Designing better digital products: the importance of UX research in your design process

When customers or colleagues don’t use your application, it’s a write-off for your organisation. A great many digital projects fail: we are talking about a whopping 70-90% – and it usually happens for good reason. It is crucial to know what your target audience is looking for. You collect that knowledge by continuously focusing on the user of your product. To uncover and monitor what your user wants, you can apply user research and user testing. This article describes how you can leverage these methods in your design process. The two techniques can give you and your development team insight into what's happening. We also tell you how to maximise their value.

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Think user-centred, not stakeholder-centred

When designing a digital project – for example, an app for offering products or handling customer questions or complaints – you must put the user at the centre. Your individual opinion or those of stakeholders hardly matter. Everything revolves around what your target audience is looking for, especially in an era when that audience can choose from an abundance of alternative products and suppliers.

Additionally, many organisations are currently plagued by friction. A good example is the friction companies experience between what they want to realise for the user, and the processes and technology that are available to achieve that goal. Nevertheless, innovation should always be the product of the combined elements of user, business and technology. User research and user testing are the tools to achieve this and eliminate any friction.

The main difference between user research and user testing

If you want to harness your insights about your users for the design process, you must know the differences between user research and user testing, and how to apply the two methods.

User research is the methodical study of target users, to acquire insight into the user personas for the product you want to develop. Users can be researched by means of observations, interviews or surveys, generating insights into who your target audiences are, what their needs are and if your product or service meets those needs. You perform your user research before you start with product development.

The goal of user testing is to uncover what will add the most value to the product – whether it is already developed or not. What would truly help your customer? Which design would be suitable? How should the digital product function? Here, you should never try to convince the customer of your organisation’s opinions or choices. You must, however, keep an eye out for overlap between the customer's needs and those of your organisation. Not enough companies recognize the value of user testing, but it is an important stage of your design process. Without user testing, your chance of success is smaller.

How to perform user research

So, user research is important – but how do you go about it? Your research starts with the structured collection of user data. The data, which includes information about the qualities your target audience is looking for in a product, should (of course!) align with the goals of your organisation. You can use both qualitative and quantitative research. Observations and interviews are examples of qualitative research that allow you to find out about the problems users experience or uncover their needs. It is crucial to maintain a neutral approach and ask open questions.

Quantitative research, for example surveys, can be used to learn more about the users’ experiences and opinions. This helps you to discern patterns. The goal of user research is to find out what customers want and if your envisioned product or service is attainable, before you start testing. In addition, user research gives your organisation a good idea of the type of expectations it will have to manage. Finally, user research quite often has some unexpected positive effects; it can bring worlds closer together, such as those of IT and marketing.

How to do your user testing

Many companies will be more familiar with user testing, especially the marketing departments. User testing is about finding that sweet spot where your product idea meets the customer’s needs and identifying any particular elements that are relevant for the implementation. User testing focuses on understanding the customer's needs and idea validation.

User research and testing is actually followed by another step: that of usability testing. Here, you test usage – for example of an app – in daily practice. Imagine you have developed a booking app. If the user can submit a booking and receive notification that the booking was sent and confirmed, you have achieved your objective.

For user testing, you select a group of people who would actually buy or use your product or service in practice. It allows you to collect real-world data, which is often much more valuable than any information or advice from an expert. You can design your user tests in multiple ways. One option is to collect information with clear interview questions: How would you solve this specific issue? How do you value this solution? You can also set up a focus group. Guided by a moderator, focus group members can share their expectations of a solution and explain how they would normally solve a problem in a given situation. It's recommended to allow relevant parties to watch the interaction and record the sessions if possible, so that recordings can be reviewed while iterating.

How are user research and user testing changing?

The biggest shift is that, by necessity, user research is getting more attention. This is driven by the simple fact that it is not enough to create a cool functionality by itself. If it has no value for the user, such an investment is a waste of capital.

From big design upfront to continuous optimization

The increasing popularity of both methods is a logical development. In the past, organisations would often use the waterfall method to implement digital innovations, starting with a ‘big bang go-live’. As this has often proven too much of a transition, the method is losing terrain. For bigger projects, in particular, another implementation strategy is now en vogue. Big design upfront, where all decisions are already made at the introduction of the development project, is gradually being replaced by an incremental approach.

During this iterative development process, teams continuously optimise the design, based on user feedback. When your organisation breaks down a project into smaller pieces, you can release iterations virtually every day and be much more agile and responsive. This strategy also provides many more testing opportunities. You may start with thorough user research. Observe how an employee works. Ask questions and create a task analysis. Additionally, you can retrieve information to determine work processes and needs.

UX mindset expanding

User research is gaining popularity among many organisations, and so is our experience with this strategy. One important conclusion: by using a mix of research methods instead of selecting only one, you generate better results. A combination of methods gives you a better impression of what is happening, and why.

The rise of unmoderated and remote testing

Covid-19 has sparked one important development in the field of research: the rise of unmoderated testing. With the need to keep distance during the pandemic, we’ve also seen more and more remote testing. These variants are not better than testing with a moderator, but they offer several benefits:

  • Cheaper
  • Less time-intensive
  • High-quality data
  • The opportunity to engage actual users

How will user research and user testing change?

Effective deployment of user research and testing requires a clear strategy. Every testing method has its own, specific objectives. You can mix and match methods, just as long as the objective and the route towards it are clear. Designers, programmers, marketers and researchers will collaborate closely, continuously repeating steps of the development process and triggering an effective flow of information.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology that will become increasingly important. AI already has a great impact on how people interact with applications and appliances, just think of mobile phones and other smart devices. AI will create many more opportunities for your users to interact with the product your organisation plans to launch.

Are you curious about applying or optimising user research and user testing in your organisation? If you want to put your user at the centre, Worth Systems is happy to help you make your user-centred approach succeed.

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