November Recap: A Practical Approach to User Research.

On Tuesday, November 22nd Ladies that UX came together to connect and chat before hearing an insightful talk from Jonathan Kochis entitled, “A Practical Approach to User Research.”

For a second time, we had the pleasure of hanging out in the amazing office space of our generous event sponsor, Olio Digital Labs. They made sure everyone was well fed before the talk!

Ashley welcoming the group to the meet up.

User research can often seem daunting, especially for those that haven’t tried it before.

Jonathan walked us through the research approach and the design process his team took to redesign their company website, Res.IM.

“UX Research can be quite practical. It’s not months and months of studies and data analysis. It’s not scientific research, it’s not research and development, it’s not academic research. It’s user research. It’s quite un-scientific. Which makes it accessible and practical, but it doesn’t take away any of it’s value.

Don’t be afraid of the term ‘research’ as it relates to who people are. My advice to you is to try.”

Jonathan Kochis

Below are notes from Jonathan’s talk, you can view the video from our live stream on our youtube page and check out the slides.

Jonathan speaking to the audience with a slide up that says "Design and Change"

Change is what triggers action.

Change influences design, and design influences change. These two things are constant. We need to get away from the idea that design is a periodic thing, it’s something that should be changing all the time.  Design should adjust to change as change happens, instead of only being something that gets attention when we have enough time. We should prioritize our time to fit it in.

A transition in business focus was the change which sparked the need for a re-design. Res.IM moved from being an application, web, software design and development company to a team of people who do user research, design and consulting.

Organizational change outpaced design.

Their business was changing faster than they could change how the business looked from the outside.

The organizational change was prioritized over design as was the work they were doing for their clients. Which happens all the time with agencies and most companies.

Putting the Cart before the Horse

One common mistake when designing a website is putting the cart before the horse. Looking to visual design trends for inspiration as a first step, instead of knowing who the people are that are using your site, what they want to do on it and what content will be on the site’s pages.

It can be dangerous to start with visual design, but that’s often the first step many designers take.  If we start with looking at other people’s designs we might get into the trap of saying something like “This looks great, let’s do this and just put our own words and images into it.”  However, the solution we’re looking to for inspiration was designed to solve a different problem than our own. When too much inspiration is taken from others, everything starts to look the same.

Not to say there isn’t value for visual design inspiration, there very much is.  However it should come later in the process.

Jonathan recommends that we should always start with research.  He walked through an approach of: Research, Personas, Content and Design.

Research

It’s important for us to know when the research we’ve done is “good enough”.  Since there are so many user research methods, it can become very easy to want to do them all.  Being aware of what we’re trying to find out and what kind of timeline we have can help to decide just how far to go.

Balance the research work you do with time and effort. Ask yourself, “Will we be learning more by conducting this exercise?”  How you answer that will help you to decide if you should dig a little deeper or move on.

Research Methods

Here are some research methods Jonathan’s team used and you can try for yourself:

Analytics review

  • Use it to identify patterns and trends.
  • It will be of little value without qualification

It will tell you that something is happening, but it won’t tell you why. In this case, Jonathan and his team could have spent more time here and used other software to continue research, however they decided that they had just enough to go off of for the next step.

Interview

  • Phone and in-person interviews with the people who use your product and those who use your competitors product. The idea here is to hear from people who love your product, don’t love your product or might have never even heard of your product before.
  • Use a script with a consistent set of questions.
  • Aim to identify top tasks.

This is where the qualification comes in. When doing interviews, it’s a conversation so it’s best to record them and take notes to help keep track of all the information you receive to review afterwords. All of the users opinions matter and will help you with creating a solution that is catered to their needs.

People turn to our websites or products to preform tasks.  An example could be a user comes to a website and says “How can I find these guys?” or “What’s their  phone number”.  That’s the website’s job. If it’s not doing it’s job it’s failing.

If your product doesn’t do the job, the user is going to be frustrated, they might find another way to make it work or just go somewhere else.

Jonathan pointed out that there were other user research methods his team could have explored here, such as conducting a survey. They decided not to go down that path, since they had enough information to recognized patterns and made connections between what the people were saying during the interviews.

Comparative Analysis

  • Review of a curated list of competitive websites.
  • Looked at services, navigation, methodology, work, team, and value-added content.

Once the research has been done to ensure we fully understand the problem, it’s now an appropriate time to look to others who have solved similar problems, which we can gain inspiration from.

Usability Tests

When we find solutions we think might solve our problem, we can conduct an usability test. Instead of assuming this solution will work, conducting usability tests with people will help validate any assumption as to whether or not this solution makes sense to our users.

Jonathan mentioned this as another potential area his team could have explored more but they decided it wasn’t going to give them too much more insights versus the amount of effort.

Create (very brief) Personas

Usually a persona is much bigger than these “very brief” personas.  Many times you’ll see a persona with a name, age, where they went to university, what kind of car they drive, what they had for supper last week, how many times they go to the gym and a ton of demographic information, that for the projects purpose, wouldn’t really matter.  When creating personas,  we should focus on what matters.

One way you can do this is by asking yourself “What do you care about?” While re-designing the Res.IM website, Jonathan and his team cared about “What are our users trying to do on this thing we’re trying to make.”

How to create very brief personas based on your research observations:

  1. Identify persona types and give them a name
  2. Give a brief explanation of each persona type
  3. Identify the top task(s) that each persona type is trying to complete when coming to your site.

Here’s an example of Jonathan and team’s “very brief” personas:

Local Advocate

  • Knows about us from work and presence in the community.
  • Needs information to help sell ResIM to others.

Influencer

  • Hears about us in one of several proposals they need to read.
  • Needs to identify & qualify us as a potential partner.
  • Needs to understand what the relationship will be like.

Decider

  • Referred to us by a colleague or our marketing.
  • Needs to get in touch with the right person.

Sometimes these persona types are combined, such as an Influencer also being a Decider.  Just something to keep in mind when creating these personas.

Knowing who is using our product or website helps us better understand what content is needed.

Content

Content matters a lot, it’s the reason people come to a website in the first place, so it’s extremely important to get it right.

A great way to figure out the type of content we need is to compare it on how it will help the top tasks of our personas. Here’s an example of that, which Jonathan shared in regards to the Res.IM re-design.

    

Write your interface first.

Once the research and personas have been done, write your interface before going to design.  Try writing your interface with Sketch or photoshop.

Imagine that you are designing a page but you’re designing it with words. Focus on the words for as long as you can because it will keep you connected with your users.  Once you start to design, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of “it’s my design”.

Starting with the words and leaving out U.I. (user interface) elements or design, helps ensure the message you write will keep the user and their goals in mind.

Design

Once the words are done, you’re ready for the design. This can be through wireframes, high-fi mock ups and prototypes. Res.IM’s approach was to go to high-fi designs and skip the wireframes. See the result of their process – view their site.

The main things we took from the talk: start with research, not design inspiration and know what questions you want answers to when starting your research. It’s easy to get caught up in the various research methods and getting overwhelmed by the data, so having a focus is key to keeping yourself in check. Only list out the information you need in your personas. Writing your interface before getting into wireframes or design keeps your messaging aimed towards your personas. User research is about continuously learning and continuously improving.  Try to avoid big redesigns and instead continuously evaluate your site with your users and iterate.  Coming back to that circle of change and design from the very begining of the talk.

Try it

The biggest take away we got from Jonathan’s presentation is to try it.  Try user research it has huge value and isn’t as complicated as many people think it is.  Pick one method you want to try on yours or a clients site and just give it a try.

A big thank you goes out to Jonathan for sharing his experiences and advice with us.

Another big thank you and kudos goes out to Brandon, Derek, Nina and the Olio Digital Labs team for providing a perfect space for the event and an amazing spread of food for everyone to enjoy during the night.

The expert team at Olio digital labs provide planning, design, development and maintenance of custom web & mobile applications. The apps they build support some of Canada’s largest brands to run their business operations.

The services they offer include: in custom e-commerce and programming, web to backend systems integration, consulting and auditing. Check out their website to learn more about their work. Olio Digital Labs are huge supporters of the local design and development community.  They’re currently on the look out for a full stack developer, if your experience is close to what their looking for, consider applying.  Help spread the word about this exciting opportunity by sharing on it your social channels or sending a note to someone you think might be interested.

More pictures (taken from twitter) of the event are below,  thanks everyone for sharing your experience online using #ltuxldt!

  


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