Not the best practices..but not the worst.


I was talking to my boyfriend, a -friendly product manager, and he had mentioned, yet again, how hard it is to do research when there isn’t someone dedicated to the task, and when others in the company aren’t sure how to do research. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this. In fact, I hear it a lot. Oftentimes, there aren’t enough resources to properly conduct research, whether that be time, budget, people or processes. Normally, I would argue, “there is always time, money or anything else for user research.” Instead, I decided to answer with some user research .

The reason I am sharing these hacks is not to enable people to skip user research, but to encourage companies to start research, in the smallest way. From there, you can start to build on a user research practice. Again, this is not a replacement for user research but, if you are able to get some good results from these hacks, you can get buy-in to continue growing user research in your company. (Although some of these make me want to share the monkey with his hands over his eyes emoji).

My top user research hacks (eek)

  1. Emailing users for feedback
    This is always my first go-to when I think about user research hacks. It can feel a bit like cold-calling (cold-emailing), and doesn’t always have the highest success rate, but it can lead to some really great results. The way I go about this is emailing them, asking them if they would be willing to provide feedback on a certain feature or concept idea. I offer three ways they can give feedback: hop on a call, have them record themselves and send it, have them respond back via email. I offer different levels of incentives for each option.
  2. Internal user testing
    I have used internal testing at nearly every company I have worked for. To begin with, it is a great way to learn about the product in general, but it is also a wonderful method to get (sometimes very valuable) feedback from people who care about the product. Generally, I will start with account managers, customer support and sales, as they generally have the most contact with customers and understanding of what customers might want. When I do internal testing, I book a time and room, get snacks/cookies/pizza and send out an email asking for interested parties. Usually, within the hour, I fill up most of the slots, making it incredibly fast. Also, I get to evangelize research across the company!
  3. Look for research studies online
    Many people have done research on many different things, so, chances are, there are studies out there that cover similar topics you are looking to understand, For example, N&N group have many studies available online for you to read, including information on how users interact with the products (which may be similar to yours), what satisfies them, what angers them. Another wonderful way to understand your users is to look up studies you competitors have conducted. These don’t have to be your direct competitors, as they may not have data available online, but you can extrapolate to a competing company that would have information online. I recommend doing this, either way, before (or during) research, in order to learn as much about the market and industry as possible. Another option here is to look at your app reviews, or those of your competitors!
  4. Use analytics (or previous research) to help make decisions if you can only talk to a few users
    Although I primarily conduct qualitative user research, I have very high regards for quantitative data, and how it can show crucial information about a user’s interaction with the product. If you are only about to speak to a few different users, you can understand the patterns they perform, and use supporting data to validate or disprove the hypotheses you made. You can also use analytics tools, such as HotJar and FullStory to watch how users are interacting with your product. Data only gives part of the story, and can’t really answer the question why, but is a great tool to use when you are strapped for time and participants. It is also important to use data in conjunction with qualitative research, as they are incredibly complementary to each other.
  5. Keep a panel and recycle
    Maybe you have run some user research sessions before, and you are looking to test some new ideas or prototypes, but are struggling to find new participants. One hack is to think back to your previous research sessions and try to identify which sessions went well. Usually, after a research session, I write down whether or not the research session was successful and I ask if the participant is okay with my contacting them for future studies, so I know if I can recycle the participant. It isn’t the most effective method to get research insights repeatedly from the same set of people, and can introduce some bias, so don’t use the same people every single time, but, if you need participants, recycling isn’t cheating.
  6. Street & coffeeshop (guerrilla) research 
    If you have already done enough internal testing, or you don’t have the ability to do it, you can always take your prototype to the street, coffeeshop, mall, what have it, and perform some guerrilla research. Of course, this depends on your product. If you have a very niche product that only a specific user base benefits from, this may not be the best method for you. However, if you have a more broad product that can be used by the masses, guerrilla research can be your friend. It isn’t the most reliable way to research, but it can give you some good feedback to help propel you forward. It is pretty tough to approach people when, usually, they just want to be left in peace, but there are a few ways to make it easier. I have set myself up in a coffeeshop (my neighborhood Starbucks was super nice letting me do this), with a sign on my computer asking people for 30 minutes to talk about X, Y or Z for a free drink/food of their choice. People were surprisingly interested, and I had five people who sat down and spoke with me in the span of four hours. They weren’t the most insightful interviews I’ve ever conducted, but I did get some information that helped the team make our first round of decisions.
  7. Use customer support 
    Is there a customer support team or someone who deals with customer support/tickets? If you have a customer call line, it is incredibly helpful to listen into calls. Although you can’t guarantee you will get a specific call about a certain area of the product, it is very insightful to understanding the most common problems your customers are having, and potentially, what you could do to fix them. Another option is to filter and look through support tickets. With this, you can funnel down to support tickets containing issues you want to learn more about. In addition, and similarly to internal testing, it is great to speak to the support team members and the most common issues they are hearing. Speak to the support team members about what they’re hearing as well.

These may be controversial points, and they definitely stray from best practices, but they are a great way to get started with research, especially if you are struggling to get buy-in. However, these are not a replacement for the conventional qualitative research methods that should ideally be part of your user research process as and when possible.

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