implement them in our daily lives.

And then there are those golden experiences, where everything is intuitive, guided and visually beautiful. What sets these different experiences apart? How do we design products that are useful, simple, and delightful to use?

We employ User Experience design (UX), a process that enhances the whole product/service experience for customers. UX research is the process used to understand what the customer’s problems are and how to solve them by testing every design solution, to deliver beautiful software.

As the father of User Experience, Don Norman puts it:

“No product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service — from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.”

One of the key components of UX design is UX research. UX research helps us ground our ideas in reality and improves the odds of success. It enables designers and developers of software to be human-centred and empathise with their users to draw a clear picture of what they think and behave the way they do.

What is User Research?

UX research (also known as User Research or Design Research) utilises a process of inquiry to understand the problems your customers face and how your product/service will work in the real world, with real people.

It enables you to uncover and validate user needs, which form the basis of what you are designing. It’s used to inspire your design, evaluate your solutions, and to measure your impact. It also makes designing software a lot easier, as it takes out all the guesswork.

UX research can cover anything from doing an ethnographic study, where you become immersed in the world of your customers, through to interviews, to usability studies, and data analytics. The common denominator is that UX research places people at the centre of your design process and your products.

We often divide research methods into overarching methodologies: quantitative and qualitative. The methodologies and methods we use are informed by the types of questions we want answered — what do we want to know → how will we understand/measure it?

  • Quantitative research can be measured numerically. It answers questions such as “how many people clicked here?” or “what percentage of users are able to find the call to action?” It’s usually used to uncover statistical likelihoods, what is happening on a site or in an app, and prioritise areas that need to be worked on — but it can’t tell you why the problem exists, or how to fix it.
  • Qualitative research answers questions such as “why didn’t people see the call to action”, “what else did people notice on the page?”, through to more exploratory questions like “what do people think of [insert new technology]”. It’s incredibly useful in helping us understand why people think and behave in different ways, and how we might solve their problems.

Another dimension to deciding which methods to use for user research is attitudinal vs. behavioural, or “what people say” vs “what people do” (it’s alarmingly common for us to say we do one thing, and behave in a different manner!). With attitudinal research, we try to understand or measure people’s stated beliefs. With behavioural research we seek to understand “what people do” with the product or service in question.

Qualitative research generates data about behaviours or attitudes based on observing or asking about them directly, through interviews or ethnographic research. With quantitative research, the data about the behaviour or attitudes are gathered indirectly, through questionnaires or data analytics.

Why is it important?

UX research ultimately de-risks your product and service, because you’ve included your customers’ perspectives and needs throughout the design process.

If you don’t have a delineated understanding of your users, you risk not knowing whether your design will be relevant, or worse, creates more problems for them. It means there’s a higher and faster adoption of your technology, and lower likelihood of abandonment.

What else?

  1. Understand user problems from all angles
    UX research allows your whole team to empathise with your customers. By using different techniques to understand your customers, their contexts and problems, you can understand how you can create a truly innovative solution from multiple angles.
  2. Test early and refine the solution
    UX research allows you to test your ideas early on, with rapid prototyping, so that you can refine your solutions and progress to more functional prototypes. Testing when you have an almost-finished product, puts you at risk of having to make larger and more expensive changes to the product.
  3. Iterate on solution ideas to remain relevant
    As development progresses, it ensures that your team’s designs remain relevant and on track for your customers. UX research validates ideas with prospective users on a continuous, and iterative basis until the ultimate solution is formed.
  4. Ensures intuitive user experience
    All products should be intuitive and simple to use. User and usability tests are the best way of ensuring that people can pick up your technology, and figure out how to interact with it. Nowadays, people expect products to be easy to learn and use. Don’t make your customers think!
  5. It makes business sense
    What’s more, with the amount of new software being released everyday, you need to set your product apart. If your UX is poor, people will move on to another product. You not only want to meet your customers’ needs, but in a sense, exceed them to the point where they tell their friends about your product.

In summary, UX research can be used to (TL;DR)

  • Uncover problems users have an existing product
  • Understand users’ problems and needs
  • Create valuable and useful designs
  • Ensure intuitive navigation and UI
  • Validate business ideas and hypotheses
  • Analyse product-market-fit
  • Increase conversion and purchase rates
  • Boost brand perception and loyalty

If you’re interested in finding out more about how we practice UX Research at Propellerhead, you can reach out here.

Read Part Two in my series on User Research here




Our software powers some of the largest ideas in Government, Commercial and Non-Profit Institutions in New Zealand.

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Sarvnaz Taherian Ph.D

Sarvnaz Taherian Ph.D

Research Psych & Design Researcher

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