To survive in today’s app market, enterprises must invest in websites, apps, and services rooted in exceptional user experience. Creating that experience involves practicing design thinking and begins by establishing an extensive understanding of your target users’ lives and unmet needs.
The best way to go about gaining that understanding is simply by conducting user experience research. Unfortunately, for many companies, especially those on a limited development budget, pushing out a working product may be a higher priority than conducting user research. However, that can prove to be a fatal mistake. Not taking the time to do at least some user research to inform your product’s design may have a crippling, detrimental effect on your product’s success.
In this article, we will go over various low-cost, simple user experience research methods and discuss ways to use this research to improve the user experience for a successful customer-centered mobile app.
Why Is UX Research So Important?
A mobile app’s UX influences how users perceive the product. Users search for apps that provide value, are easy to use, and help them fulfill a goal. The UX ultimately determines if a user will return to your app or delete it altogether, possibly giving it a poor review. According to UX Designer Nick Babich, “The best products do two things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to your product. Details are what keep them there.”
The startling truth is that 25 percent of users stop using an app just after one use. Why? Although there are many reasons, the most prominent one is not finding the immediate value in the app. User experience research not only helps UX designers to better understand the likes and dislikes of their audience but also helps them either validate or invalidate initial product ideas to guide the development of the product. If done correctly, user experience research will reveal different mindsets, motivations, pain points, and behaviors of a targeted user group. These key factors ultimately decide if a product will be successful or not.
Types of Research You Can Conduct
Numerous methodologies have proven to be effective in producing quality results. Often the methods used are split into two categories: qualitative and quantitative.
- Qualitative — observational findings, emotions, and human behaviors.
- Quantitative — metrics and actual data.
Each type of data will help you gain insights that will help you throughout the development process. For example, the qualitative data you gather will help identify new opportunities and trends. Quantitative research provides businesses with numerical and statistical information, which can be hugely influential in convincing stakeholders to buy in and invest in a project or concept.
Here are some examples of the data you might collect:
- Qualitative — During the user testing, some participants had to re-read the first paragraph on the landing page before they understood the message.
- Quantitative — The average time spent on the checkout page is 17.3 seconds.
Below are some common user experience research methods:
Use this methodology when you have a product or a prototype ready, and you need to test it with users. Before you launch it, it’s good to get constructive feedback from your users/potential users and see if they are stuck somewhere or don’t understand something.
Use this research method to analyze what options are most popular amongst your target audience. You can give your users two interfaces to try out, for example, and depending upon their preference; you can choose to move forward with the one they connect with most.
Preliminary surveys and questionnaires are straightforward and provide a critical channel for collecting data from potential users. By answering a set of questions, businesses can learn their target audience values, expectations, pain points, etc. This research method is cost-effective and can return large amounts of data. Furthermore, researchers can even ask why users decided to use a competitor’s app and gain insight into how they found it and what motivated them to continue to use that particular product.
Behavioral analysis is essential to understanding user traffic patterns. Often, behavior analysis is conducted alongside a survey to develop a clearer picture of why users are interacting the way they are. It is conducted by installing software on a participant’s device that will track how they navigate an app and how they use it.
This research method is not only easy to conduct but is cost-effective and can provide great insights from a potential user base. For this research method, businesses need to identify their competitors and evaluate their mobile products for strengths and weaknesses to determine what prospective users think when using a competitor’s product. To do this, a researcher can provide users with their competitor’s app and gather data on how they interact with it.
A lab study places a user and a prototype of a mobile app in an environment where interactions between the two are observed. To gather meaningful information, this environment needs to resemble real-life situations to replicate how a user would actually use the product in their daily lives, and further evaluate whether the user can use the product as it is designed. Lab studies also allow researchers to interact with the subject and ask questions to gain further insights.
This research method involves having a user write down when, how, why, and other observations each time they use the app. This helps businesses and developers answer; when do users use our app? And in what contexts do they use our apps? This type of research also provides businesses with honest feedback that can reveal areas for improvement.
5 Ways to conduct better user experience research
Ensure research insights are actionable
Understand the actionable part of your research:
- Does your team have a budget to take action? If the answer is no, your role might be to make a case for why more budget is necessary.
- Are there core features that your target customers must have?
- Are you timing the studies, so your research results have maximum impact?
Start your process with finding needs and gaps vs. selling solutions. In this age of information overload, too many meetings and cluttered inboxes, lead with ways for your audience to empathize, prioritize, and take action.
Good research should narrow the gap to the customer
There are ways to make the process of learning from research more personal: you can add a mix of real stories along with data, invite as many cross-discipline team members to be involved (while being practical about their time), and avoid the dreaded information dump at the end of a process by giving bite-sized updates.
Good presentation design matters. The presentation design shouldn’t overwhelm the information. Instead, incorporate the right image, visual or video clip rather than using a page full of text. Smaller chunks of data can make findings more palatable. It’s easy to get derailed by subjective opinions during share-outs (ex. I hate this shade of blue, I liked the old way better, etc.). Focus discussion around the customer, the hypothesis, and how well a proposed solution ultimately adds value to the customer.
Anticipate that things will go wrong
First, determine the right questions — what can feasibly be answered or can’t be answered with research and given method. Second, remember to over-recruit participants, assuming there will be no-shows, and that some people might just not be a good fit for the study even with a careful screener. Be wary of scope creep from too many stakeholders.
With any live session, there may be issues with call quality, connection, or video. Try to have a backup for prototypes, such as a simple slideshow presentation. Make sure to pilot the sessions as it’s easy to miss things once you’ve begun feeling comfortable with the content.
Moderate with the audience in mind
Ramp up your question difficulty, to help someone get adjusted to the conversation.
The experience of sharing feedback on a product is not always natural. You have to speak your thoughts aloud to a stranger (who might be rapidly taking notes), sometimes over the internet. Your role as a researcher is to set expectations for how the session will go and make the person on the other side feel comfortable as they can be given the situation.
Note the contradictions between behavior and what people say. People enjoy helping others and are generally agreeable by nature. They will try to answer the question you ask and give you the answers you want (even if the question is poorly constructed).
Track the core questions
Grouping questions under themes can help as you may be able to solve multiple problems in fewer actions. Note whether you’re trying to understand “why” (qualitative) vs. “how many, how much, how often” (quantitative) questions. There’s a bias toward generalizing big data because the numbers involved can feel impressive and fail-proof— surveying 500 people may appear to be a great thing as opposed to just doing interviews with five subject matter experts. Yet without understanding the “why” behind actions, observing, and listening for needs beyond what is obvious, big data can become a crutch for speculating that we already know what we’re looking for. It’s ok to end up with more questions, as long as they are better questions.
Consumers don’t want to jump from product to product, but instead find a brand that is designed to please them. Businesses that place value and importance on this will be the ones to see repeat visits, and eventually, new customers. User experience research is just one way to ensure you always keep their end-user top-of-mind when designing a mobile product. By employing the methods and tips listed above, you will be giving yourself the best chance to understand what your users like and don’t like truly. In an oversaturated market, that can be the difference between repeat usage or someone deleting your product.