Any user research is better than doing no user research, right? If you can’t reach your target users, you can do research with your company’s employees, because they’re kind of similar right? If you can’t visit people in person to see them perform their tasks, maybe you can do phone interviews or send out a survey. That’s better than nothing, right?
The truth is that it’s sometimes better not to do any user research than to do half-assed user research. I’m not saying that you always have to the perfect user research conditions or its not worth doing. In reality, we rarely have all the time we need and the perfect circumstances to conduct extensive user research. So it’s understandable that we sometimes have to cut corners and make do with what we’re able to get. However, there’s a fine line between discount user research and half-assed user research.
The danger is when you always cut corners, you can become an enabler. Your shortcuts become the norm, allowing your company to check off the user research checkbox, allowing them to say, “Yes, we do user research.” If you can’t eventually convince them to devote more time and effort to user research, sometimes it’s better to practice tough love and let them fail by not doing any user research, rather than allowing them to rely on poor quality research.
In my latest UXmatters article, I provide advice about how to know when you’re practicing half-assed user research and how to improve. Check it out: Avoiding Half-Assed User Research
Image by Spider.Dog
A key skill you need for usability testing is the ability to work well with a variety of different types of people. You meet all kinds of people as usability testing participants. Over time, you get used to adjusting your approach to different personalities and characteristics. Most people are easy to deal with. However, some people present challenges.
In my latest UXmatters article, “Wrangling Difficult Usability Testing Participants,” I discuss ten types of challenging participants and how to best adjust your interaction with them to get the best testing experience.
In my latest UXmatters article, I compare the latest prototyping tools to paper prototyping. Paper has long had the advantage in allowing designers to quickly and easily create early prototypes, that look unfinished, and encourage users to honestly provide criticism. However, the latest prototyping tools have caught up to, and in some cases surpassed, paper in making it very easy and quick to create prototypes without any coding.
So, do the advantages of paper prototypes still beat these new prototyping tools? That’s what I explore in my latest article, Prototyping: Paper Versus Digital.
Image credit: Samuel Mann
Over the years, I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned about the types of questions and topics that participants have a hard time answering accurately in user research. Most people do try to answer your questions, but they may not be able to easily and accurately answer these types of questions:
- Remembering details about the past
- Predicting what they might do in the future
- Accurately answering a hypothetical question
- Discussing the details of their tasks out of context
- Telling you what they really need
- Imagining how something might work
- Envisioning an improved design
- Distinguishing between minuscule design differences
- Explaining the reasons for their behavior
I discuss these types of difficult questions, and better ways to get that information from participants, in my latest article on UXmatters:
Avoiding Hard-to-Answer Questions in User Interviews.
Image credit: Véronique Debord-Lazaro on Flickr
What do these three things have in common – playing in a one-man band, juggling chainsaws, and babysitting 10 three-year-olds? When you try to do all of these things at the same time, it’s only slightly more difficult than conducting field studies.
Of course, I’m just kidding, but not by much. In my opinion, field studies are the most difficult user research technique for three reasons: unpredictability, the need to learn about unfamiliar domains, and the need to deal with competing demands. There’s not much you can do about unpredictability or the need to learn a new domain, but there are things that you can do to better handle the competing demands of field studies.
In my latest article on UXmatters, I discuss these competing demands and how to best handle them:
- Observing and listening
- Determining whether and when to ask questions
- Formulating questions
- Assessing answers
- Managing the session
- Assessing the session
- Keeping track of the time
- Managing observers
- Capturing the session
- Maintaining a good rapport with the participant
Read more in my latest article, Handling the Competing Demands of Field Studies.
Image credit: Highways England on Flickr
I published a new article in UXmatters this week, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong? The Biggest Mistakes in Usability Testing.”
This article came out of thinking about all of the mistakes I’ve made, and problems I’ve encountered, over the last 16 years conducting usability testing. I think it’s good to look back and think about the lessons you’ve learned. This article is jam-packed with advice learned the hard way.
Usability testing is the most highly structured user research method. Compared to field studies and interviews, the tasks and questions are usually highly planned, and you usually stick pretty close to the discussion guide. That also makes it the most repetitive method. You see the same types of people performing the same tasks and answering the same questions over and over again.
After you get some experience, you can begin to think of usability testing as routine and pretty easy. At a former company, it was the first task that we gave to new researchers, just out of college. It seemed like the easiest method to learn. That may be true, but there are still all kinds of mistakes that can occur. This article discusses the main problems and how to avoid them.
Photo by Blue Oxen Associates on Flickr
I just published an article on UXmatters, 10 User Research Myths and Misconceptions. It addresses common misunderstandings about user research that I’ve encountered over the years.
Here’s a bonus outtake from the article, Myth 11…
Myth 11: Field Research Is Better Than Usability Testing
On the other end of the spectrum from those who don’t understand the difference between user research and usability testing, are the user research elitists who think up-front, generative user research methods are far superior to usability testing. In this view, field studies take researchers out of the lab to observe people in their natural environments performing their usual activities, while usability testing takes place in the sterile, artificial environment of a usability lab and asks people to perform a limited set of artificial tasks. Instead of learning about people and what they really do, usability testing provides the limited value of learning whether people can perform your artificial tasks.
The Truth: Both Field Research and Usability Testing Have Their Places
Field studies and usability testing are two different methods used for different, but equally important, purposes. Field studies provide information to inform design, while usability testing evaluates a design. You have to make interpretations and conclusions from the user research and apply that to a design. Even after very thorough user research, you’re never completely sure that what you’ve designed will work well for the users. Usability testing is the evaluation that either confirms your decisions or points you to refinements. Both user research and usability testing are important and necessary. There’s no reason we can’t appreciate the value of both methods.