Busting 5 myths about user research

Katja Vakula29.8.2019DesignReading time 7 min

Do you have trouble justifying why you should include user research as a part of your product development? Here are the most common myths about the usefulness of user research we believe need to be busted.

Safe to say, you probably use various digital services daily. There are multiple apps for, say, travel, but you usually choose to use a specific one. And I dare to say the reason for this is the user experience. What you perceive as a seamless user experience and a life-improving app is a result of thorough user research and usability testing, which is the root of all human-centered design.

But the benefits of user research might not always be clear. Our designers have encountered different kinds of assumptions about the need for user research in our work. Here are a few common myths to be busted.

Myth #1: “We already know our users”

This is a phrase we have often heard when we offer to do user research as a part of our design process. In these cases, we ask the following questions:

  • What is it that you already know about your users? 

  • How have you gathered data from your users?

  • Has someone else executed the user research and is the material available to us?

Usually the insights have already been gathered through customer feedback and questionnaires from the service. This usually reveals the most positive and the most negative feedback from the service, and this user group can be substantially small. But we also need to reach the user group that lands somewhere in between to ensure that the varying perspectives and needs of all the users are taken into account. This group can be reached by conducting user research, such as user journey mapping, interviews and co-creation workshops. Gaining a strong understanding of the user group as a whole is a solid base for product development, and we can go on to make accurate assumptions and justified hypotheses based on it. 

Myth #2: “It’s so expensive and takes too much time”

People usually think that user research takes a lot of time and money to conduct, but actually, it can save you both. Let us explain this through an example. Imagine that decision-makers at a company come up with a noble idea: they want to make their employees’ lives easier by developing a mobile app to handle a task that requires sending a lot of paperwork back and forth. They give the assignment to the developers and they begin developing. The app is ready in record time and they present the new solution to the employees. At this point it turns out that the employees don’t actually have smartphones to use the app with. The work has gone to waste. Instead, it was found that the users would benefit from having a desktop version, as they all have computers but not smartphones. The client had good intentions of streamlining their employees’ processes, but had they started the development with user research, they could’ve saved a lot of time and money. Doing user research also minimizes the risk in any project for the business in question. In this case, only one day of observing the employees would’ve revealed the real pain points of their work. User research ensures that:

  • We are solving a problem that is relevant for the user 

  • We are solving it the right way: by simplifying the life of the user instead of complicating it 

Myth #3: “We do user research as a check-point before release”

Sometimes decision-makers are very enthusiastic about a new idea or product they are planning. They have a strong vision of how the product is going to turn out. They trust their vision and already have a clear user group in mind for the product. They want to involve users in the design process, but their vision is so strong that they want to implement it as they originally planned. The designers conduct some user research anyway, maybe by doing usability testing for the nearly finished product, and present the results to the client. 

There can be two outcomes. The first one is that the selected user group isn’t a good representation of the actual users, so they wouldn’t actually use the service. The second one is that the user group is just fine, and they have some valuable ideas on how to improve the service. But at this point the service is already in production, and the ideas go somewhere on the roadmap. This can be avoided by investigating user needs and motivations already in the very beginning of the ideation and also throughout the project. 

Myth #4: “The impact of user research can’t be measured”

User experience and satisfaction can be measured using numeric data and quantitative research. Various “positive” metrics, such as conversions, click rates, user paths and various goal completions, as well as “negative” metrics, such as bounce rates, abandoned shopping carts and unsubscribe rates help us figure out what works and what doesn’t. Oftentimes the best information comes from studying user behavior and trying to understand the motivations behind it. That being said, data should always be taken with a grain of salt — it’s easy to use statistics to reinforce our existing beliefs, which often means lying to ourselves without even noticing. When combining mostly numeric user data with qualitative research, such as interviews, we can get a clearer picture of the needs of our users. We can, for example, build use cases and hypotheses based on qualitative research, which we then can test using data analysis – or vice versa.

Myth #5: “We need user research only for the definition phase”

User research is certainly vital when defining the service, but user research shouldn’t be limited to just the beginning of a project. It is crucial to do different kinds of user research in different phases during product development to genuinely craft human-centric experiences. In the beginning, user research can entail interviews, contextual inquiries, user journey mapping and co-creation workshops. These can and should be conducted during service development. Still, the most common form of user research during product development is usability testing with prototypes. And when the first version, first release, MVP (or whatever you want to call it) is live, the testing continues in different forms (see Myth #4).

It is important to always include real users and think about the environment of the user as well as their motivations and biases. In the end, your users are the ones bringing the value to your product or service. 

Listening to your users makes your business stronger

In today’s world, users, customers, clients or just people define the success of your service or product. It’s not enough to just create a service and trust that everybody will use it. At its best, the service offers a seamless, delightful, and most importantly, meaningful experience for the user. You can’t create a successful service or product without listening to and learning the motivations and needs of your users. Know your users by doing user research, and you are one step closer to having an outstanding and successful service.

Katja Vakula Design

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