User research is a critical step in designing successful digital products and services. It helps you understand your target audience’s needs, goals, behaviors, and pain points, allowing you to create user-centered designs that meet their needs and exceed their expectations. However, not all user research is created equal. Depending on the question you want to answer, you may need to use different research methods and techniques. In this article, we will discuss the different types of user research and how to choose the right method for your specific question.
The Importance of Having a Specific Question
User research for the sake of user research is aimless and unsatisfying. It’s like wandering in the dark without a clear destination. In our experience, the best research projects start with a specific question or problem that needs to be solved. This could be anything from understanding your target audience’s needs and pain points to evaluating the effectiveness of your current design. When you have a clear question or problem statement, you can focus your research efforts and get more valuable insights.
Examples of Specific Research Questions
Here are some examples of specific questions or problem statements that can guide your user research efforts:
- Our business/organization has evolved. We’d like to take this opportunity for a redesign to hear from our target audience/internal stakeholders.
- This KPI/business objective is really important to our business, and we haven’t been hitting our targets. How do we know that the designs we put in front of them will move the needle on this initiative?
- We’ve been hearing the same feedback from our target audience/internal stakeholders, and we have a hunch about how to solve it, but we’d like to confirm and/or test it for effectiveness.
For instance, in the redesign of GA4GH’s website, our client stakeholders had been hearing some of the same general feedback from different groups of its varied target audiences. The website wasn’t doing enough to comprehensively serve the needs of all of its audiences. With this pain point in mind, GA4GH knew they could be doing more to serve their audiences, so our research focused on understanding the needs and pain points of today.
Choosing the Right Methodology
Once you have a specific question, it’s time to think about the best methodology. The type of research you choose will depend on the nature of your question and the goals of your research.
Questions aimed at learning something completely new require generative research. Think of it as generating data about the goals, needs, and behaviors of your target audience to inform design decisions. Generative research is typically conducted early in the design process to help designers understand the problem space and generate ideas.
Examples of generative research methods include:
- User interviews
- User surveys
- Contextual inquiries
- Diary studies
Generative research can lead to artifacts like customer journey maps, user personas, and more tactical design decisions.
Questions that seek to test require evaluative research because we’re evaluating the effectiveness of the design—either in its current state or our new designs. Evaluative research is typically conducted later in the design process to test and validate design decisions.
Examples of evaluative research methods include:
- Usability testing
- Tree testing
- A/B testing
- Click testing
The timing of your evaluative research depends on the question. For example, if you’ve heard that users are having trouble adding products to their carts, you might want to consider usability testing with the existing design. On the flip side, if you want to ensure that users can complete certain tasks with the new design, conduct usability testing after wireframes.
Hypothesis or Problem Statement
Even better research projects start with a hypothesis or problem statement. A hypothesis can be as simple as one or several if-then statements. For example, “If we apply a consistent content taxonomy to ABC’s blog, then users might be more inclined to read ABC’s content, see ABC as a thought leader, and subscribe to their newsletter.” A problem statement, on the other hand, describes a problem that needs to be solved. For example, “Our website’s conversion rate is low, and we need to identify the causes and solutions to improve it.”
Starting with a hypothesis or problem statement can help you focus your research efforts and generate insights that are more relevant to your specific problem. It also helps you to measure the success of your design changes against a specific goal or metric.
In conclusion, the type of user research you need depends on the question you want to answer. Starting with a clear question or problem statement can help you focus your research efforts and get more valuable insights. Generative research is ideal for learning something new, while evaluative research is best for testing and validating design decisions. A hypothesis or problem statement can help you measure the success of your design changes against a specific goal or metric.
Why is it important to have a specific question when conducting user research?
Having a specific question helps you focus your research efforts and get more valuable insights that are relevant to your specific problem.
What is the difference between generative and evaluative research?
Generative research is used to generate data about the goals, needs, and behaviors of your target audience to inform design decisions. Evaluative research, on the other hand, is used to test and validate design decisions.
What are some examples of generative research methods?
Some examples of generative research methods include user interviews, user surveys, contextual inquiries, and diary studies.
What are some examples of evaluative research methods?
Some examples of evaluative research methods include usability testing, tree testing, A/B testing, and click testing.
What is a hypothesis, and how can it help with user research?
A hypothesis is a statement that predicts the relationship between two or more variables. Starting with a hypothesis can help you focus your research efforts and measure the success of your design changes against a specific goal or metric.