Different goals need different methods and processes. Strategic user research requires a quantitative curve on target group development, while product driven user research is all about a focus on specific questions. Strategic user research opens perspectives for a company and its products, while practical user research evaluates user interaction.
User research: external or internal
User research is all about your company’s needs — yes, one can and should use external services to get the big picture, to know your future customers and to predict market changes. You can cooperate with external usability and research experts who will run qualitative tests for you. The important thing is to communicate the findings back to internal teams.
Product managers, designers and developers — people who actually build the product — learn much more from observing people interacting with a prototype, listening to their comments rather than reading reports or watching test videos.
As interaction designer Adam Nemeth puts it: Design is essentially a plan for a product. Observing and understanding your user is a part of the plan.
Practical user research DIY
Are you offering or working on any digital products or services? Then it will be worthwhile learning some user research tricks. Agile user research offers plenty of clear procedures and easy to evaluate methods. Usability especially offers great methods and a variety of testing tools you can rely on. Most of them are obvious, but using them continually builds a core for your product UX or design. Ask your potential customers to use and comment on your click dummy, run a split test online, install a hitmap — and you will get reliable data.
Design ethnology is strong on understanding hidden motivations and needs. Different observational and analysis tools such as contextual inquiry or personas are helping to create empathy towards your potential customers and bring in lots of design inspiration. To use this method in the right way, one needs to be trained in different observation, interview, and documentation methods. So, having people in your team with a background in design research is always a plus.
User research for product or service development embedded in the process and run by interdisciplinary teams brings continuous improvement and inspiration. It’s great if you can involve external experts, but do not outsource it — test reports are missing the “aha!” effect.