The primary consideration in UX design is how users perceive your product. Your product is a solution to a specific problem that affects users. Thus, the product's success will be determined by how easy it is for users to perform tasks with it and how functional it is in providing solutions to their problems.
Creating solutions for target users will be filled with uncertainties if you are not well-informed about their needs, behaviors, aspirations, and pain points. At best, you will design based on your assumptions, and you cannot determine user experience with your beliefs if you are not living in their reality. Thus, you must prioritize solid user research in your UX design process.
A report from a group of UX professionals highlights that whenever they design before communicating with users, they always have to go back to the design to change something, which always costs them more money. It proves that being a professional in the field is not enough to skip user research.
Conducting user research would save you from making late adjustments to an already finished product, as is in the case of the UX professionals described above.
Also, user research helps UX designers discover the actual users of the product. Sometimes, clients describe the features of the project based on their desires, random perceptions of users, or from an analysis of the performance of a similar product. However, user research helps to see if these presumptions align with the target audience's needs.
The target audience’s needs are validated by different research methodologies. It is important to note that user research does not stand in isolation; it is part of the UX research process. The UX research process has other methodologies like usability testing and user testing, which help to uncover users' insights during and after design.
However, user research is a fundamental requirement before you start designing. The role of the UX researcher is important in the design process.
This article informs the reader of the importance of user research in UX design. It elucidates why UX design cannot exist if user research is not involved in the process.
Why is user research necessary in UX design?
Let us look at it this way. What is essential to learn when relocating to a country where you know nothing about their culture? The primary thing to learn would be their language, their behavioral pattern, and how best to relate with them. This implies that you are researching how to have an excellent experience with those people. That is similar to what you do in user research.
User research is about getting to know the real users of the product. There won't be anything to design if there are no users for the product. Thus, the product development process cannot even commence without a proper definition of the behavioral pattern of target users.
Thus, it would be best if you did not underestimate the importance of user research in the UX design process for several reasons.
1. User research will help you craft a good UX strategy
Starting a UX design process without strategy is setting yourself up for emergencies. Also, a strategy that is crafted based on assumptions without research might lead you to deal with emergencies, since you did not align it with what affects users in the initial stage.
User research is a prerequisite for crafting a good UX strategy for your design project. A design strategy details the design process and activities to help you align user needs with business goals and objectives.
A good design must project the ideals and objectives of the organization while solving human problems. Thus, user research helps UX designers craft a good UX strategy that details the behavioral human elements, information required, and desired outcomes of the project.
2. User research enables you to validate your assumptions
It is normal to have assumptions about users, but you should not mistake creating designs based on those assumptions alone. You need to conduct user research to validate those assumptions.
The primary goal of conducting user research is to get into the mind of prospective users and know what they feel. The user insights gained from the research help you validate your assumptions.
To get a good grasp of user needs, you must conduct qualitative research with focus groups or multiple user groups; this will allow you to have in-depth conversations with users and get enough data to eliminate any inconsistent assumptions.
3. User research is needed to create an interactive user interface
Organizations risk creating interfaces that will be difficult for users if they ignore user research. Your design interface will determine its usefulness and usability to your users. The interface contains icons, images, texts, buttons, links, and everything a user can interact with to access the functionality of a product.
Every feature in your design will only be accessible to your users through the interface. Thus, the interface should contain elements that users can relate to; else, it becomes difficult for them to interact with the design.
During user research, you understand the icons your users are familiar with, and the words that will propel them to take action. This insight helps you design an interactive user interface.
4. User research gives direction to your creative ideas
Creativity works best when you clearly understand the problem you want to solve and the behavioral pattern of those that need the solution. Thus, you need data from research to help you gain better insights into users’ behavior.
There will be different ideas during your brainstorming session that seem not to fit into the context of your target audience. User research provides how you can channel those thoughts toward innovation for that design.
5. User research reduces the risk of having failed product
New products take time to be accepted in the market because they are new, nothing else. Some products fail at this stage for different reasons. Research has proven that the failure rate of new products is between 25 – 45%. And the major causes for these failures are targeting the wrong group and lack of consumer awareness. These are indications of poor or no research.
However, you can reduce that risk by conducting proper research, knowing what tickles the fancy of your target users, the gaps in your competitor's strategy, and how to edge them out.
Can you do UX design without user research?
The simple answer is No. Here is the reason. The definition of UX design implies that it is a process aimed at creating desirable experiences for users when interacting with a product.
Thus, without users, there won't be anything to design. Meanwhile, a UX designer can make the mistake of ignoring users and designing based on his assumptions. However, that design will not be user-centric as it lacks users' insights and cannot effectively address users' pain points.
Also, do not attempt to replace UX research with past design success. This option appears as an intelligent way to boycott user research, but you cannot rely on it to always work for you. Each product solves a specific problem.
Thus, research is always for solving that specific problem. When you use the success of a design project for another new project, you risk repeating the solution of your previous product for the wrong audience.
Meanwhile, research insight that worked for one project will not always work for another. You still need to conduct user research to validate any previous success. Why? User preferences change, new problems arise, and users have new expectations.
So, conducting user research for any new UX project is safe. It is essential always to have in-depth conversations with clients to understand what they want. It would help you know the difference between one project and another because customers have distinct desires and users also have differing experiences.
Customers or Users; Who determines the scope of design?
It would be best to prioritize UX research in any UX design project. However, there is a link between what customers want and what the users want, and if this link breaks, you might end up interviewing the wrong audience. So, who determines the scope of your design? Customers or users?
I will start with a quote by Steve Jobbs. Steve Jobbs said, "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." You cannot depend solely on what customers say because customers are likely to talk about their preferences, desires, and outcomes.
However, designs are primarily for the actual users. Thus, you must talk with users to ascertain if the customer's preferences are what the users need.
It is safe to say that you can listen to customers to get the project idea, then conduct user research to validate the concept and turn it into solutions for users. Now, the solution is what determines the user experience, and the acceptability of the product in the market. Though, it is necessary that you also research the market, so you are able to pre-empt the success rate of the product.
User research and Market research; Any difference?
There is a tendency to confuse user research with market research in the UX design process. I have explained user research and its importance to UX design. But what about market research? Is it the same thing as user research? Do they have equal importance in the design process?
Simply put, user research focuses on the user, while market research focuses on the market. They are both research methods using different techniques to gain insights that can make the product become a success.
So far, in this article, I have implied that a product's success depends on users' perceptions, but that is not all about it. The success of a product also depends on its performance in the market, although there is a high chance that if it meets users’ expectations, it will perform well in the market.
However, factors like the market size for the product, competitors in the market, price points, governmental policies, and revenue generation are essential for the success of any product. This is what market research covers.
Market research is quite different from user research, but they have the same goal of making the product a success, albeit from different angles. For some companies, user researchers conduct market research, while some separate the roles.
How to leverage user research for a good user experience
1. Select research participants from different demographics
It is best to conduct research with different demographics of participants. Selecting research participants from one demography limits the insights you will have access to, except if the product is just for one demography alone. People experience pain points differently, and you need all the insights you can get on users’ pain points before designing.
2. Represent pain points with features
As a UX designer, the best way to use research data is to represent the highlighted problems with a feature that can proffer solutions. For example, if the problem is “difficulty in getting an apprentice in California.” You can replace that problem with the “Connect with an apprentice” feature. The features are your answers.
3. Conduct usability tests for different platforms
Usability testing helps you check for the product's ease of use with your target users. So, when conducting usability tests, do not limit it to users accessing the solution from the same device. Instead, test across different platforms. If it is a physical product, test it with other target user groups
4. Leverage feedback for adjustments before launching
Feedback helps you make improvements to your design. There are things you would not notice or see unless your users point them out for you, and it is better if they point them out before you launch the product.
Test the product with a representative user group, take feedback from them, and leverage the feedback for the improvement of the product. You will reduce the pressure to start making updates immediately after the product is launched.
A UX process without solid user research is a faulty one from the start. User research shapes your design process and guides you throughout the product development journey. You must know that it is impossible to have a user-centered design without great user research.