Posted by AnswerLab Research on Nov 11, 2019

There are many factors that make an experience a good one for your customers. First and foremost, it needs to be usable. But, if it’s not helpful, inclusive or engaging, and if it doesn’t solve a real problem or fit seamlessly into someone’s life, it won’t be an experience your customers truly love. So, how do marketers and product owners create these experiences? User research. If you’re not talking to your customers at every stage of product development, you won’t have the context, empathy, and deeper understanding of how you can meet their needs.

We find that for many CX and UX professionals, when they think of UX research, they immediately jump to usability testing. While usability testing can help you understand if your experience is intuitive, if users can navigate from one place to another, if the experience is streamlined, and generally if it’s user-friendly, there’s a lot that usability testing can’t tell you. And to make an experience that truly meets a user need and is an experience they love, sometimes you need something a little different.

From concept testing to tree tests, benchmarking to quantitative research, there are many methodological tools you can use to understand and improve user experience. This is all a part of making experiences that your customers love, not just ones they can use.

There’s more to UX research than usability.

Sometimes your go-to usability test can't provide the insights you need. Here are some effective methods for answering common UX questions:

Uncover real world user context with exploratory research

To truly understand your users’ context in the digital world and design your product to fit that context, you must conduct early stage research! Before you design a prototype and begin usability testing, refine your idea with exploratory research. Exploratory research helps you understand what your users need, how your products could fit into their daily lives, what kinds of products and solutions are already working for them, and where there are gaps in their daily experience. We like diving into the context of user interactions with ethnographic research in a user’s home or work setting. Unlike usability tests and other qualitative research methods, ethnographic research often focuses on allowing users to dictate the flow and pace of the session to capture and understand real world experiences. Seeing users in their own environments gives you invaluable insights into their daily experience.

Build stakeholder alignment and outline product roadmaps with workshops

Workshops can be beneficial at a couple stages within the product development process. In the planning stage, workshops can help you and your teams build empathy for users, define goals and objectives, and create a roadmap for your product as you begin designing. When you’re dreaming up new functionality, it’s critical to decide which features should take priority and plan accordingly.

Workshops can also help to activate research insights and build stakeholder alignment in the process. Sometimes teams can lose sight of who they’re designing for. Taking research findings from the lab and bringing them to a workshop setting can help straighten out these discrepancies, help your team understand new populations, and orient themselves towards that user when designing new features.

Discover better navigation with card sorts and tree tests 

Committing to information architecture (IA) can be costly if you get it wrong. It can be helpful to do some initial user testing of the information and menu items to understand if the information is even the right thing to be displaying! There are two main ways of testing navigation architecture: card sorts and tree tests.

In a card sort, participants are presented with information and asked to group the items in a way that makes sense. Tree tests, however, are the reverse. Instead, users are asked to find information within the navigation tree rather than sort it in the first place. These methods can help you test the findability of your navigation. While general usability testing will help you test an existing menu, focusing your research on this key aspect of findability for the user can reveal critical issues in your design you may want to address before continuing. As always with early stage testing, users also understand that the prototype is an early stage design and are more likely to provide broader feedback rather than smaller tips to improve the concept as designed.

Understand the competition and yourself

Benchmarking is a key component of any customer experience strategy. The most common form of benchmarking is competitive benchmarking: analyzing how your competitors approach their digital experience versus how your company does. This research can be done at any stage of product development. It gives you meaningful user perspectives on your product in comparison to your competitors.

You can also benchmark against yourself! This is a great way to take a snapshot of your product at a moment in time, run a second study at a later date, and compare the findings to see how successfully you’ve progressed through design iterations. You can do this both qualitatively and quantitatively, exploring user thoughts and frustrations about your product, but also the hard metrics like time on task, success rates, etc. 

In a best practices benchmark study, data is compiled to find best practices for specific experiences across verticals. For example, if you’re trying to develop better error messages or improve alerts about your privacy policy you could look at examples of these interactions in shopping, banking, and software interactions. Because these digital experiences exist across industries, only looking at your main competitors won’t get you the data you need. Watch participants interact with other sites, uncover what works well and what doesn’t, and gather new ideas to iterate on for future product development. Best practices studies give you a complete understanding of the digital landscape and the inspiration to take the next step in your design process.

Don’t forget accessibility testing!

Accessibility research enables you to create products that are usable by all people regardless of ability. Creating accessible experiences is more than just a legal requirement. If you fail to consider accessibility, you could be excluding millions of people from using your product. Often, accessibility is just a check box at the end of your existing process, but building in accessibility research from the start and conducting regular testing can help you understand how your product is performing across a range of needs. 

We recommend analyzing accessibility concerns alongside broader usability issues for the general population. Test early and often to discover issues as they arise and head off expensive mistakes before they come to fruition. Consistent testing can also provide focused feedback to find nuances across devices and help you move the needle beyond current adaptations.

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AnswerLab Research

The AnswerLab research team collaborates on articles to bring you the latest UX trends and best practices.

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