User Research

User Research is identified as one of Matter’s top skills linked to performance and career success. Matter helps professionals tease out blindspots and areas for growth in skills like project management through regular peer-to-peer feedback.

What Is User Research

Definition of User Research: Uses investigative methods to understand and empathize with customers.

Leveraging research and understanding customers’ needs is the crux of effective product development. You won’t know how to solve a customer’s need unless you know and feel what it’s like to be in their shoes. To tease out deep-rooted pain points and needs, user researchers always ask open-ended and follow-up questions. They avoid making assumptions by testing early and often, thus making better product decisions for their users.

Great User Researchers You May Know

Lauren Wang: “My vagina was out of commission for 50% of my life – one week out of every month on my period. The following week with a yeast infection.” Those were Wang’s own words to describe a common problem that many women face every day. To better understand her customers, Wang hosted group dinner parties to hear personal stories and direct user feedback. After years of user research and trying over 30 different products, Wang was frustrated by the lack of innovation for women’s health. These problems prompted her to start The Flex Company, a startup dedicated to creating a product that isn’t a pad or a tampon but a safe, hygienic alternative.

Julia Hartz: Eventbrite was born out of Hartz’s own pains dealing with buying tickets online. She found the process onerous and expensive. The UX was hard to navigate, the fees were over-the-top, and the ability to self serve was extremely poor. After countless user interviews and research, she started Eventbrite with a laser focus to enhance the end-to-end user experience for online customers. What started as a three-person operation is now an event management and ticketing platform that processes over three million tickets every week.

Reed Hastings: After being charged a $40 fee on a late rental copy of Apollo 13 at a local Blockbuster, Hastings envisioned a video service free of late fees, a pain that customers like him felt all too well. By putting himself in the shoes of the consumer, he was able to understand a real problem and find a solution to fix it. Netflix filled this need so well that Blockbuster tried to buy them out for $50 million. Netflix declined the offer and is now the leader in the video streaming business with over 150 million monthly paying subscribers.

Why User Research Is Important

  • Innovation: By taking a methodical approach of asking questions rather than making assumptions, you’ll encounter plenty of surprises and insights that will lead to creative solutions.
  • Learn Fast: Fail fast, learn fast. By testing and validating your ideas early on, you’ll have the opportunity to apply learnings to your next prototype.
  • Troubleshooting: By putting yourself in the shoes of your users and seeing the world as they see it and gathering as much user feedback as possible, you’ll be able to spot pain points and solve them proactively.

What User Research Isn’t About

  • Manipulation: Empathy is about feeling the way your users feel, not playing with their emotions. Consumers can see and tell when you’re toying with them.
  • Fortune Telling: User research isn’t a magical ball through which you’ll be able to see the future. It requires real effort and sincerity.
  • Interrogating: Conducting a user study doesn’t give you free rein to bombard users with questions. Be thoughtful in your questions and listen more than you talk.

Abilities That Lead To The Mastery of User Research

Asking follow-up questions: If your interviewee mentions something that is particularly relevant to your research, simply ask them to expand on it. It’s often tempting to paraphrase what they’ve said. But in research, this can actually be a bad thing.

Asking Open-ended Questions: Open-ended questions are those that can’t be answered with a ”yes” or ”no.” They generate discussion and yield insight. By asking open-ended questions, you avoid making assumptions and get far more interesting insights.

Avoiding jargon: Avoid asking people about their user flow, how they feel about stacked navigation, or if you could improve their experience with progressive disclosure. Avoiding jargon may seem like an obvious tip, but sometimes when we work within a field so long we forget that certain terms are jargon, or we use them without realizing it.

Conducting ethnographic research: Try conducting some ethnographic research, sometimes referred to as “field research.” This UX research method involves visiting your users in their natural habitats for product usage. Conducting onsite observations can lead to powerful insights that would otherwise not have been learned when talking to users in a lab or remotely.

Embracing awkward silence: Sometimes the best answers come after a pause. The interviewee may need time to think, and their pause could be a moment of reflection. Or, they might be equally uncomfortable in the silence so they’ll offer more information to fill space. The technique is highly effective.

Keeping your reactions neutral: As a researcher, you have to be conscious of how your own behavior affects the person you are interviewing. Try to avoid reacting strongly to people’s answers, because it’s likely to change how they’ll respond next.

Reassuring your interviewees: At the beginning of any usability study, make sure participants feel comfortable. This will ensure they know what will be expected of them. Let participants know that it’s okay to say whatever they want or do something as though I wasn’t in the room with them. In other words, tell them that there are no right or wrong answers.

Testing early and often: The earlier you test your work with people, the easier it is to make changes. Testing early and often results in your testing having a greater impact and increase your likelihood of reaching your goals. If you work too long without receiving user feedback, making changes later in the process will be exponentially harder.

Using personas to stay focused: Personas are fictional characters who represent your target audience. Personas are archetypes, and you will likely have more than one. Useful personas are created as a result of user research. Personas based on user data work as design tools to ensure that you are addressing real needs in a way that meets user goals.

Explore Roles That Benefit From User Research

Who can benefit from practicing user research? Matter is helping professionals at all levels get actionable feedback to improve their user research.

  • CEOs who are looking to become better leaders and cultivate company culture
  • Designers who want to grow their professional and soft skills
  • Freelancers who work without a traditional team and want feedback
  • Project Managers looking to improve their cross-functional collaboration skills
  • Software Engineers who aspire to become a tech lead or manager

Explore Complementary Skills to User Research

User Research shouldn’t be practiced in a vacuum. Improve your user research by exploring and developing these complementary skills.

  • Candor: Communicates in a truthful and in a straightforward manner
  • Communication: Your interpersonal communication skills can make or break your ability to work with a variety of other people.
  • Empathy: Possesses the ability to connect with other people’s thoughts and emotions
  • Inclusiveness: Creates an environment that values individual and group differences
  • Strategic Thinking: Develops effective plans that are aligned with an organization’s mission

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