Why User Experience Research is Important

I began conducting usability testing around five years ago when I started digging into UX. I found that the experiences and interfaces that my team and I were crafting, did not always resonate with our intended audiences. The reason being that we were attempting to solve the business problem first and not putting ourselves in the shoes of the Customer.
Over time, I learned and began applying Design Thinking frameworks which help to iterate on an intended solution through research and analysis. There are different types of user research ranging from paper prototyping in the initial phases, to usability testing which provides quantifiable metrics post launch.
There are also different audiences as well. At State Farm, we were designing applications for the Enterprise as well as the Customer. State Farm has five labs specifically dedicated to internal and external user testing – replicating everything from a coffee shop to an Agent’s office. And while those usability tests were very controlled with specific targeted outcomes, I have also conducted informal research in-person in previous organizations. Those are fun because they are generally low fidelity and users tend to give more honest feedback. They are afraid they may hurt feelings when presented with an output that appears to have significant time put into it.
The lessons learned in my early days were that there are vastly differing types of candidates. Some provide better feedback than others. Generally speaking, higher-thinking participants are able to provide honest, unfiltered and well-articulated input. Others will just tell you what they think you want to hear.
Teavana, a Starbucks subsidiary, commissioned my services at Make & Build to conduct usability testing on the previous version of their e-Commerce website. I found 20 candidates to participate, setup a lab and conducted a guided usability test with the Starbucks / Teavana team from Atlanta and Seattle watching via streaming video in a remote location over the course of two days.
I first needed to conduct research myself to find obvious areas for improvement along with niche usability and experience issues which helped inform the usability test. I also along configured the primary feedback tool and handled the smaller details such as the scheduling and vetting of participants, compensation for their time, parting gifts from Teavana along with welcoming and entertaining our guests and client from Seattle.
In the end, we produced a comprehensive usability report along with recommendations to influence future iterations of their flagship digital platform.
I personally enjoy gathering feedback from users and engaging people. Setting a warm and personable tone allows others to provide honest feedback. Most people do not hold back when it comes to letting others know their opinion – especially when they feel comfortable. At the end of the day, that’s the goal. No sugarcoating, just pure honesty.
We spend around 20 – 25% of our time gathering feedback from users in the real world. Comprehensive UX takes into account the needs of the business and supporting IT processes, but places emphasis on the ecosystem of the user. Ex: What are they thinking about (or not thinking about) at that moment? What’s in their immediate environment? What are other things that are taking place in their life that intersect with that touchpoint? External influences, human factors, etc.
At the end of the day, our job is to provide a guiding voice for the user to turn their input into informed data points and highlight opportunities to help us iterate on better solutions. Customers want to feel inspired – and that helps them feel more connected to the brand.
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