We’ve lost our focus
The Uphill Battle
The most basic and well-known definition of user research is “understanding user behaviors, needs and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis and other feedback methodologies. It is a process of understanding the impact of design on an audience.” (Usability.gov) In order to truly understand said behaviors, needs and motivations, you need to do research. The reason we want to understand the above is to enable us to make products tailored to our customers, for a more delightful experience (and more money).
Instead of this simple and straight-forward definition, which, I must admit, most things in life are not simple and straight-forward, user research is often seen as a battle, in which the user researcher is attempting to cut down bushes of thrones with a dull sword.
The Requirements List
User research has become less user-centric and, instead, has become a list of requirements or obstacles a UX’er must overcome. Proposing a user research initiative feels less about understanding a user, and the potential and excitement that could come from that, and, instead, feels more like defending territory or running a political campaign.
Now, there seem to be so many barriers before starting research, or even proposing a research project. One must:
- Get stakeholder buy-in by convincing people that, while research is not the magic answer or solution, it is worth the time, money and effort to understand the users
- Defend the small number of users needed against everyone’s belief that statistical significance and change can only come by speaking to over 25 people (despite everyone’s concern with said time, money and effort)
- Show ROI of research and how it aligns with business KPIs — this is an important skill and strategy, but here is a great article with thoughts against always tying ROI to UX
- Somehow finagle your way into a product backlog/roadmap to ensure user research gets prioritized and done, in order for you to show value
- Actually do research
Make research easy again
More often that not, requirements like those stated above, stem from a place of fear. So, when did everyone become so scared of user research?
Why must we jump through hoops in order to do something most of us know will benefit a company? The number of quotes and examples out there showing how vital user research is to company health and success is impressive (it’s certainly over 25, so I can claim statistical significance). User research can help lead to success stories and happier customers.
The premise of user research is simple: talk to your users and all else will follow (an adaptation from Google’s number one value). We really don’t need hoops, obstacles, pages of evidence and convincing proposals. What we need is to go talk to our users. Go talk to the people using your product instead of the people trying to make your product “perfect,” because, without the user’s perspective, the product will never reach the illusive state of perfection. And, yes, of course it is necessary to have a direction, to have research goals, but spend time defining those instead of arguing the need for research in the first place.
Although the phrase is overused, we all need to make research easy again, so we can truly focus on building user-friendly products.