Retaining Your Sanity as a User Researcher
UXmatters – March 23, 2020
How many times have your clients or coworkers said to you, “That was great. You’re so patient! I could never do that,” after observing your user-research sessions? User researchers do need to have a lot of patience. We sit through multiple sessions, asking the participants the same questions, observing them going through the same tasks, and hearing them say the same things over and over and over again. In this column, I’ll provide some tips on how to keep your sanity and remain fresh as a user researcher.
The Perils of Client Recruiting
UXmatters – December 2, 2019
Sometimes your clients can be the best source of user-research participants. This is especially true when a client already has access to lists of customers, members, or employees. However, because your clients aren’t recruiting experts, there are some perils and pitfalls you should avoid. In this column, I’ll discuss how to avoid the potential problems that can arise when clients handle recruiting.
Fears About User Research
UXmatters – October 7, 2019
As Halloween approaches, I thought it would be fun to write about a scary subject: user research! User researchers can sometimes be a fearful, neurotic bunch, and user research can be a scary business for newcomers and even those with years of experience. In this column, I’ll delve into the scariest aspects of user research and provide some advice to calm your fears.
The Worst Ideas I’ve Heard for UX Research
UXmatters – August 12, 2019
In my 19 years of involvement in User Experience, I’ve heard some really bad ideas about how to conduct user research. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve had a few bad ideas myself. However, in this column, I’ll write about the very worst ideas I’ve ever encountered.
The Show Must Go On
UXmatters – May 6, 2019
The bottom line is: if you’re a UX researcher, you will get sick, but the show must go on. In this column, I’ll provide some advice on how to cope with and survive user research when you’re sick.
The Biggest Mistakes in User Research, Part 2
UXmatters – February 4, 2019
User research is challenging, and it’s all too easy to make mistakes. In Part 1 of this two-part series of columns, I discussed some of the biggest user-research mistakes that teams make. Now, in Part 2, I’ll describe eight additional mistakes and provide advice about how to avoid them.
The Biggest Mistakes in User Research, Part 1
UXmatters – January 7, 2019
If you break user research down to its essential steps—watching people perform their tasks and interviewing them—it sounds deceptively easy. However, as anyone who has conducted user research knows, it involves much more than that, and it’s a lot harder than it looks. In this two-part column, I’ll discuss some of the biggest mistakes people make when planning and conducting user research and how to avoid them.
Scoping User Research
UXmatters – November 5, 2018
Scoping a project’s user-research phase is a classic Catch-22 situation. Before a project even begins, you must plan the research activities and the time necessary to perform them, but you’ll rarely have enough information to make these decisions optimally until after the project begins. In this column, I’ll discuss some of the problems you may encounter when scoping user research and provide some advice about how to make scoping more accurate.
The Role of Observation in User Research
UXmatters – September 10, 2018
User research consists of two core activities: observing and interviewing. Since we’re most interested in people’s behavior, observing is the most important of these activities. In this column, I’ll first explore what observation is and the different types of observation methods, then focus on one particularly useful, yet underused UX research method: naturalistic observation.
Providing Better UX Recommendations
UXmatters – July 9, 2018
As UX researchers, we provide two main types of information: findings and recommendations. While it’s very important for your audience of stakeholders to understand the findings, it’s even more important for them to know what actions to take based on that understanding. In this column, I’ll discuss how to provide effective UX recommendations that get implemented correctly.
Avoiding Half-Assed User Research
UXmatters – May 14, 2018
There’s a fine line between discount user research and half-assed user research. Taking clever shortcuts can reduce the time and cost of doing user research—and, sometimes, conducting at least some user research is better than doing none at all. However, if you sacrifice in the wrong areas, you can end up gathering incorrect or incomplete information that can lead to poor design decisions and, ultimately, waste far more time and money than the time and money you originally saved by conducting discount user research. In this column, I’ll discuss the various shortcuts that teams try to take when walking the fine line between discount user research and half-assed user research. I’ll also explain what you should do instead of taking half-assed shortcuts.
Avoiding Common Prototyping Mistakes
UXmatters – March 5, 2018
Over the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion in new prototyping tools that allow you to simulate sophisticated interactions quickly and easily. Yet, despite these technological advances—and sometimes because of them—UX designers still make the same common mistakes when creating prototypes. In this column, I’ll discuss some of the most common prototyping mistakes designers make and how to avoid them.
Your Baby is Ugly
UXmatters – January 8, 2018
UX researchers must frequently deliver bad news to the creators of products and user interfaces. Yet, despite the fact that we deliver bad news all the time, it often feels awkward and uncomfortable. Usually, the people in the room have created the problems your research has identified. While most people take it pretty well, some won’t like what they’re hearing and will blame the messenger. So what are the best ways to deliver bad news without hurting people’s feelings? In this column, I’ll provide some tips for getting your stakeholders to face painful truths.
Overcoming That Dreaded Malady: User Research Fatigue
UXMas – December 2, 2017
You know the feeling. It’s your fifth interview for the day. Your eyes start to glaze over. Your interest fades, and you start to hope your next participant is a no-show. You’ve been struck by the dreaded research fatigue. I consulted an online medical resource to learn more about this condition. Here’s what I found.
Qualities of Effective User Researchers
UXmatters – November 6, 2017
Perhaps you’re thinking about a career specializing in user research. Perhaps you’re looking to hire a user researcher. Or perhaps you manage or work with user researchers. If so, you might be thinking about what qualities lead a person to succeed in user research. The following list of characteristics may seem daunting, but you don’t have to be a perfect ten in all of them. There are certainly areas in which I have strengths and weaknesses. We all have room for improvement. But the more of these qualities you possess, the more well suited you are for a career in user research.
Wrangling Difficult Usability Testing Participants
UXmatters – September 11, 2017
Most usability test participants are just average human beings who have somehow found themselves thrust into the odd, unnatural experience of participating in usability testing. Even though they’re not perfect, they try to do their best, and you can easily work with most participants to get the information you need. However, occasionally, you’ll stumble across a test participant who is the antithesis of perfect—the difficult test participant! When you do, stay calm and tread carefully. These people can be dangerous and unpredictable. Knowing how to handle them is key to saving test sessions with difficult participants. In this column, I’ll provide some tips on how to effectively wrangle difficult participants to salvage as much as you can from their test sessions.
Five Degrees of User Assistance
UXmatters – July 10, 2017
In the ideal interaction between humans and computers, technology handles the routine, mundane tasks at which it excels, allowing people to focus on higher-level, more important aspects of achieving their goals. In this column, I’ll consider five degrees of user assistance and discuss how they can be either helpful or a hindrance.
Prototyping: Paper Versus Digital
UXmatters – May 8, 2017
Over the last few years, many new design and prototyping tools have emerged that let UX designers create highly interactive prototypes quickly and easily, realistically simulating interactions and transitions without any coding. More tools seem to come out every day. With so many great, new prototyping tools, is doing paper prototyping still worthwhile? Have these new tools finally caught up with the advantages of paper prototypes, while transcending paper’s disadvantages? In this column, I’ll answer these questions.
Conducting Qualitative, Comparative Usability Testing
UXmatters – March 7, 2017
Although UX designers usually consider various different design directions early during projects, they typically choose one design to develop further—long before conducting the first usability test. However, testing multiple designs early in a project can provide much more useful information than testing just a single design solution. When participants can experience two or more designs during testing, they can provide better feedback. As a result, you can gain greater insight into the elements of each design that work well and those that cause problems.
Avoiding Hard-to-Answer Questions in User Interviews
UXmatters – January 9, 2017
A funny thing happens when you interview people—they answer your questions even if they don’t really know the answer. That’s why it’s so important to know what types of questions people can and cannot answer correctly. In this column, I’ll discuss some types of questions people have a hard time answering accurately.
Testing Your Own Designs
UXmatters – November 7, 2016
There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t conduct usability testing on your own designs. While this sounds like a good ideal to strive for, is it really practical? In this column, I’ll discuss whether it’s possible to test your own designs effectively and provide tips for UX designers who are either testing their own designs or having other UX professionals test their designs.
Handling the Competing Demands of Field Studies
UXmatters – August 23, 2016
For three reasons, field studies are the most difficult user-research technique to master: unpredictability, learning about unfamiliar domains, and handling competing demands. There’s not much you can do about unpredictability or the need to learn about new domains. But there are some things you can do that will help you cope with the competing demands of field studies. In this column, I’ll discuss these competing demands and provide tips on how to best handle them.
Why So Many UX Analogies?
UXmatters – July 11, 2016
Why have there been so many articles making UX analogies to such a wide range of topics over so many years? For example, UX is like: pizza, yoga, fishing, parenting, crossword puzzles, and professional wrestling. Are these articles just lightweight fluff, as the detractors claim, or is there some value in making these comparisons? What is it about user experience that lends itself to so many different analogies?
What Could Possibly Go Wrong? The Biggest Mistakes in Usability Testing
UXmatters – May 16, 2016
Usability testing can seem deceptively easy. You ask people to perform tasks using a user interface, observe what they do, and ask them questions. Sounds simple, right? However, although usability testing may seem simple and routine, anyone who has conducted a lot of testing can testify about the many problems that can occur. In this column, I’ll discuss some of the biggest mistakes you can make in doing usability testing and how to prevent them.
Excuses, Excuses! Why Companies Don’t Conduct User Research
UXmatters – March 7, 2016
Conducting user research is like eating healthy food, exercising, and getting an annual checkup. Almost everyone recognizes that it’s good to do these things, but many people fail to do them. Similarly, many companies neglect to do user research. Why? In this column, I’ll discuss the most common excuses I hear from companies and project teams that don’t conduct user research—and I’ll provide solutions to overcome them.
What to Consider When Choosing a UX Job
UXmatters – January 4, 2016
Lately, it seems like there are more jobs in User Experience than ever before. Deciding whether to accept a particular position is always an important decision, but in a hot job market like this, with so many opportunities, choosing the right company to work for is more important than ever. As with any other job opportunity, there are typical criteria to consider such as salary, benefits, company culture, and the commute. But, in this article, I’ll focus on the special considerations when you’re contemplating a new UX job.
10 User Research Myths and Misconceptions
UXmatters – November 9, 2015
It’s a fortunate time for the field of User Experience. Never before have so many people become aware of user experience and the importance of understanding users. Yet, there are still many misconceptions about how to gain an understanding of users and their needs. In this column, I’ll explain and dispel the most common myths and misconceptions about user research.
UX Generalists or Specialists?
UXmatters – September 7, 2015
This is a question that every UX professional faces at some point: is it better to be a UX generalist, or is it better to specialize? Companies often question whether a team of UX generalists or a mix of specialists is best. In this column, I’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of generalization and specialization for UX professionals and the companies that hire them.
Analysis Isn’t Cool
UXmatters – July 6, 2015
User research is cool. User research deliverables can even be cool. But sadly, to many people, analysis isn’t cool. Clients and project team members get excited by the idea of user research, they like being able to say they did user research, and they like to show off impressive user research deliverables. But the unsung-hero, who does much of the heavy lifting is analysis. Unfortunately, analysis remains underappreciated and is often overlooked.
Understanding Stakeholders Through Research
UXmatters – May 4, 2015
In user experience, we often write about and discuss conducting research to understand users and their needs, but have focused much less attention on understanding stakeholders and their needs. Designing an effective user experience requires an understanding of the needs of both the business and users and designing a solution that meets them.
Winning Over Wary Participants
UXmatters – March 9, 2015
As UX professionals, we represent users. We’re on their side and strive to improve their interactions with technology. This is a noble cause, so we’re justified in feeling like we’re the good guys—and often, people do see us that way. But what happens when your user research participants don’t exactly see it that way? What if they’re distrustful of your motives and suspect your true goals? In such situations, how can you reassure them and win them over?
17 Usability Testing Myths and Misconceptions
UXmatters – January 5, 2015
Usability testing has been around so long that it’s the most well-known and most frequently practiced user research method. So I find it amazing that there are still so many misconceptions about usability testing. In this column, I’ll debunk the most common myths and misconceptions that I’ve encountered over the years.
Recruiting User Research Participants by Email
UXmatters – November 3, 2014
Successfully recruiting user research participants by email requires a lot more skill and effort than simply sending out a bunch of email messages. Do it well, and you’ll get all the high-quality participants you need. Do it poorly, and you’ll end up with few or no participants, which could delay or even doom your study. In this column, I’ll detail some best practices and tips for successfully recruiting participants by email.
Conducting Large-Scale User Research
UXmatters – September 2, 2014
What would you do if you were asked to do an extremely large-scale user research project? What do I mean by large? How about performing more than 150 contextual inquiries? How would you handle such a large amount of information from many different user groups, whose subject matter covers such a large scope? By following these tips, you’ll be able to conduct a large-scale user research project successfully.
How User Experience Fits in Agile
D3 Infragistics – July 21, 2014
It is relatively easy to understand how user experience activities fit into the traditional development process, but many people have difficulty understanding how they would fit into an agile development process. Agile was proposed by developers as a faster and more effective way to develop software that accurately met client needs. What it did not consider, however, was how well the solution would meet user needs. Since agile debuted, there has been a lot of trial and error in attempting to fit user experience activities into the agile process, and some successful conventions have emerged. This white paper will discuss those best practices for incorporating UX into agile.
Information Displays that Change Driver Behavior
UXmatters – July 7, 2014
I recently bought a Toyota Prius and was surprised to notice my driving behavior change to a more economical style of driving. Doing some research, I learned that I wasn’t alone in this. Much has been written about “the Prius Effect”—how the Prius and other hybrid vehicles change driving behavior by providing feedback that shows drivers how their actions affect their gas mileage. In this column, I’ll discuss the Prius’s information displays, in terms of the effects they have on drivers, the usefulness of the information that they provide, and the effectiveness of their design.
Designing Solutions for Unpleasant Tasks
UXmatters – May 5, 2014
In addition to updating your finances, paying bills, and doing your taxes, life is full of unpleasant tasks such as checking credit reports, making a living will, learning about a negative medical condition, filling out a mortgage application, and many others. As designers, what can we do to ease the pain of these tasks or at least avoid adding to the unpleasantness? In this column, I’ll look at design strategies to help people get through life’s unpleasant tasks.
Better UX Internships
UXmatters – March 10, 2014
An internship is a great way to get into the field of user experience, but internships are often failures—for both the intern and the hiring company. Why? The hiring companies often don’t have a plan for how to use their interns, and interns often don’t know how they can contribute or where they fit in. In this column, I’ll discuss what interns and companies can do to ensure a better internship experience.
The Business Value of User Experience
D3 Infragistics – January 27, 2014
It’s more important than ever that products and systems provide a good user experience (UX). What was once considered a luxury or an added expense, the most successful companies now realize that focusing on the user experience is key to success and innovation. Whether you purposely try to design a good user experience or not, people will always have an experience (good or bad) when using a product or system. A good user experience leads to increased sales and cost savings, while a bad experience can have a serious impact on sales, satisfaction, and costs.
UXmatters – January 13, 2014
In the field of UX design research, we’ve borrowed and adapted many research methods from anthropology to enable us to better understand people and their needs. But we haven’t adopted one signature method of anthropology: participant observation. Participant observation studies have provided some of the most valuable insights in anthropology and sociology. So why haven’t we adopted participant observation in design research? If we look at its advantages and disadvantages, perhaps we can determine whether we can adapt this method to the needs of design research projects.
Becoming a Spy: Covert Naturalistic Observation
UXmatters – November 1, 2013
How can we observe natural behavior if our mere presence affects what people do? Don’t tell them that you’re observing them. Being covert means observing behaviors in their natural contexts without any intervention or influence by the researcher and without participants knowing that they’re being observed.
Learning from Board Games
UXmatters – September 9, 2013
Board games and applications use many of the same principles to quickly get new players and new users started. In this column, I’ll describe some of the principles that board games use to help new players learn how to play. It’s interesting to look at how a different design domain applies these principles.
Creating Better UX Research Videos
UXmatters – July 8, 2013
While presenting video clips is very effective, creating them can be very time consuming—and usually happens at a time when you are already busy analyzing data and creating deliverables under tight deadlines. However, if you’re well prepared, editing video clips can be a quick process that produces compelling videos. On the other hand, if you’re not careful, editing video clips can suck up precious time and produce boring videos that no one wants to sit through. Following the tips that I provide in this column will help you to create better research videos in less time.
User Research Methods: Has-beens and Stars
UXmatters – May 6, 2013
Of all the user research methods that have emerged over last few decades, why did some catch on and become renowned, while others are still waiting for their big break or have declined from their previous glory to has-been status? By comparing the user research methods that never really caught on to those that have become popular, we can determine what it is that makes user research techniques valuable to UX professionals.
What is the Client’s Role in User Research?
UXmatters – March 4, 2013
Successful user research involves close collaboration between clients and researchers to ensure that the research focuses on the right issues and provides acceptable recommendations. So, in this edition of my column, I’ll speak directly to the clients of researchers about the steps they should take to stay involved throughout a user research project and ensure its success.
Publishing and Presenting, Part 3: Presenting
UXmatters – January 7, 2013
In part 3 of this of this series, I’ll discuss how to generate ideas for conference topics, find the right conference at which to present, submit a proposal, and create a presentation, and what to do during a conference where you’re presenting.
Publishing and Presenting, Part 2: Publishing
UXmatters – December 10, 2012
Perhaps Part 1 of this series convinced you of the benefits of publishing, dispelled your fears, and defeated the excuses that have prevented you from publishing in the past. But how do you get started writing, and how do you get your writing published? These are the questions I’ll answer in Part 2.
Publishing and Presenting, Part 1: Yes, You Can!
UXmatters – November 12, 2012
In Part 1, I’ll discuss the benefits of publishing and presenting, as well as explore the excuses that prevent people from doing either. Publishing and presenting is a lot of work, especially when you’re already a busy UX professional. So why bother? Here are a few reasons you should.
What I Bring to UX From… James Bond
Johnny Holland – November 12, 2012
I’m the James Bond of user research. Okay, not really, but I do see parallels between what I do as a user researcher and the life of a globe-trotting, martini-sipping, womanizing, licensed-to-kill spy. Perhaps it’s simply the wishful thinking of a James Bond fan (I have all of the movies on DVD), but I find it interesting and useful to compare what I do to other lines of work.
Tips on Prototyping for Usability Testing
UXmatters – October 8, 2012
The best way to evaluate a new design is to create a prototype and give participants something concrete to interact with and react to… In this column, I’ll provide some tips that can make your usability studies more successful and help you to avoid problems when testing prototypes.
Observing User Research
UXmatters – August 6, 2012
It’s usually a great idea to invite others to observe user research. However, if you don’t manage observers properly, they can have a negative impact on your research. In this column, I discuss how to get the benefits from allowing people to observe user research, while avoiding the problems that observation can cause.
Why are Contextual Inquiries So Difficult?
UXmatters – June 4, 2012
Of all the user research techniques, I think contextual inquiry is the most difficult to perform effectively. Contextual inquiries require a difficult balance between traditional interviewing and ethnographic observation. In this article, I’ll discuss the most common problems you’ll face when conducting contextual inquiries and how to solve them.
Capturing User Research
UXmatters – April 2, 2012
You have to juggle a lot during any user research session. As if all of those competing demands on your attention weren’t enough, you also have to capture the information you receive from participants in enough detail to make sense of it later. There are various methods of doing this that you can use, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
Communicating User Research Findings
UXmatters – February 6, 2012
Conveying user research findings so people can understand them, believe them, and know how to act on your recommendations can be challenging. And providing enough detail without boring your audience is a difficult balance. But there are some best practices in communicating user research findings that can make them more effective—and even entertaining.
Career Advice for User Researchers
UXmatters – December 5, 2011
Eleven years seems like a good point at which to reflect back on the things I’ve learned over my career and pass on some advice to those who are just getting started in the field of user research.
Learning the Subject Matter
Johnny Holland – October 6, 2011
Learning the subject matter is a special challenge for consultants and freelancers who work with a variety of clients in different industries. There’s often very little time to get up to speed on the subject matter. How do you know enough to ask the right questions and understand the answers if you have no prior experience with the subject?
The Ghost Hunter’s Guide to User Research
UXmatters – October 3, 2011
How could user research have anything in common with ghost hunting? Let’s take a closer look at Ghost Hunters and lessons we can apply to user research.
Client Reactions to User Research Findings
UXmatters – August 8, 2011
Ideally, our clients are as interested in our user research findings and recommendations as we are and find them valuable. Unfortunately, we don’t always get these ideal reactions to our user research findings. Sometimes misunderstandings about our research activities and their purpose can lead to the following reactions…
Comparing User Research Methods for Information Architecture
UXmatters – June 7, 2011
In this column, I summarize and compare the latest generative and evaluative methods for IA user research. The methods I examine include open card sorting, Modified-Delphi card sorting, closed card sorting, reverse card sorting, card-based classification evaluation, tree testing, and testing information architecture with low-fidelity prototypes.
User Research is Unnatural (But That’s Okay), Part 1
UXmatters – April 5, 2011
From the perspective of a participant, user research is not very natural. We ask participants to try to act naturally in the artificial environment of a lab, or we impose ourselves on their environment and hope our presence doesn’t affect their behavior. We often forget how unnatural user research can be and what effect it can have on participants.
User Research Is Unnatural, Part II: Making User Research More Natural
UXmatters – April 18, 2011
Short of espionage or spending years living with a group of people conducting true ethnography, user research will always be somewhat unnatural. In Part II of this series, I’ll discuss some of the things you can do to make your user research seem more natural.
Why Don’t Usability Problems Get Fixed?
UXmatters – February 7, 2011
Why don’t usability problems get fixed? If we point out obvious usability problems and provide reasonable solutions for them, why doesn’t someone fix them? In this column, I’ll explore these questions and provide some tips to help ensure your recommendations get implemented.
It’s Not a Training Issue
UXmatters – December 6, 2010
What’s the best way to respond to people who think training is a solution for usability problems? Is training ever an acceptable alternative to redesign? This column will explore these questions, then explain why it’s almost always better to solve usability problems than to train people to work around them.
Recruiting Participants for Unmoderated, Remote User Research
UXmatters – September 6, 2010
This column explores the differences between recruiting for moderated and unmoderated user research. It discusses the three primary techniques for recruiting participants for unmoderated, remote user research and helps you decide which technique to choose, based on your study’s needs.
Recruiting Better Research Participants
UXmatters – July 5, 2010
In this column, I’ll share tips for writing a better screener, eliminating professional user research participants, minimizing no-shows, deciding who should do the recruiting, and what to do when the wrong people slip through your screening process.
Doing User Research Faster and Cheaper
UXmatters – May 3, 2010
Is it possible to scale back user research and still provide value? If so, how can we do things faster and cheaper?
Sustainable User Research
UXmatters – March 21, 2010
In this column, I’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of moderated and unmoderated, remote user research. Then, I’ll reflect on some deciding factors for conducting either in-person or remote user research—or both in combination.
Review of Information Architecture Evaluation Tools: Chalkmark and Treejack
UXmatters – February 22, 2010
A review of the Optimal Workshop tools, Chalkmark and Treejack.
Eyetracking: Is It Worth It?
UXmatters – October 19, 2009
Does eyetracking really provide any additional insights you would not have discovered anyway through traditional usability testing? Does the value of eyetracking outweigh its limitations? This article will discuss and answer these questions.