A big part of being a User Experience (UX) practitioner is talking to your users. This means going straight to where your users are, observing them, and talking to them face to face. By doing this, you start to understand their behaviors, their struggles, and how you can help them become better versions of themselves.
It might sound pretty easy, but this is one of the most challenging things in being a UX practitioner. When doing UX research, you have to set the proper atmosphere for them to open up, ask the right questions, and absorb everything they are saying whilst keeping the conversation alive.
This is why we have tools in our UX arsenal that help us become more effective UX researchers. Here are some tools that, in my opinion, can be very effective when doing UX research if used properly. Note that everything is context-based. One might not work the same way in a different scenario so always analyze the landscape before choosing what works best for you.
It’s Different Every Time – Whenever you go out there with the purpose of understanding your users better, you have to keep in mind that there are different ways of research depending on the goal at hand. An example would be conducting a usability test versus conducting an interview. The former often focuses on the user’s behavior while the latter focuses on their thoughts and feelings. Pen and paper can be very useful for interviews but may not necessarily work best in usability testing (since you’ll need other things because this often requires something concrete such as a wireframe, mock, or prototype).
This is the most reliable tool that every UX person should always have in handy. Notebooks are very sleek, flexible, and easy to carry. It can be used for multiple purposes. When notetaking, you can easily doodle if you have to since there are times when you end up having to draw what the user is showing/saying.
If you feel like there will be a lot of drawings/ doodling in your research, this tool can be quite helpful due to its flexibility and all around freedom it gives people when taking notes.
Others might argue that their phones should be enough. It is true that it can support voice recording easily, but may not be the best choice when you’ll be recording for hours. Voice recorders can be quite helpful when conducting research that spans for several days. This little gadget proved to be useful when my team conducted usability studies that spanned for weeks. Each field day would take up the entire afternoon. Furthermore, the audio quality you get when using these things is significantly better than smartphones when tested in relatively noisy environments.
Devices like this that come in smaller sizes can also be very helpful to help make participants feel that this is a casual conversation and not as a strict experiment since you can keep it hidden and still get quality recordings. This creates an atmosphere that helps them act more like themselves since what we want are authentic and real insights.
Note: This goes without saying that users must always be informed that you are recording your session with them (be it via notetaking or video recording)
Whenever your research involves having people do something on a screen, it’s best to keep a recording of that. This provides an easy access to the test itself since there are things that the researchers might have missed the first time. There are alternatives to this that you can find on the internet but I personally use Lookback.
With what we currently use, Lookback helps the user see both the screen and the user’s facial reactions at the same time. This can significantly help users identify how the user’s face and body language connect to their behavior in the site.
My team can also sit in virtually with the feature of Lookback that lets others monitor the session through a different laptop. This creates a more unified understanding of our users on a larger scale that can help both in empathy and buy-in from upper management.
These things have been an all-time classic in the UX world for a reason. Sticky notes can be used for a wide range of UX methods from research all the way to design. Because of its portability, versatility, and overall convenience, sticky notes can be very useful for UX researchers. This can be particularly helpful when it comes to conducting user tests.
I’ve been using sticky notes in research primarily as a way for me to relay instructions to users without providing any kind of hints or clues regarding the product, the test, or task. This method also helps me focus on the user’s behavior and tone rather than acting as the facilitator in the session during those times when I’d be the only one conducting the research (which is a pretty common thing). They also come in handy when it comes to Card Sorting considering that they can be used on tables and on walls depending on what I have to work with.
The 360 camera is a tool that not a lot of UX researchers use but has ended up becoming a very effective tool whenever I use it. 360 cameras, as the name suggests, lets people record a 360 view of their surroundings. Whenever you look at the recording, there are various types of views that it can provide (spherical, panorama, etc.).
In terms of applications in UX research, this camera has been quite useful for recording interviews as well as observing the behavior of people on a larger scale. This camera works very well when you need to understand how people move and behave in a specific space (at a restaurant, store, etc.) which is relevant to a lot of service designers. When providing tasks for users, you don’t have to limit the user to a specific area (considering the constraints of normal stand-alone video recording devices). If placed in the proper spot, this device can really help cover a wide area for recording.
These tools can be pretty effective only if used properly. It’s up to you how you’ll maximize the capabilities of each. One must always consider the context because one might be good in this scenario but not necessarily in the next one. Furthermore, keep in mind that these are merely tools to get the job done. At the end of the day, it’s what you make of what you’ve gathered that matters the most.