A vital element of any new product cycle is user research. Miss it out at your peril or even worse; do it but do it badly.

It sounds easy enough, ask a few questions, get a few surveys filled in and you can say you’ve done user research.

However, it is precisely because organisations falsely believe this stage of the process is simple enough and don’t allocate sufficient time or resources that they risk achieving the opposite – a costly mistake.

The first thing you should do, before anything else, is conduct a UX audit of your products and platforms in order to achieve a proper understanding of how things stand for you right now.

If you’re passionate about quality user research that adds value, we’ve identified 5 common user research mistakes that your organisation should avoid:

1. Research that is all over the place

If you are looking to gather meaningful data that will inspire your project team and enhance product design, user research cannot just be embarked on. It requires careful planning, with clear, defined goals.

The temptation is to throw some money and a few members of the team into the mix and expect to get something vaguely useful out of it. By all means, if vague works for you and you have a limitless budget at your disposal then jump straight in. The risk with this approach is that it rarely yields enough information that can be used successfully. 

To avoid wasting valuable resource on unhelpful user research, be clear on what you want out of the event. Discuss requirements with the project team, the client and any other stakeholders. 

Evaluate data that is already available and drill down to what exactly you need to know that will inform the next stage of the product’s process. What do people want the research to inform them of? Dealing with these elements will ensure that the user research phase has purpose and adds value. 

A clear user research plan is vital to get buy-in from stakeholders for both the research and results. Smashing Magazine describes a 1-page research plan that will help to focus and describe what will happen, why and how.  

2. Asking people what they want

User research is all about understanding people and their experiences with specific tasks, environment and products. Therefore it would seem the best course of action is to ask people what they want.

Unfortunately, human beings, when confronted with such a general question, will falter and not be able to offer any coherent response. The majority of the time, people do not know exactly what they want.

It is a misguided belief that we understand how our brains works and the impact of this on our behaviour.

Nisbet and Wilson in their 1977 paper Telling more than we can know explain:

“when people attempt to report on their cognitive processes…, they do not do so based on any true introspection. Instead, their reports are based on a priori, implicit casual theories or judgments about the extent to which a particular stimulus is a plausible cause for a given response.”

In addition, taken out of their natural environment, people find it challenging to illustrate their activity and any problems they face. To maximum opportunity for learning, user researchers will find observation to be the ideal approach.

Observation should take place in the locations where people are naturally engaged in tasks using tools that will give you and how your product may be impacted. If unable to go to people’s workplace or home environment, it is helpful to try and replicate surroundings that will allow them to demonstrate how they operate. People find it easier to discuss and describe their goals and challenges when they have something to react to. 

User researches should not assume that because people are unable to articulate what they want, that their input is not required, or that user research is not helpful.  Rather they should reflect on their methods and plan to optimise data gathered during the phase, i.e. a combination of observation and interviewing. 

3. Research formats

We’ve touched on the possible forms that user research may take, concluding that a combination of focus group style and observation is the preferred approach. 

Nielsen Norman Group explains that the critical question is which format to use and when and agree that most projects will benefit from multiple methods. Despite this, a common mistake made by researchers is selecting the wrong type of research method.

For example, you decide to progress with a survey that is several pages long. How confident can you be that it has been completed honestly and mindfully, i.e. not just selecting random answers just to get to the end? Furthermore, a survey doesn’t always allow the participant to provide much context.  

The user research method must be proportionate to the project. If you’re unsure how the approach will work in practice, don’t be afraid to test it out — not testing user research methods before full roll-out is another popular misjudgement.

Asking even one user to go through the process can provide valuable information to perfect the style and format of your chosen method, as well as helping to fix any technical issues that may be lurking – if technology is involved.

If it all feels too much like hard work, don’t be tempted to re-use old user research studies!  

4. Doing it together

User research doesn’t have to be lonely work. In fact, involving others can enhance the quality of the project. It is a mistake to leave the project or client team out of the process.

Not including them can overall be a hindrance to the outcome you want to achieve – if you think moving without taking account of their feedback will get the job done quicker, you run the risk of them moving on with the design phase and dismissing your work.

People should feel invested in the results, as such, they should be included in all stages of the user research phase – from providing input to the research plan, to recruiting participants and being given the opportunity to review the findings. 

The UX collective helpful lists ways in which to make user experience a team sport.

In contrast, it is also a mistake to have too many team members on field visits. As such, participants can be left feeling intimidated and awkward, which may have an adverse impact on their usual performance. Have a rota in place that gives those that want to be a part of the process a chance to be involved. 

5. Objectivity

Objectivity is a challenge but essential in user research. Allowing your own prejudices or perceptions sneak into research questions or interviews is all too easily done. Bias can find its way into how questions are asked, how the findings are presented and worse; in deciding whether to present the findings at all.

Questions should be open-ended and constructed so they don’t lead participants towards a particular response. They should also not be laid out, so there is a default option because it is less hassle to just go with the pre-selected answer. For more about smart survey writing find out more at UX Booth

The findings of conducting research in this manner may not be popular, but it is not the user researcher’s decision to discredit without sharing and inviting a discussion.

If you’d like to discuss any aspect of your marketing or digital presence, why not contact us for an informal chat.