UX research methods are becoming popular as more companies across different industries try to provide a good user experience to their customers, which is not limited to improving a website or an app usability.
Designing a good user experience requires a user-centric iterative process, that can be represented as a continuous loop of four key phases and that always comes back to the user:
- Assessment: Understand what users are doing, what their needs are, and what problems they face
- Design: Develop ideas of how to deliver a solution to the problems identified during the assessment phase
- Prototyping: Implement design ideas in low-, mid- or high-fidelity prototypes (depending on time and budget)
- Testing: Test prototypes among users of the target audience
UX research is often associated with usability testing, but this is only one of the UX research methods available to user experience designers, and it’s mostly appropriate when prototypes are ready for testing.
The fact is that, UX research methods should be conducted during all phases to detect issues as soon as possible to avoid investing a lot of time and money in ineffective solutions.
During the Assessment phase, when we try to understand users’ needs, motivations, and the path to certain behaviors of interest, we can use in-depth interviews, observation (for behaviors that are difficult to articulate), and surveys (for large audiences). This is probably the most important phase in the process since it lays out the foundation and purpose of the design.
During the Design phase, research-based design methods such as personas/user stories, user ideation sessions, and comparative research of solutions used by competitors and other categories outside our industry, can help to generate new ideas to solve the problems uncovered during the Assessment phase.
During Prototyping, we can use inspection to determine if best practices and principles of good design are being applied.
Finally, in the Testing phase, we can use moderated or un-moderated task-based usability testing, observation, and interviews to test the prototypes.
It is unlikely that we get the first version of a product/service/website/app right. Ideally, you should run several iterations of this process to create incremental improvements. The idea is to use UX research methods to fail as soon as possible, learn from your mistakes, and getting better at providing a good user experience.
Unfortunately, time and money conspire often against using this design process, which is understandable in the short term. However, this is just a waiting game. Savings will evaporate when the need for improvement becomes apparent through lost sales and customer complaints. What you save at the beginning by not going through this design process, you will spend in the end.