A brief guide to user research

A guide I wrote to expand practice beyond the design team.

User research or usability testing?

The type of research you'll want to conduct will vary depending on where the project you're working on is at.

User research

We don't know the problem or have a solution yet. We need to observe users' behaviour to understand their desires and context.

Usability testing

We already have a solution and we want to test it. We want to see if it's solving the problem.

Define your research objective

Each round of user research should have clear objectives.

Choose the relevant testing method:

Be clear on your research question

Be clear on what you're going to test

When not do to research

Finding humans

How many you'll need will vary on the type of research.

The first step is having good screening questions. Without good screening questions we get irrelevant participants, and as a result misleading research.

Do your admin

The easy but boring part:

Write your interview guide

It's important to be guided by clear goals when doing a round of user research.

What are we interested in?

On the day

During the interview

Always make sure you have at least a 15 minute buffer before any research session in case the participant arrives early.

Conducting the interview

Asking questions

Taking notes

Closing the interview

The pitfalls of recording

I once worked in a place where they wanted every single session to be recorded and stored (audio/video) in a folder. Of course — no one ever went back watching those sessions, but the recordings reassured us. We had them, just in case.

But — "just in case" isn't a good privacy stance for your participants, neither is a good use of time getting all those permissions in place.

My advice is to think twice before recording anything. You should aim to take good notes the first time around, and only if that is impossible (perhaps you are both the interviewer and the note taker) record the session to integrate your notes as soon as possible.

The privacy of your users and participants is paramount. Once you have analysed and transcribed your notes, you should delete the recordings. The findings from your research will be invaluable and will guide you in your decisions, but the raw data will loose its value quickly.

Analyse and share findings

Review notes

Identify common patterns and derive insights:

Key reads