Commersations Resource Center

10 Secrets to Effective User Research

User research is vital to understanding your target consumers. But what are the right research methods—and when should you apply them? Here are 10 little-known strategies that will help you get the most from your research.

Secret #1: Know your objectives, timing, and budget
What do you want to learn about your consumers? Is your research going to inform a large redesign, or simply validate your assumptions? The first step in developing a research plan is defining your objectives. The second is deciding where to insert research into your product timeline. (And remember, whatever the size of your budget, there are always opportunities to gain new insights!)

Secret #2: You can’t please everyone
Focus on your objectives. Often times, businesses look to their competitors for answers, but they don’t know why a competitor chose to include certain features on its website. Context is everything. And every business is unique.

Secret #3: Technique matters
The right technique can increase returns exponentially. Consider the "Observe Method,” which suggests that you “get out of the way” and watch participants complete assigned tasks. When evaluating the usability of your website, you might give participants a credit card and ask they shop on your site—thus revealing the most natural consumer behavior. For one client, making two changes to the checkout experience increased page conversion by 34 percent.

Secret #4: Beware of smoke and mirrors.
New technology comes and goes. The language that online usability vendors use suggests that these tools are a slam dunk solution to all usability testing – with the idea of cheap, fast, equally insightful testing, but conducting reliable and insightful research means matching the right tool, to the your usability testing goals.

Secret 5: Keep it real
Often times we’re asked, “Whom should I talk to when researching? Friends and family? Random strangers?” When designing new experiences, it's best to target your core demographic—not just the customers you already have.

Secret #6: Cheat a Little
While in-lab testing is often preferred, there are times when you can cheat a little. If your audience is a relatively broad consumer group (for example, 18-35 year old jean buyers), go ahead and float new concepts to some of your employees first.

Secret #7: Seeing is Believing
It seems easier to look at data to figure out what is going on with your site, but tie those discoveries back to real-world observations. Standing in the user lab to watch what’s happening during a usability study can reveal insights that aren’t found on a spreadsheet.

Secret #8: Sometimes people can’t explain themselves
Eye-tracking research shows that women look at the face to identify people—but men often look at the crotch. Of course, most men won’t admit that (in part because they don't realize they're doing it). As Margaret Mead once said, what people say they do and what they actually do are two different things.1

Secret #9: Make the right connections
A multi-disciplinary approach to research can yield valuable insights. Consider the retailer who wanted to reach out to millennials. "Quantitative" studies indicated an unexplainable loss of interest on the product grid page—but "qualitative" techniques (eye-tracking) revealed users couldn’t find the filtering options. By tweaking the design to lead users to the product filters, the retailer increased conversions by 107 percent.

Secret #10: It’s not all or nothing
Much like learning, research is an ongoing endeavor. Apply techniques that answer your questions—but continually refine the process for greater gains.

Watch our entire session at Imagine 2014 “What happens in the lab, stays in the lab” to learn more.

1 Source: Baseball Study By Laura Ruel and Nora Paul. 


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