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Let’s tell the story of a typical tech product. It starts with a great idea — maybe a personal pain point you’ve faced, or a hunch about where the market is headed. You spec out an amazing app. You get a team of engineers to build it, and find a designer to make the product look and feel awesome. You’ve nailed it!

Only thing is… you launch, and no one cares. Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?

Know what might have made the difference? Talking to your customers and gaining insight into their wants & needs. Also known as… user research!

 

What is UX Design, really?

“But isn’t UX Design all about the look & feel and usability of products — creating things like wireframes & site maps?” you might be asking. Good question!

User Experience design is concerned with every part of how a user interacts with a product. That involves things like understanding interaction design (what is the interface we’re building, and how do users navigate through the product?), information architecture (how is our site/app organized?), and usability (is it easy to use and functional?). But before we can address all the details about how the product works, we first need to understand who we’re building it for, and why we’re building it.

As the industry-leading Nielsen Norman Group states, UX without Research is not really UX.

Quite simply, if you want a job in UX, you need to be able to demonstrate your ability to gain customer insight and empathy to inform any solution you’re building. Increasingly, companies are understanding the value of user-centered design, and they’re looking to hire people who are skilled in those methodologies to help them create more impactful products.

 

Skepticism around User Research

“Research" typically gets a bad rap, and we get why. The word alone conjures ideas of academia, or white lab coats — it sounds like overblown, rigorous academic study that takes years.

In addition, people are usually more comfortable falling back on what they already know. Engineers code product, and designers work on the user flows and visuals in Balsamiq & Photoshop. It’s easiest to just build & ship a solution, and hope for the best.

Contrary to these beliefs, user research is actually a crucial part of the UX Design process being adopted by some of the nimblest, most successful teams in technology — including Dropbox & Airbnb.

 

What does research entail?

Does research still sound boring and slow-paced to you? It’s not. Here are typical techniques that UX designers use as part of research:

  • In-person/phone interviews — You’ll have open-ended conversations to learn all about your target customers. The insight you’ll get from these talks are often eye-opening, and can change everything you considered about the product you thought you were going to build.
  • Diary studies — You provide participants with materials to record their daily events & tasks, so you can learn their behaviors and needs over time.
  • Usability testing — You’ll observe how users interact with a product or service by providing them a series of tasks to complete. By testing, you’re able to identify problems before they’re even coded up.

You might have noticed how a lot of this involves connecting with your target customers andempathizing with their problems. As part of the research process, you’ll create some pretty useful deliverables, such as:

  • Personas: Based on your research, you’ll create narratives of hypothetical users — e.g.this is Executive Elissa, she’s the target user for our VIP car service app, and these are her behaviors and goals in her everyday life
  • Storyboards: Storyboards are used to describe the “story” of how a customer would use your product — helping you talk through different scenarios you should consider designing for.

All these outputs are valuable resources that your entire team can refer to throughout the product development process.

 

The benefits of User Research

Overall, here’s what research can do for your team:

  • Create shorter product development time upfront (since you have a clearer picture in mind of what you’re building, and who it’s for)
  • Make it easier to solve differences of opinion (now, the answer to disagreements can be, “let’s test it!”)
  • Avoid costly fixes of problems, after you’ve already spent lots of time & effort shipping

At the end of the day, we all dream about creating things that people want and love — and user research gives us the best shot at that.

Stay tuned for case studies about successful ways companies used research to inform the amazing products they built.

 

Where to go from here

We’re thrilled about launching our first ever UX course on Designlab — a deep dive into User Research & Strategy. Build up your design portfolio with real projects, while working 1-on-1 with an expert design mentor. It’s the best way to start learning UX online. Check it out!

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