Let’s imagine you’ve had this fantastic idea for a product or service. You managed to bring this idea to life, you put a lot of effort into creating this concept, refining the visual layer and coming up with a marketing strategy.
Perhaps you were inspired by some already existing products, used best practices that you know of, maybe even mirrored the business model of some popular product that you like and admire. Seemingly, you must think, everything should go flawless. But for some reason, it turns out that despite the investments made, the product is not appreciated by the market and the business plummets.
What could be the reason for this? Well, there is a high probability that your assumptions about other people's needs and preferences do not correspond with the reality. That is why it is essential to precede product development activities with a UX research phase which focuses precisely on verifying assumptions, trying to understand users, identifying possible problems and then, based on that, formulating the solution that will be verified by the market’s end-users - your customers.
UX Research done well is a crucial part of the success of the product. Only by having a good understanding of the market and users‘ needs, we are able to deliver an adoptable product-market fit and also — what’s incredibly valuable today– product’s or service’s resistance to changes constantly happening on the market. Using a wide range of methods, we are able to properly select research techniques required to achieve desired goals, depending on our product’s maturity, or specific questions we want to get answers to.
Keep on reading to find out the advantages of UX research, selected examples of methods commonly used as well as the answers on how to use those methods in the product development process.
After that, I recommend you check my previous blog post about best practices for product design workshops with remote teams!
What is UX research?
UX research is a specific product design & development phase focused on gathering functional requirements, researching target users along with their needs as well as constantly testing solutions on the target audience. The aim of such activities is to confront the concept and design work with the reality to verify whether the solution has a feasible chance of working in the real world scenario and for real users. In short, what we do in the course of research is defining what we create, for whom, in response to what problems and obstacles, why we do this particular solution and how - well before we spend significant sums of money developing something not yet validated, saving ourselves a lot of money and even more headaches in the process.
Why is UX research important?
The importance of UX research is best put in bullet-points. Every product or service should consider it for the following reasons:
To get to know and understand your business’ end-users;
To make sure the assumptions we make are validated and based on real data;
To save time (and resources) for changes later in the product development process;
To reduce the risk that the product will not fulfill its goal and will not survive on the market;
To have a full understanding among the entire team of what, for whom, and how we want to develop the final product.
There are plenty of methods that we can use, depending on our needs, type of product or service and the stage it is at.
Type of data
There are two types of methods depending on what kind of data we want to collect: qualitative and quantitative.
Quantitative — giving answers to “what” and “how many” questions
Qualitative — providing answers to “why” and “how” questions
2. Stage of product development
You can distinguish many different models when it comes to the stages of product development. One of them, described by the Nielsen Norman Group, is the division of product related work into 4 stages:
Stages of UX Research
Source: Nielsen Norman Group
This stage consists of collecting information and deepening knowledge about users in order to better understand what their needs are. It is especially important when creating a new product to verify whether our idea has a chance of success, but also when developing new features or services.
Once we have successfully examined end-users' needs, the next step is to define the problem we aim at solving and correlate those needs with the required design work.
Customer journey maps
User story maps
The testing phase takes place when we already have a prototype of the product as well as during development. Using appropriate methods, we make sure that the product fulfills its role and works as expected. At this stage we must make sure the designed solution is intuitive and understandable for users.
During the entire product development phase, we collect information about users, their needs, changes in their behavior and emerging problems. This stage is an ongoing process and should never stop for the product or service to remain relevant. The methods that we can use include:
Gathering and analyzing incoming user feedback
When to do UX research?
In short — investment in research always pays off and basically, regardless of the product and the industry, it is always worth doing. But let’s take a look at specific use-cases:
Creating a new product
When creating a new product, it is crucial to precede it with as deep research as possible to identify the needs of the target users and make sure that the product we want to create will meet them. It is equally important to check the competition — what products are already on the market, what are their strengths and weaknesses, where we see the value that our product can provide and be better at than the products of others. In other words: what is its advantage over the competition.
For a product development team, working together with startups and companies on their product ideas, it is essential to understand both the client and end users at an early stage and — using UX research methods – make the whole team aligned on business goals and assumptions of the project.
The methods used to create a new product are the methods listed in Discover and Explore stages, including:
User story mapping
Customer journey mapping
2. Adding new features
When working on a new functionality for an already working product, we can confidently use the same approach as when we use creating a new product . It is then equally important to research the market, understand users and define the problem we want to solve. However, at this stage, we can also use the knowledge provided to us by the existing product and feedback from its users, using methods such as data analysis (e.g. Google Analytics), surveys or interviews.
When redesigning a product, we can learn from our current user base and their behavior for design decisions to be driven by data. This, however, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use A/B tests or usability tests along the way, too.
4. Attracting new audiences
If we want to expand our product to a new group of users, we naturally need to get to know this group well and understand what their needs, problems, and habits are. Thanks to techniques like interviews, surveys, usability tests or creating user personas, we can make the research much more accurate.
5. Product’s end-to-end lifecycle
Research should be a permanent element of the work on a product during its whole lifecycle. Thanks to this mindset we will be able to constantly improve the product, react to new problems, and changes on the market. Having the right amount of data on our users, competition and the industry in which we operate, we will be able to react faster to such changes and improve the product accordingly or, if necessary, even pivot our whole business model.
Advantages of UX research
A product created and developed based on UX research methods is able to achieve a product-market fit, which determines the degree of product adaptation to the market needs. Founders often tend to focus on the solution rather than the problem itself while creating new products. According to Michael Seibel from a renowned startup accelerator Y Combinator “only through launching, talking to customers, and iterating will you actually find a product that reaches product-market fit”.
Knowledge about the market and customers
Knowing the market and our users, we can make informed decisions both when creating and developing a product as well as when a change on the market forces us to pivot or change.
Usability and accessibility
Usability has a direct impact on user engagement and conversions. What is more, making sure the product is usable for people with various types of limitations or disabilities, increases the overall user experience (it also benefits users with temporary restrictions, i.e. due to intense sunlight, using an app or a website in a hurry, in a noisy place, and so on).
Prioritizing features and planning product development ahead
Thanks to UX research methods such as user story mapping and prioritizing, we can agree in advance which functionalities are key and plan for further stages of product development accordingly, which translates into risk and cost reduction (mind you derisking is a recurring theme of UX research).
Reacting to changes on the market
As mentioned above, knowing your customers and monitoring their behavior as well as the ever-changing market on an ongoing basis, we are able to respond to sudden changes (like the one we all have been experiencing in the recent months) much faster and make more informed decisions.
Time to market
The UX research phase is often perceived as an additional cost and more time spent working on the product. Paradoxically, investing time and resources in UX research directly translates to big savings in the future, because it protects us from corrections and changes at further stages of the product development that are costly.
Without good research, it may turn out that after the development phase our product does not fulfill its purpose, does not deliver value or is unusable for the desired audience. And so, the hours saved on UX research can render into many days or weeks or even months of extra work on improvements and changes later on in the process with some of the previous work being thrown away. Not to mention how cost inefficient that mistake may be. Thankfully, potential spillage is totally avoidable by implementing UX research to one’s early-stage action plans and budgets.
It’s always important to do UX research and despite it being an additional work it always pays off. There’s plenty of methods you can use at different stages of your product lifecycle. Still, by using only a few, well-known and well-conducted methods, you will be able to collect precious data that will support your design decisions and translate it into a better end product that users should appreciate.
If you’re still unsure whether you should consider investing in UX before jumping straight to software development or if this investment noticeably pays off in the future - check out our Simple Guide to the ROI of UX.
If you do, however, understand the importance of UX across all product’s lifecycle stages, contact us for your project estimation.