User research is the first step of your development journey. Proper user research sets the stage for your entire design and development cycle. Engaging with your target market to discover their pain points, deep diving into understanding their requirements, and empathising with their daily grind, is pretty much the best way to develop a product that will ensure it meets the requirements of the target market and has a high adoption rate.
What is a research process
A research process defines what happens during the user research phase. There are no hard and fast rules for a research process, and you might've come across as many processes as companies or projects you've worked on. However this can lead to some confusion, and it becomes especially hard to explain the process when onboarding new people. For these reasons, it's good to have a process that is generic enough that it can be tweaked a little to suit most circumstances. The question now becomes how can we design a user research process that works in many scenarios, but also works with different people, and differing requirements.
Starting the process
As discussed earlier, user research is the first and most crucial step of your development plan, but it doesn't just stop there. User research should be extended to each and every step of your development cycle. Let's start by breaking down the cycle and seeing where user research fits to each step:
Here, we select our target market and gain a broad understanding of their pain points. Initial user research here stops us from going completely down a wrong track and creating a product with no future.
Now we can start better understanding the pain points. We work closely with our target market to understand where their frustrations lie. This stage helps us to hone in on which problems and solutions will be addressed in our product. Personal opinion, most of the research time should be spent right here. This is where you can really empathise with the users, understand their routine, and get them to open up to you.
Designing a solution for the pain points discovered above is an iterative process. We need to maintain a feedback loop with the users to ensure that our design matches their expectations.
You can take the backseat on this step. Let the development team do their work, and just provide any requested guidance.
And you're back. While internal QA and testing takes place away from the users eyes, the users are the final hurdle to knowing if your product not only does the correct thing, but does the thing correctly. There will be a lot of back and forth here, and in certain cases you will go back to the drawing board with parts (hopefully not all) of your solution.
Maintenance and monitoring
The final phase of a job well done. Your product has been launched and you can just sit on your laurels and reap the benefits... No? Sadly, no! Even after launch, you have to stay on your toes. User requirements and technology change continuously. What was relevant last month, maybe sliding under the radar today. We have to maintain communication with our users to understand if their requirements are met, or if we are slipping up due to a change in process or requirements.
What should we include in the process?
Break down what you hope to do, and in which stage you will be following up on it. This plan should have a lot in common with the development cycle that you follow.
How are you going to carry out your research? There are so many different ways of carrying out research, that you can include different options and even explain the different situations that they may be used. Interviews, user journey mapping, reviewing existing products, surveys, etc are all methods that can be used on this journey.
Limit yourself and the research tasks based on your own findings. For example you might decide that doing more than 2 user interviews in a day brings down the quality of the 3rd interview. Or that a client's team doesn't consider it important to be present at the research phase, which negatively affects the data gathered. In which case you have to make attendance mandatory for key members at least.
User research is an interesting and vibrant field. You get to know and understand many different verticals and people from different walks of life. Having a pragmatic user research process that works for you, is an important step to doing quality user research. Remember, the quality of your product is totally dependent on the quality of your research!