It seems obvious that user research is a critical part of improving the user experience of a website.
And yet, clients often have some pretty essential questions about the user research process and the results. Why should I pay for this? What good does it really do? How long does it take? Why will this make my site better?
You won't know how a website performs for your target audience until you take the time to ask them what they want from the site. And, of course, does it work?
User research helps you understand who you're designing for and how your digital product fits in with their lifestyle. Test users will help you identify both strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to make hypotheses, but be willing to question them and potentially redesign them if the results don’t support the product.
Location, location, location
Just like real estate, the locations of essential leads and buttons can determine the success of your website. If you want people to send you e-mails, you shouldn’t hide your “Contact us!” link at the very bottom of your site where users will have to really dig for it.
Find out what your users' goals are and prioritize those in the site design. Ask them basic questions about what they want to see and what they usually respond to. Your design should help the user accomplish those goals by putting the most important information where it’s easy to find without being overwhelming. It’s a balancing act.
After coming up with a prototype, user research allows a UX designer to sit down with potential users. Depending on the website and its goals, test users can be selected at random or be chosen as a part of testing with a target audience. While the test user is looking at a prototype or wireframe, the UX designer will be asking questions.
Leading questions should be avoided at all costs, for example, asking “Where is the drop down menu located?” instead of “Do you think the drop down menu should be on the right side of the screen or the left?” You want them to identify any design and usability problems instead of leading them to the destination.
It's a sprint, not a marathon
You want your users to find what they're looking for quickly, easily, and, ideally, in the least number of clicks possible. Utilizing the First Click Testing method is an essential part of making sure that the site directs users towards accomplishing their goal.
“A participant who clicks down the right path on the first click will complete their task successfully 87% of the time.
A participant who clicks down the wrong-path on the first click, tends to only successfully complete their task 46% of the time.” usability.gov
Enabling a user to start on the right path through the first click is essential to ensuring success during their entire experience. Incorporating First Click Testing into the user research process will help designers and other stakeholders figure out if the site presents information correctly and gets users to their final destination.
Find new opportunities
In addition to serving its primary function, user research can help users and clients discover new opportunities. One way of determining new opportunities is presenting not just one prototype or design, but two.
A/B Testing is another essential part of user research. A is a control variable and B is a variant. By putting the two against each other and manipulating B, users can select how changes lead them to the best paths. The results of this test might surprise you. By offering different versions of changes, you can discover how to better serve users in their current goals and potentially provide more resources and opportunities on the same website.
In addition to new designs discovered through A/B testing, new users can be discovered as well. A lot of companies know their target audience or potential user personas, but expanding the audience featured in the user research can lead to expanding the target audience itself.
So how does this all work?
Incorporating user research and user experience design is useful both to the development team and the client themselves. Working with users to discover their goals and find out how successful they are with the site is vital to building the best possible digital platform for a company.
This process can take anywhere from a few hours to weeks, depending on the scope of work and intended goals for the site. Patience is essential, and you want to be as thorough as possible throughout the process. Most importantly, listen to your users’ feedback. If empathy is a foundation of UX design, there’s nothing more empathetic than reaching out, right?