‘I feel as though I’m cheating…’
A client once said this to me after watching his very first focus group session. The concept of getting answers to questions from real potential users was foreign to him. This comment didn’t come as a surprise to me as many other clients I’ve worked with have shared a similar sentiment; that they were ‘cheating’ by either talking to their users or by watching real users interact with their products.
It’s not cheating. Talking to your users and learning from them should be part of your design process and is certainly not something you should be afraid to do. The only thing you should be concerned with is whether you’re asking users the right questions, at the right time, and in the right way. How you should engage users in the design process really depends on where you are in your product development lifecycle.
Here are a few ways in which you are able to do this:
This is likely the ‘user research’ method you are most familiar with. It’s the one we see most often in movies or on TV, where a group of people are seated in a boardroom like space and are asked questions by a facilitator while the interested party observes from the other side of a two sided mirror. This technique is best used early on in product development, at a stage where you might be innovating or creating novel concepts. It’s useful to gauge what user adoption might look like and what barriers to use might exist.
User Interviews / Contextual Inquiry
Conducting user interviews before designing a product is a really good idea. It’s an opportunity to gather deep insights into user flows and user expectations that can help determine or hone your design requirements. Typically, user interviews take place early on in your product development process.
When you do these interviews / observations where the product or service is used, that’s even better. This technique is called contextual inquiry; it provides the benefit of learning about the environment as well as specific product use.
There are several forms of user testing that can take place at various stages of product development but generally, you want to conduct a test once you actually have a product to test with. The product doesn’t have to be in ‘ship shape’ but could be in the early prototype phases; you can even test using paper prototypes! You should definitely consider conducting more than one user test as your prototype and product become more robust.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each method outlined above. If you’re thinking about talking to your users and aren’t sure how, get in touch with an expert, we can help guide you and determine what method best suits the situation you are in.
So let’s go ahead, get out there, and talk to your users -‘cheat’ your way into user informed, intentional designs!