Leveraging Your Existing Research Toolkit to Test New and Emerging Technologies

Posted by AnswerLab Research on May 24, 2021

The ever-expanding capabilities of emerging technologies are exciting and continue to present new opportunities to create better user experiences for your customers. 

Keeping up with cutting-edge changes can be overwhelming, but research with your customers can help you understand the desirability, value, and practicality of your idea.

You might find yourself questioning how to do research on something that doesn’t have as much precedent as a typical product or feature. While there’s always room to innovate, your tried and true research methods are just as effective and applicable to study and understand emerging technologies.

Start with an expert heuristic evaluation

Say you’re looking to find a new way of allowing people to connect with one another using an emerging technology. Perhaps, it’s through a VR device or a new feature on a smart speaker. Understanding what’s currently out there in the market and how those existing products are being received is key to taking the next step with your emerging technology, even without a prototype of your own. A heuristic evaluation of the existing landscape can provide you with UX principles, knowledge, and expertise to inform how you proceed with your idea. It can uncover opportunities in the product space, things that are and aren’t working well, and help you identify any gaps.

Emerging Tech Test Toolkit-04

What does the competitive landscape of fitness tracking platforms look like? What are the opportunities for our brand?

We conducted an expert evaluation on wearables for a client looking to understand where their new product might fit into the landscape. Our experts not only conducted a review and analysis of what was already available but also used the competitor devices and apps themselves to survey UX patterns and bring a personal touch to the research. By uncovering competitor offerings, evaluating strengths and weaknesses, and identifying gaps and opportunities in the market, our client gained critical context for launching a successful product. 

Discover what’s already out there with desk research

Secondary research, often called desk research, is a very effective method that gathers data from existing sources which can be quicker and more informative than spinning up a new study from the start. The collected data gets synthesized to inform your research approach. Secondary research can provide critical context early in your product development, answer many of your initial questions, challenge assumptions, and even help you identify the right research questions, ultimately increasing the effectiveness of subsequent research. Secondary research looks at existing research on the topic, news articles, government reports, academic papers, and historical documents, and serves as a foundational set of knowledge to draw on as you evolve your ideas into a successful product.

What are other thought leaders or influencers in this space doing already and how can we build on it? 

We recently worked with a client looking to understand customers’ expectations and potential use cases for a new device they were prototyping. While our client’s idea was brand new to their team, we knew there were thought leaders and influencers out there exploring similar topics and products. Before building a research plan, we reviewed existing publications and reports, and even helped them survey internally to see if teams were conducting research on similar topics within their company. Conducting secondary research can help you refine your approach prior to sessions with customers. If you can narrow down your focus using materials already out there, you’ll set yourself up for a more productive and impactful research session.

Understand your customers’ wants and needs through exploratory research 

Exploratory or generative research helps drive innovation and new product offerings by leading with user’s mental models, behaviors, unmet needs, and roadblocks. These methodologies help you better understand your current and prospective users, their behaviors, their needs, and their actions. With emerging technologies, focusing on generative, exploratory research can help you narrow in on use cases and features to better meet user needs.

How might we understand the social gaming experience for those who identify as women?

We recently completed an exploratory study focused on women’s experiences in social gaming and virtual reality. Multiple rounds of research over the course of six months meant we could dive into topics more broadly and get deep generative insights. This approach helped uncover what makes social gaming engaging for those who identify as women, what kinds of content and stories are most compelling, safety concerns, and more.

Go in-depth through ethnography

What if your business challenge is to create something that leverages the idea of a smart home but translates it to a work environment? Do you know what challenges users currently face? Do you understand how your users’ day-to-day plays out? What about the opportunities to make this product more relevant or useful to those workers? Ethnography and diary studies can help you gain details about your users’ day to day and how your product could help them complete those daily activities.

How does our product fit into the context of our users’ homes?

We conducted in-home ethnographic research for a client looking to better understand how and where people watch content in their homes to inform the development of a new hardware product. Our team interviewed participants at home to hear how they might use this new product in different rooms, better understand their watching habits, and even take measurements of their spaces to help inform engineering needs. These in-home interviews gave our clients an invaluable glimpse into the participants’ experience in context.

Test your initial ideas with concept testing

Is your idea further along but you aren’t sure if or how people would use it? Depending on the fidelity of your concept, several methods can be used to inform the direction of your product based on how people understand it and interact with it. Concept testing with low-fidelity prototypes can be done early to inform an overall product roadmap. You can test screenshots, sketches, storyboards, video walkthroughs, or even just ideas to get feedback before you take yourself too far down the path of building a fully-fledged prototype. Understanding user preferences early can eliminate the costly process of creating and launching prototypes that might not provide value to your target market.

Which of these concepts and tasks do our customers want to see in our digital assistant?

We conducted concept testing for a digital assistant that helps people with specific everyday productivity tasks. We used conceptual mobile screens to walk users through several potential concepts the client was considering to gain an understanding of whether this assistant would be useful to them and in what specific ways. These concept tests helped guide the client's next steps in understanding the usefulness of the assistant itself and prioritizing the most useful features. It also helped them understand which features were not valuable to build.

If you’re exploring a voice product, consider trying Wizard of Oz testing as a way to test your concepts. During the session, the participant talks to a device that looks like a smart speaker or voice-enabled device, but in reality, a person other than the moderator sits “behind the curtain” controlling the responses or even speaking them aloud. This mimics the real-time experience a person might have with your device, without needing a fully functioning prototype.

Bring out your tried and true usability testing

Once you’ve discovered what’s already out there in the market, conducted a heuristic, or done an exploratory study to determine your customers’ needs, you may have a prototype you want to test with real users to see if you were successful or missed the mark. Going back to the tried and true usability test can help you see how your customers interact with your new product, explore ease of use, and identify any further areas of opportunity.

Can a voice app provide customers with a more complete financial experience?

We tested an Alexa Skill prototype for a financial services client meant to help customers monitor their financial health through voice. Through one-on-one in-person usability sessions, we discovered that participants liked the concept, but struggled to use the voice commands correctly and had a number of privacy concerns that weren’t being addressed. The product team was able to adjust and course-correct prior to launch. 

No need to reinvent the research wheel

There is always room to innovate within research, but often, your reliable existing research methods are just as, if not more, effective for testing emerging technology, new products, services, and innovations as they are for current products in the market. Use these methods to level up your ability and take your vision to new heights. You’ll understand what’s been done before, dive into user needs and wants, and test early and often to inform your ideas. Ultimately, you’ll deliver emerging technology products and services that are effective, exciting, innovative, and meet a real user need.

Get in touch with us to hear how AnswerLab can help with your emerging tech needs. 

About the authors:

Jennifer Bohmbach, Senior UX Researcher
Jennifer Bohmbach is a Sr. UX Researcher at AnswerLab with over two decades of experience in User Experience practice, management and leadership, marketing, and product development, working with software, hardware, and emerging technology products and services. She draws on her past work to lead research with clients that draws out clear, meaningful, and actionable insights.
Learn more about Jennifer.
Sylvia Bargellini, Senior UX Researcher
Sylvia Bargellini is a Senior UX Researcher at AnswerLab where she leads client research that identifies and prioritizes insights that improve their business results. Sylvia specializes in emerging technology and has 6+ years of experience in research, design, and human factors, working with both software and hardware products.
Learn more about Sylvia.


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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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