Before embarking upon the design phase of any project, it’s critical to undertake some research so that the decisions you make are undertaken from an informed position. In part one of this article series, I’ll be focusing on the importance of undertaking user research.
Your job title might not be “design researcher,” but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, at the very least, inform yourself of your users and their needs by undertaking at least some initial scoping research before you embark upon a project. User research should be a core part of every designer’s activity and, reflecting this fact, we’ve seen a growing focus on the importance of user research over time as our discipline has matured.
It’s critical to the success of any project — be it for an external client, for an internal project, or a new product you’re building — to adopt a user-first approach that positions the people that use what we build front and center.
In this article, I’ll introduce a cross-section of research methods that will help designers to both: design new products and, as will often be the case, redesign existing products. Whether you’re designing for external clients, working as part of an in-house team, or building a digital product, user research is critical.
As you build your UX toolbox, it’s essential to equip yourself with the research tools you need to design great user experiences effectively. I’ll provide these in a section that explores the research landscape and, in part two of this series, I’ll dive deeper into the details.
User-centered design requires user research
As this section’s title summarizes, user-centered design requires user research. It’s impossible to design effective and memorable user experiences if you haven’t placed your users right at the heart of your design process.
When embarking upon the design process — indeed, as you’re framing the problem you’re trying to solve — it’s important to ask:
- What do your users want to get done?
- What are their goals?
- What are they trying to achieve?
Your user research should give you some insight into the answers to these questions. It should also be one of the first things you focus on. In short, it’s critical to undertake user research right at the beginning of the project. This helps to define the scope of the project (what exactly it is you’re doing) and the goal (what the intention is). Start with the goal, clearly defined, and work back from that.
Great products enable customers to get jobs done — your role as a designer is to define those jobs, then design for them. In short, spend some time with your users, getting to know their needs, and what it is they are trying to achieve — these are their “jobs to be done.”
If the phrase “jobs to be done” is new to you, it’s well worth becoming better acquainted with it. I’d highly recommend bookmarking Alan Klement’s excellent Jobs to be Done website, which dives a little deeper on the subject. The team at Intercom, an excellent product, have also written a book on the topic, Intercom on Jobs to be Done.
It’s critical to focus on users first, or you’re in danger of designing based on your assumptions, which often aren’t necessarily correct. Instead of beginning with assumptions, begin with user research. Define the problem you’re trying to solve, build a prototype, test your assumptions, and iterate.
Research should be an ongoing process — it’s rarely, if ever, finished — it’s returned to repeatedly throughout the process. Ideally, you should adopt an iterative approach towards your design:
It’s important to stress that this process is a loop that we run through repeatedly. By undertaking user research, we can frame a problem, design, prototype, build it, and finally, return to our users to test our assumptions.