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In an ever-crowded market where consumers have millions of products to choose from every single day, what separates the good from the mediocre comes down to one thing: user experience. This is why UX research is so instrumental in creating products that people use and love.

To get the most out of user research and understand how to best translate your findings into product improvements, there are some best practices to keep in mind. Let’s dive into the top five.

1. Understand Your User

Understanding the needs and behaviors of your users is crucial to building a product that people actually want to use. This is exactly what user-centered design is based on. But how do you go about doing that? 

In order to ensure your users are front and center, you need to really get to know them. Who are they? What do they need? What are their daily lives like?

In the ideation phase, use qualitative research to understand your users well and develop empathy for them without a specific outcome in mind. Interviews, studies, and 1:1 time allow you to gain insight into their behaviors and desires. 

Start With Their Needs

“When the time is right, you can rely on that information as a starting point as it gives you a sense of where the opportunities are — and therefore, an awareness of what you might build to address real needs,” Lija Hogan explains in her talk titled UX Research = UX Innovation

Building personas and getting to know some of your potential users on a personal level allows you to get outside of your own internal bias and preferences, so you can focus on what they want and need.  

Adobe says, “By involving potential users from the start, you can ensure there’s actually a demand for your product and position it better in the market. Placing people firmly at the center of your process and putting yourself in their shoes is the only way to design something that’s relevant and a delight to use.”

2. Look for the Unexpected

After you’ve moved into the quantitative stage of measuring your users’ behavior, there’s a tendency to want to focus your insights on the majority. Of course, that’s important, but it’s imperative to remember that everyone doesn’t behave the same. 

Hogan puts this into context nicely, “It might be that 75% of people start at the homepage, hit a category page, and go straight to a product detail page. But what did the other 25% do? Why? What can we learn from that behavior?”

Be Open to Anything

Understanding how everyone uses the product can often lead to wonderful and unexpected insights that give rise to the development of new features. Sometimes these lead to a product’s most innovative features. 

For example, in UX Research: Doing Right By Your User Rich Fulcher explains how when developing a product for beginner bloggers, he discovered that some people were very interested in using voice dictation versus actual typing, which is something he would have never thought to explore. This inspired him to build the product’s most interesting and impressive feature, giving him a huge competitive advantage. 

The whole goal of UX research is to uncover what you don’t know. Be open to all possibilities, even when they might seem disconnected from your initial assumptions.

3. Do Research at Every Stage

The biggest differentiator in building impactful products that delight users is investing in the right kind of UX research at every stage of the project. While it’s best to conduct the majority of your research at the beginning of the project –– so you can make sure you’re on the right path –– it’s also important to conserve some budget and resources to perform research later in the project as well. 

The Nielson Norman Group, the leaders in research-based user experience, has a great chart that outlines UX activities in the product and service design cycle. 

4. Start Small When Testing

Once you’re in the refinement and iteration period, usability testing can help guide you in terms of what needs to be fixed and what features need to be added. However, usability testing doesn’t need to be a huge undertaking. 

Many people think that you need a large sample size to uncover issues with a prototype, but that’s not actually the case. The Nielson Norman Group says that five users are all you need –– you’ll discover the same amount of usability issues as you would if you had more participants. 

“This answer has been the same since I started promoting “discount usability engineering” in 1989. Doesn’t matter whether you test websites, intranets, PC applications, or mobile apps. With five users, you almost always get close to user testing’s maximum benefit-cost ratio,” says Jakob Nielsen.

Once you’re able to understand how people are using your product, you become armed with the information to make your product better.

5. Double Down on Communication 

Usability tests, quantitative and qualitative research, studies, and understanding your users are all important in conducting informative UX research. However, in order to benefit from these methodologies, you need to properly translate your findings to the developers working on the product. Nailing this process comes down to good old fashioned communication. 

UX researchers thrive when they’re able to translate the needs of their users into technical language that the developers and product teams can understand. When you speak both the language of the people using your product and the people building your product, you have a recipe for success. 

UX Research is Part of UX Design 

UX research is a fascinating field that bridges the gap between what users want and need, and what products and features will bring value and delight to people’s lives. 

UX design is a critical component of bringing this to fruition, since this is where the needs of users are transformed into the design of a product –– i.e. the way a user interacts with that product. UX designers are viewed as the “voice of the user,” which is why research is a large component of what they do. 

If you’re interested in learning more about user research and UX design, and would like to break into a field that has massive career and earning potential, take a look at Udactiy’s UX Designer Nanodegree program

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