User research should be an integral component in any web or app design process. Designing in a vacuum or using hunches, old preconceptions or even industry conventions will not provide you with the optimum output – and certainly won’t give you any sort of edge over your competitors.
However there are many misconceptions about what user research is and what it does and doesn’t achieve. We will tackle a few of them here and. Hopefully, by the end you will have an understanding of user research and be convinced of its usefulness in almost all contexts.
1. User research isn’t necessary
One of the commonest beliefs often expressed by those who think they and their company intimately understand their users. There are two aspects to how this might be mistaken; firstly, thinking you know who your customers are and what they want isn’t necessarily actually knowing. The demography might change, their needs might change. You need current information to judge. Secondly, even knowing your own customers doesn’t help you to expand and draw in others with perhaps different needs who could still be valuable business for your organisation.
2. User research takes too much time and is expensive
There is some truth in this, user research certainly isn’t free and can take time to set up and conduct. But what you need to consider here is the time and expense wasted if you get your assumptions wrong and make bad, poorly informed design decisions. The effort, time and cost involved in going back and rectifying them can be considerably more than the initial cost of research.
3. User research is just asking people what they want
In truth, it isn’t really this at all (though the outcome might be you coming to an understanding of it). Research should be framed in such a way that the users naturally and unconsciously reveal their wants, preferences, objections, frustrations and so on without being directly interrogated on them.
4. User research tells you how to design your site:
The whole point of research is that it is only one component in the design and development process. You need to provide accurate context for the research and then integrate the findings into your broader business model to get the best results. Design is the means of realising and fulfilling user needs and desires.
5. User research is a one-off process done and the beginning of a project:
While it certainly should be done before and decisions are made, user research is an iterative process, not only because you have to test interpretations and realisations of needs as you progress but also because consumers wants and expectations can change over time and you need to be alongside the most current thinking to succeed.
6. User research can be done by anyone
It is true that certain very basic and functional research might be accessible and might even turn out to be relevant and useful. But uninformed activity can be dangerous and there is far more to setting up, devising, conducting and interpreting a research project than simply dreaming up a few questions and reading the responses.
I hope this has convinced you of the effectiveness of, and need for, good user research. If you are interested in finding out more or have a project in mind, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.