Some brands say they ‘do user research,’ but fail to consider the basics and best practices when it comes to conducting research. This is one of the biggest challenges the UX industry faces.
User experience has been embraced and adopted by companies who have taken on ‘UX’ and incorporated this into their marketing and strategies, which is fantastic. However, whilst the implementation of UX research appears positive, there are some pitfalls to this uptake.
Let me highlight some shortcomings and solutions.
What is usability testing?
There are common misconceptions about what UX or more specifically, user research consists of, specifically when it comes to usability testing and obtaining maximum value.
Usability testing seeks to uncover issues and evaluate digital products and services.
It is not user testing, as we are not testing the user. We are only testing the interface they are using. It is not market research, as we are not only searching for preferences. Usability testing involves observing, monitoring, and listening to users as they complete set tasks.
‘What do you think?’
An often-used question by those that ‘do user research’ is asking research participants, the question ‘what do you think?’
Now, don’t get me wrong, I value users’ opinions and thoughts surrounding their online experience highly. They can gather a more in-depth understanding of how users are thinking and feeling. Users’ thoughts and opinions do have a significant place in user research, just not as much in usability testing.
We often witness product owners and stakeholders take single opinions and comments as the absolute truth and place significant value on the words that are spoken, rather than observing what is happening right in front of them. Often, people hear what they want to hear. This, if not noticed, can lead a business to make changes or build solutions that are not truly user-centred.
Do not place too much emphasis on what people think, be sure to balance this with what you see people doing.
Say vs. do
What users say vs. what they do are two very different things. When I started out in UX, I quickly saw how stakeholders can rely too heavily on users’ opinions. This was particularly evident for those looking to validate their presumptions, preferred designs, or solutions.
Whilst it is encouraging to hear that people approved the designs and felt it was easy to use, what we sometimes observe can be far from the truth. We frequently hear research participants say that a website was “easy to use” and yet we have just witnessed them having difficulty completing a specific task.
A truer picture can be seen in the observations we make when watching research participants use websites, online services, and apps. Do not place all your value on what users say.
Pay attention to what participants do, do not do, and fail to do.
Better conclusions deliver true value
The easiest way to improve UX research methodology is to understand the significance of actions rather than words.
Fundamentally, usability testing should mitigate against any bias a researcher, designer or client may have about how an online product or service will function. It is from this foundation of truth that we can synthesise research and form reliable findings about how an experience can be improved.
Through observational methods, researchers and client teams see first-hand what does and does not work about an online experience. A far truer glimpse into a user’s natural behaviour can be surfaced by facilitating moderated usability tests which will include scenarios that participants will resonate with.
Any questions or probes surrounding their thoughts should be reserved towards the end of testing (or if they are stuck), focusing on what they found useful, frustrating, or confusing.
The True Picture
Observational research methodologies reveal the true picture of the user experience of websites and apps. Whilst we do not disregard the opinions of users, we first watch what they do before gathering their thoughts and discussing their feelings.
When research works it can have a huge impact on the success of products, services and interactions. It is our responsibility and obligation to reflect how people interact that sets the precedent for the people who will engage in the future.