User research can sound easy. You talk to people and watch what they do. Sounds easy, right? But if you’ve ever conducted user research, you know that it’s a lot more complicated and difficult than that. And it’s easy to make mistakes. Even veteran researchers still make mistakes from time to time.
In my latest article on UXmatters, I’ve compiled the list of mistakes that I’ve encountered, and made, over the last 18 years of user research:
The Biggest Mistakes in User Research, Part 1
The Biggest Mistakes in User Research, Part 2
Scoping a project’s user-research phase is a classic Catch-22 situation. Before the project begins, you have to plan the user research activities and the time involved, but you rarely have enough information to make these decisions until after the project begins. In my latest article on UXmatters, I discuss some of the problems you may encounter when trying to scope user research, and I provide advice about how to make scoping more accurate.
Check it out: Scoping User Research
In user research, we primarily do two things – observe people and ask questions. Ideally, we want to observe people’s natural behavior, without having our presence influence what they do.
Observation sounds deceptively simple. You sit and watch what people do. It seems like anyone can do that. But to get the most value out of observation, there’s more to it than passively looking and listening.
In my latest UXmatters article, I examine what observation involves, the different types of observation methods, and explore a more rarely used method in UX research – naturalistic observation. The Role of Observation in User Research
Image courtesy of: You Belong in Longmont
As UX researchers, we tend to focus more time on explaining our findings than in providing our recommendations. Yet, however well we explain the findings and recommendations, there comes a time when we’re not present, and the people who have to implement the recommended changes have to rely on the written recommendations and what they remember from your explanation. So it’s very important to ensure that your UX recommendations are understandable, concise, specific, believable, authoritative, actionable, feasible, flexible, prioritized, and easy to review. I provide advice on how to provide better recommendations in my latest article on UXmatters:
Providing Better UX Recommendations
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
I just published a new article on UXmatters, Avoiding Common Prototyping Mistakes. This topic came from my repeated experience making these mistakes when prototyping. There are so many great, new prototyping tools out there. It seems new tools are popping up every week.
The great thing about these new prototyping tools is that they make it so easy to create realistic looking and interactive prototypes. However, the problem is that it’s very easy to get carried away by trying to show too much in the prototype. You think, “I’ll show how this works. Well then I guess I might as well show this too.” The next thing you know, you’ve spent hours creating something really impressive but really complicated.
In this article I discuss and provide solutions for these six prototyping problems:
- Jumping too soon into prototyping
- Failing to plan what to prototype
- Prototyping at the wrong fidelity
- Getting carried away by creating too much
- Failure to explain types of prototypes
- Not creating a guide for navigating the prototype
Check out Avoiding Common Prototyping Mistakes on UXmatters.
Your Baby is Ugly!
That’s the title of the article I just published on UXmatters, in which I give advice on how to soften the blow of delivering bad news to clients. Let’s face it, when we perform an expert evaluation, usability testing, or user research on an existing product – most of what we find is problems with the current product. Clients don’t pay us to tell them how great their products are. If they’ve hired us, it’s to find problems that can be fixed. But there are ways to make it easier to deliver bad news. In this article I provide the following advice:
- Get the stakeholders to admit that it’s ugly first
- Get everyone to buy into your research methods upfront
- Encourage stakeholders to observe the research
- Blame the bad news on the participants
- Back up your findings with metrics
- Present recordings and quotations
- Don’t beat your audience over the head
- Emphasize your expertise
- Back up your findings with examples of best practices
- Show your stakeholders they’re not alone
- Position it as providing recommendations, not pointing out problems
- Mention the positive aspects too
- Deliver your findings in person
- Prioritize the problems they should solve
- Provide a plan for addressing the problems
You can find more details about this advice in my latest article, Your Baby is Ugly.
Have you ever wondered what qualities you need to succeed in user research? I just published an article on UXmatters, Qualities of Effective User Researchers, which lists the following qualities that lead to a successful career in user research:
- Ability to Learn Quickly
- Organizational Skills and Attention to Detail
- Time Management Skills
- Mental Agility
- Flexibility and Adaptability
- Good Memory
- Effective Notetaking
- Analytical Skills
- Problem Solving
- Design Skills
- Writing Skills
- Communication Skills
This may sound like an intimidating list, but you don’t have to be perfect in all of these areas. Check out the full article on UXmatters – Qualities of Effective User Researchers.
Cow image by FFCU (Free for Commercial Use) by Creative Commons License
In my latest article on UXmatters, Five Degrees of User Assistance, I bring up a character that people love to hate – Clippy, of course! Although I do have sort of a soft spot for the little guy, he is a great example of unwanted user assistance.
Poor Clippy! It really wasn’t his fault, he came along at a time when computers were too stupid to accurately predict when people needed help. Programmed to jump out when certain events occurred, to enthusiastically offer his assistance, instead he came across as an unwanted interruption and annoyance.
Today, as technology becomes increasingly intelligent, computers are smart enough to provide more appropriate and more accurate user assistance. In my latest article I describe these five levels of user assistance:
- Passively providing online Help content. Here’s help if you need it.
- Asking if the user needs help. Can I help you?
- Proactively offering suggestions that users can accept or ignore. Is this what you want, or do you want to correct this?
- Alerting the user that it’s going to take an action automatically, unless the user says not to. I’m going to do this, unless you tell me not to.
- Automatically taking an action for the user, without asking for permission. I’ve got this for you. Don’t worry about it.
Check it out at UXmatters: Five Degrees of User Assistance
Image source: Clippy, created by J. Albert Bowden II and licensed under CC BY 2.0
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