There are several ways that you can do a better job of understanding your user’s needs. Understanding what your user really wants starts with research. There are a variety of quick and easy research methods every UX designer can use to understand their users better.
Get users to complete a diary to give you insight in to their world.
Interview users to better understand the problem you are trying to solve. Make sure you are solving a real user problem.
Find the “job” people hire your “product” to do.
Ask for a story about the user’s context.
Have the user create a photographic “Day in the Life” of their work area to understand their environment more.
Learn “trigger” words. Trigger words are simply words used by the user. It might be useful to include some of those trigger words in your product or website. Speak the user’s language.
When it comes to user experience research, there are several methods to gather information. One of those research methods is a survey. Now, a lot of UX researchers might frown upon the use of surveys. It’s true, they are a great way to gather quantitative information. And that is great to gather in a lot of circumstances. But when it comes to user experience, quantity is not as important as understanding the “why” someone does something. That is the value of qualitative research over quantitative.
So a lot of “pure” UX researchers choose to not even entertain the idea of sending out a survey. I think this mindset is because a survey may be an opportunity to gather some insights, but they are not always very helpful insights. And for those who don’t know any better, a person might interpret these survey answers as gospel. Again, they don’t provide the “why” someone is doing something.
For the survey portion I am sharing above, I used a survey as a supplement to a recent empathy interview session I performed. I was interviewing people on their recent car-purchase journey. Instead of asking participants what kind of car they bought, or what automobile features were of the utmost importance, I chose to gather some of this information in a survey. I gave the participant this survey to fill out before we had our interview. And in case you are worried, I did ask a lot of the same information about why they bought a car so that I could dig deeper in to the “why” they bought what they did. Also, this gave me an opportunity to see just how consistent people were in their answers. Thankfully all of them were.
So, the lesson here folks is that as a user experience researcher, don’t completely rule out a survey. You can gather a lot more information you might not have time to find out in just an hour interview. Remember, as a good researcher, you should have a lot of tools in your tool kit. And yes, a survey should be one of them.
I know there are many ways to build personas. Sure, you can build them on assumptions and guesses and just throw something together quickly. But actions like that just leave a bad taste I’m my mouth. I want personas to be based on research, not assumptions.
One major project I am working on now is to create personas for vehicle purchasers. Where I work, one of the products we are working on deals with the consumer automobile buying space. One things we don’t have is personas. An even bigger flow of our organization is that we are designing products without having personas to consult for our design validation. I won’t dwell on this aspect too much. Let’s just say our organization is coming to light and recognizing the importance of having personas.
My task is to build kick-ass personas. I am up for the challenge.
One of the first steps I took in building personas is to talk to several stakeholders who would have interest in these personas. I talked to designers, design leads, product managers and researchers to find out one thing:
What information do you need from a persona?
I asked a few other questions as well, but this was my primary goal in this phase of my research. I am sharing the information about “What do stakeholders need from personas” is in the attached deck.
One way to really understand how your users work on your product is to view them in their natural environment. That puts their working circumstances and environment in perspective. By observing people, you see things they would not normally tell you. Maybe because it’s so routine they don’t realize they are performing such actions. Maybe because they do not think it is relevant. If you just observe a person in their work situation, then you can decide what actions they take are related to the software or product you are working on.
Here are some questions to keep in when when you are performing an ethnographic research study:
Is the work place quiet and calm?
Do the users get interrupted a lot?
What other tasks do they do while working on your software or product?
How is the work station set up? Is it on a desk? A counter? Shared by several users?
What real world objects do they use instead of using the computer? (like post-it notes and pens)
You can learn a lot by acting as a “fly on the wall” and getting a feel for how the workplace is run and how the software interacts in that work flow.
Value of Ethnographic Research
I cannot express enough how important it is to get out of the office and get in to the user’s real world. In the photo above, had I not visited this doctor in her office, I doubt she would have told me about her paper files organization. It’s just as useful to understand a person’s physical environment as it is to understand their electronic or software environment. That way, you can figure out how you can make the two world meet seamlessly.
Plus, you get to see things like these cutie pies.
Jennifer Blatz explores the world of UX through words and imagery