You’ve got a problem. You're not sure your website or application is effectively meeting the needs of your target audience.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: Ask them.

The role of user research

User research creates a direct line of communication between you and your users. It helps you understand their goals, the problems they want to solve, and tasks they need to accomplish. You may think you already know your users and their wants or needs, but, unless you’ve gotten it direct from them, you’re taking a big risk.

You can't be confident you're providing a positive user experience if you don't know who your users are, where their pain points are, or what they really want. And user research is simply the only reliable way to get that information.

You are not your user

As much as we like to think we know our users best, we are not them. Period. Full stop. User research challenges the tendency we have to approach a solution from our own perspective. It forces us to look beyond the walls of our service or company and learn about users directly from them, often with surprising results.

User research helps build data-backed confidence in who our target users really are and what they really want. A robust research toolkit uses evidence gathering methods including, but not limited to interviews, surveys, field studies/ethnographic research, focus groups, customer journey or empathy mapping, card sorts and tree tests, and more.

Initial research to identify and learn from target audiences is best done before design and development efforts begin, but it can and should continue through the downstream phases of a project to confirm, refine, or refute direction.

Why you should do user research

User research should be a priority for any digital or physical interface that users will directly interact with.

  • When doing a product redesign, research helps you gain a baseline for how your users feel about your current product (what works, what doesn't, what's missing).
  • When developing a new product, research allows you to gauge user sentiment about competing products in the marketplace and identify potential differentiators or unmet needs.
  • When optimizing an existing product, research helps you identify enhancements that will help streamline workflows, improve conversions, and/or increase usability.

We hear it so often when talking with clients or prospective clients, "We're not sure our product/service is speaking to our target audience(s)." The simplest and most cost-effective solution to this is to ask them, via a smart mix of qualitative and quantitative user research. Conducting user research removes uncertainty, lets you make better decisions, and ultimately saves money.

Say you are planning an overhaul of your site’s main navigation/information architecture and it’s been several years since the site was launched. Your industry has expanded, and you recognize through the data there is a real need to improve organization to best serve your users.

You could rely on competitor sites or pre-existing understanding of your target audiences to get ideas for how to organize information, and this may get you partway there. But how well do you truly know your users? What if competitors have done the same thing and they made incorrect assumptions that you're at risk of repeating? What opportunities are you missing that speaking directly with users would quickly reveal?

A card sorting exercise is one technique we use when designing navigation structures. It allows your users to group and organize the information in a way most meaningful to them, so you can confidently reorganize the content structure of your site in a way users will find easy to use and understand.

User research is a goldmine of insights about target audiences, and those insights directly lead to downstream benefits, including:

  • Building the right thing, the first time
  • Getting to MVP more quickly with a truly useful mix of features and functionality
  • More economical projects, because you’re not wasting money on unnecessary features and functionality or on rewriting things that didn’t appropriately meet user needs
  • Reduced operational costs from customer and sales support having to address unmet user needs
  • Happier, more loyal customers, who will continue to add value and advocate for your brand

There are such a variety of ways to learn from your target audiences, we feel strongly there are no projects that wouldn’t benefit from some level of user research.

A user research success story

One of our clients is in the higher education space. They came to Acumium looking for someone to do user research on several websites with a focus on gaining qualitative insights. Prior research through another company had only provided quantitative data, and while the changes they implemented as a result of this research resulted in more leads, they saw fewer quality leads and a reduction in conversions.

Working with our client’s team, we identified several methods for collecting qualitative insights from representative users about their needs along with what was and was not working on these sites.

Through a combination of usability testing and direct interviews, we were able to confirm areas that worked well for users and pinpoint key opportunities for improvement. With this data, Acumium was able to provide our client with actionable, prioritized insights to streamline their websites for improved usability.

This can be your success story, too. Contact us today to find out how we can help you build more economical, brand-boosting user experiences with user research.