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Why User Research and Why Right Now?

Save yourself time, money, and sleepless nights by building products users want the first time around.

Can’t I just… you know... skip user research?

Sorry, but no you can’t 🤷‍♀️. Research isn’t an add-on or a nice-to-have, it’s an essential part of the product development process. Most of us do more research about which restaurant we’ll go to tonight than we do when creating a new design. Co-founder of Mule Design, Erika Hall, describes this contrast perfectly:

We do a whole lot of research in our personal lives. While comparing DSLR camera models or banana bread recipes is certainly not the same as user research, we should be putting a similar amount of effort into researching the products and services we create. 

Why is UX research important?

User research is one of the very best ways to be sure you’re creating the thing users actually want, and to be sure you and your team aren’t leaving opportunities on the table before and during a build, and after launch.

UX research can help you speed up your learning process, saving money and time on each project. There may be gaps in your understanding of your customers, your product’s place in the market, or even what you should build next. User research can help you understand these gaps and identify the best way to fix them. 

Even though user research is an essential part of developing new products and services, many teams avoid doing it properly or skip it entirely. Arin Bhowmick, Global Vice President & Chief Design Officer at IBM, compared it to the way we put off our least favorite chores:

Many people seem to think of research as an inherently difficult thing, and then avoid it like the plague, despite knowing it needs to be done.  In reality, avoiding research rarely makes things easier—the time and effort you save at the beginning of a project gets eaten up later on, when you have to go back and fix things that don’t work the way you hoped. 

📖 UX Research Field Guide - Getting Started with User Research

In this post, we’ll outline some of the reasons UX research should be at the top of your to-do list, as well as the consequences of skipping user research. 

You may not know your customers as well as you think you do

It’s true. Even though you spend all day thinking about how to do things for your users, you may not know how or why they make decisions as well as you think you do. Don’t believe us? A study from Bain showed that while 80% of companies believe they provide a “superior experience” to their customers, only 8% of their customers agree. 

Percentage of companies who deliver "superior experiences" (80%) vs. the percent of their customers who agree (8%). Delivery gap highlighted between two bars.

So who’s right here? The customers of course! They’re the ones who actually get to decide if your experience is “superior” or not, since they interact with it. 

Many people assume that since they work on something for a user, they have enough insight to guess what that user will like. But that’s a dangerous assumption to make.

“It’s only natural to assume that everyone uses the Web the same way we do, and—like everyone else—we tend to think that our own behavior is much more orderly and sensible than it really is.” — Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think.

The ideas that you and your team have in the collective hive mind about how you want users to interact with your product, how you believe users will interact with your product, or what users want out of your product in the first place, might not have as much bearing in reality as you’d hope.

User research can help you (and your team!) validate whether or not your hypotheses about what users want are accurate. This can lead to more aligned work throughout the entire company, since your collective idea of what the user wants is based on outside input instead of what each team member thinks. 

Comic showing office worker. First panel "We interviewed hundreds of users and turned all of their suggestions into features". Panel 2: "As it turns out, every user we talked to was a complete idiot and their dumb suggestions ruined our product". Panel 3: "In hindsight, we probably should have talked to people who work outside of this building."

UX research can save you money and help avoid technical debt 

If the collective joy of learning what your users really want isn’t quite enough motivation, maybe some cold, hard cash will spark your interest . Because doing user research at the beginning of your product development cycle can actually save you money. That’s right, research can be the key to saving some of that precious budget.

There are loads of stats out there that show investment in UX is penny-for-pound worth the effort. From Fast Company:

There’s even more research showing that engineers sometimes spend up to half their time undoing work that’s already been done, which is costly and frustrating and a fact no one likes. Fixes can cost as much or more as the original work.

💰 Showing the Value of User Research

According to the Interaction Design Foundation:

So, by spending a little more time on UX and research at the beginning of your project, you can cut down the time you spend on your project, both now and in the future. 

We’re not just talking about individual project budgets either: the salaries of your team members—from product designers to customer success managers—are much better spent creating new things and optimizing existing experiences, rather than fixing old problems that arise from bad assumptions about what your users need.

For example, let's say your developers spend 40 hours building a new website (a low estimate, to be safe). If you do no user research or usability testing, it’s likely you’ll have to go back and correct some mistakes later. This could mean your developers spend up to 20 hours fixing the problems, which they could have done within the original scope. Now, you’ve not only lost precious time, you’ve spent an extra $720 paying developers to fix an avoidable problem. 

Animation of how much money you could spend on developers. At $36 an hour * 10-20 hours of extra time spent reworking = up to $720 wasted reworking solutions.

What happens if I skip user research?

The whole world explodes 💥. No, just kidding. But it’s not a user-friendly picture, that’s for sure. Skipping user research can lead to bad user experiences and products that don’t fit the market. It can mean you’re creating something without a true understanding of who that thing is for or how it fits into real-world scenarios.

“Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.” - Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

💬 31 User Research and UX Quotes to Inspire You & Your Team

A bad UX could leave money on the table

A bad user experience can not only lead to frustrated customers, it can cause you to miss huge opportunities. Jared Spool, co-founder of Center Centre, has one of the best stories about how fixing a bad user experience can provide big rewards—to the tune of $300 million.

He was working on a project for an e-commerce client. They wanted to improve their conversion rate, but had no idea there was one button standing in their way. The checkout form had two fields—Email and Password—and two buttons—Login and Register. With some usability testing, Jared uncovered that users didn’t want to provide registration information before checking out with their item. Plus, returning users frequently forgot their password and would need to reset it before checking out. 

The solution? Jared and the designers removed the “Register” button. They allowed users to create an account during checkout if they wanted to instead. 

The results? The number of customers purchasing went up by 45%. In the first year, the e-commerce site saw an extra $300 million

Animation of a register button becoming a checkout button, resulting in a 45% increase in # of orders and $300 million in extra sales

You may create something people don’t really want

“There are no bad ideas,” encouraging managers will say. And while this may hold true in a brainstorm session, the fact is that not all ideas will resonate with users.

Without research, it’s easy to act on “good ideas” the wrong way, ultimately creating something no one really needs or wants. And building something that people don’t want to buy is a surefire way to fail. 

Here at User Interviews, we learned this lesson the hard way. Did you know that we didn’t even start out as a user research company? It’s true— our founders initially got together to create an app that allowed users to access hotel amenities from their phones. After that idea didn’t work out, our founders knew they had to pivot. So they brainstormed fresh ideas and decided to go out and validate them with user research this time around. 

The only problem? User research participants were pretty hard to come by. They were either too expensive to source with agencies, or too hard to contact through social media and other channels. 

That was a lightbulb moment, and it’s how our founders decided to create User Interviews in order to make it easy for teams to discover and embrace user insights, rather than relying on best guesses or intuition. 

📈 Pivoting a Startup with User Research

You can think of user research and testing a bit like bumper lanes in a bowling alley. It’ll keep each project running relatively on its own center, and prevent it from slipping irretrievably into a gutter. UX research is the most direct route to obtaining the information and insights that will allow you to deliver a more valuable user experience—which is why we’re all here, after all.

Luckily, with User Interviews, finding research participants is a lot easier than it used to be. We’ll even give you 3 participant credits for free when you launch your first research project—so there’s really no excuse for not validating your ideas with real, live users. 

How do I get started with user research?

User research doesn’t have to take a long time or tons of effort. It can be a quick and easy task once you understand how to conduct good research and store it properly. 

The following resources will help you master the basics, do more efficient research, and make more informed decisions in 2021: 

Getting started with user research

📖 UX Research Field Guide - Getting Started with User Research

🗺️ How Do I Choose The Right UX Research Method?

Leveling up your skills

💰 Showing the Value of User Research 

🙋‍♀️ How to Save Money on User Research Recruiting

📈 How to Track the Impact of Your UX Research

Speeding up the user research process

🏃‍♂️ 6 Strategies for Doing Faster User Research—Without Sacrificing Validity

Carrie Boyd
Former Content Writer at UI

Carrie Boyd is a UXR content wiz, formerly at User Interviews. She loves writing, traveling, and learning new things. You can typically find her hunched over her computer with a cup of coffee the size of her face.

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