5 User Research Rules You Should Be Following in 2021

by Hans Lambert Pederson| Knowledge

Magnifying glass with person inside symbolizing user research

Understand why user research is an integral part of creating a long-term solution and the steps you must take to help you achieve it.

User research is a systematic study designed to analyse user behaviours, motivations and needs using various observation, task-related and feedback practices.

When it comes to developing a digital product, user research enables you to go beyond just creating a short-term solution. It’s important because it allows your business to get a better understanding of the problem that you’re trying to solve and gives you a platform to innovate.

Get your user research right, and you’ll create a solution which adds value to the user experience and extends the life cycle of your digital product.

As a starting point, we’ve put together some key rules to help you conduct your own user research in 2021. Following them can help ensure value in the products and services you create.

User research rule #1: ask first, prototype later

When it comes to designing a digital product, prototyping is absolutely crucial. It makes your ideas more tangible and enables you to evaluate usability. However, making a prototype too early in the product design process can cause you to overlook the quality of your idea. Your idea may be solving a problem but that doesn’t mean that it’s solving THE problem.

A casing example is the work we carried out on Grundfos’ loyalty program application a few years ago. One of the major challenges we faced was that only a handful of the client's loyal customers were using the application. In order to increase user adoption, we needed to ask questions first and discover what exactly was stopping the customers from using the app. We then translated the data we gathered into a solution. Then, and only then, we started creating a prototype.

You must ask yourself this: are you looking to gain new insights (what would add value to the world) or are you just looking for a confirmation of your beliefs? Diving headfirst into an idea without asking this important question can cost you both time and money.

User research rule #2: embrace the uncomfortable and articulate your assumptions

No one can know all the answers. That's a fact of life. Nevertheless, society has conditioned us to believe that it’s important to always come up with bright ideas and have the right answers. This is probably why a lot of people often feel anxious when they have no answers to give. We end up feeling less knowledgeable, less competent which makes us feel uncomfortable.

When conducting user research, it’s important to accept that you won’t always know the answers. In fact, it’s actually better that you don't know the answers because then you end up learning something new!

You should also accept the fact that what you do already know may just be assumptions and not based on truth. To avoid making this mistake, our team at Stoked always list what we think we know. This makes it easier for us to analyse whether what we know are facts or merely assumptions we've made. This also helps us learn what questions we need to ask – which can help form the basis of user research rule number three.

User research rule #3: know your goal

At the start of a project, it’s easy to get overly enthusiastic about gaining insights into what your customers need and subsequently jump straight into research mode. The best way is to conduct user interviews and gather data.

However, your business needs to define a goal before carrying this out. Think about what your business is trying to achieve. If you don’t, you’ll probably interpret the data in your own way, instead of listening to what your target market really wants.

User research rule #4: know your biases

We all have biases. And just like our assumptions, these can be found in any product development team and customer base.

Unfortunately, assumptions and biases can affect the way we interpret the answers that emerged during your research. On top of that, it can be difficult to recognise our own, no matter how many articles and studies we've read on cognitive biases.

The key to overcoming this user research challenge is collaboration. By using the goal and questions that your team has defined, everyone is held responsible for pointing out each other's biases, preventing them from tainting the results of the user research. It’s a check-and-balance system that helps ensure that any insights you gain are valid.

User research rule #5: don’t worry about time and money

The final important rule of user research is to not get caught up on the time and money associated with it. (Yep, you did read that right.)

As a business, the budget for your entire digital project should include user research. Sure, it’s useful to come up with an estimate for this part of the process. But in reality, user research shouldn’t require much time or money to complete. Or at least it won’t if you establish a clear goal and the right approach from the start.

In doing so, you’ll be able to acquire the knowledge you can use within the framework you set. There are resources available to help you with this, including online studies, usability testing conducted using a competitor’s product and interviewing users during your lunch hour.

Wrapping up

Of course, there is more to user research than just these five rules. However, by keeping these in mind, it should help get you started on the right foot in 2021.

Even if you don't learn how to apply them all, as long as you're honest about your goal and committed to providing value to the world, any result you get will be worth it.

If you need help conducting user research or any phase of your digital product design, you can always turn to us for help. To find out more, get in touch with our team today.

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