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.
As UX designers, we have all heard our users or customers offer solutions to a problem.
“Can I have a back button at the top left?”
“Will you put these 4 item in the pull down too? I use them all of the time.”
“I’d love it if I could have a widget to help me build my plan in to a nice organized package.
“Can you put a button on the main page for me to easily access all of the uploaded files so I don’t have to click on the menu to go there?
Yes these might sound like good solutions on the surface. But it is more important to really find out what the user is having a problem with. That’s when you try to stay in the “Problem Space.”
The Problem Space is the portion of discovery where the UX designer really tries to understand the user’s problems. It’s good to hear the user out in this phase, even if he is proposing solutions to his problems. A good way to dig deeper, and to gain a better understanding of the problem is to keep asking the user “Why?” This is know as the “5 Whys” technique and is often used by UX designers to discover more information. When a user gives you an answer, ask him “Why.” And ask “Why” again. And again. This way, he will divulge more information than he might be providing to you. Get deeper in to the problem. Try to get a better understanding of what he is struggling with, what his pain points are. Maybe, when more information is revealed, you as the UX designer will come up with a better solution that the user is proposing. That is the goal anyways. Maybe you will also discover that this user’s problem persists in other areas of your site or application. And a more universal solution would not only solve this user’s problem, but many other problems too.
Albert Einstein put it perfectly when he said:
“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”
It pays off to devote more time to analyzing the problem than quickly jumping to a solution. If you jump too quickly to a solution, without really understanding the problem, you might not actually be providing the best fix for the problem.
I understand that it is easy to quickly jump to the Solution Phase. Especially if a solution, which seems like a good idea, has been proposed. But by refraining from taking the leap, which requires patience and discipline, it gives you an opportunity to really define the problem. And this is crucial to success.
Remember that residing in the Problem Phase should not express any solutions. Just focus on a complete understanding of the problem before proposing any solutions. Also, clearly defining the problem, can help eliminate ambiguous terms that might be used and to get the entire team on board with the project.
When conducting user research, there are a variety of methods to acquire valuable data. This chart, courtesy of the Nielson Norman Group, illustrates the ranges that your research can measure.
Let’s break this down to the extreme ranges of this chart.
Ethnographic research is a fine example of behavioral research. This is where the researcher goes in to the user’s natural environment and observes the user in the user’s normal and regular context.
Surveys and Interviews are some ways to see what the user says they would or would not do something. Often users will give answers they think the research wants to hear or what they think is the “correct” answer. The key here is that the user might actually believe what they are saying is true. But in fact, when the researcher actually observes the behavior, what the user has said might not be accurate.
One-on-one interviews and ethnographic research are a couple of great ways to get qualitative research information. The researcher can devote individual time to the user, and really get deep information about them. This takes time, and therefore can be difficult to accomplish in mass quantities. But submersing yourself in the users world will provide much more in-depth information than more quantitative research methods.
Surveys accomplish quantitative research very well. Especially with the plethora of online survey tools (many of them are free), one can easily send out a survey to hundreds, if not thousands of participants and gather a large amount of data. This data can then be accumulated to show trends, make charts and post results of several people. However, this research method does not provide individual insight and appreciation that a more qualitative research will provide.
All in all, there are many research methods that a UX researcher has at his or her disposal. They key is to know which research method is best for the type of information he or she is seeking. Also, many of research methods fall within the middle ranges of this chart, and not at the extremes. I encourage you to use a variety of research methods in your next UX project.
Jennifer Blatz explores the world of UX through words and imagery