10 Tips for Getting UX Research Off the Ground

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Michelle Lotia joined us at ProductTank to share her top 10 tips for getting started with UX research, based on her experience building the User Research function at Notonthehighstreet.com from the ground up. While building the function itself, she was also working to educate the organisation about the process, value and collaboration possibilities that having a dedicated user research resource could provide, so she has some excellent insights to share, and real-world examples to emphasise those insights.

1. Define UX Research

Michelle defines this as observing how and why people interact with products so we can make products not just more usable, but more valuable too. It’s important to cement this definition within the organisation so everyone has a common understanding of what UX research is and what kind of questions it can answer.

2. Collaborate with market research on strategic work

The distinctions between UX Research, Market Research and Optimization can get a little blurred, and while it’s important to be clear about who’s working on what, it’s also important to collaborate with the other research teams. Especially when it comes to market research it shows that UX research can be strategic, not just tactical while bringing the UX focus into the process as early as possible – before a new market or new product is even considered.

3. Create an optimisation feedback loop

UX and optimisation both do testing but they test different things. Optimisation is often focused on multi-variate or AB testing, and while it’s a powerful tool to optimise the details, you need to add the qualitative layer of UX research to understand why your users are behaving the way they are – and it might help find even bigger wins than just optimisation can do alone.

4. Start small and achievable

When starting a new research function it’s important to show value and earn trust as early as possible, so Michelle advocates starting on a current pain point and starting with a small and achievable project. It’s all too easy to want to leap into a big, high-profile project to demonstrate how much impact UX research could have, but more often than not you’re going to be setting yourself up for an impossible challenge.

5. Research light – Insight, not deliverables

UX Research has to be light and efficient to deliver the value so quickly – it’s not helpful to come up with insights two weeks after the business needs them. They key is to maintain a tight focus on what you’re actually trying to provide to your team, and that is insight, not necessarily complete specs and next steps.

6. Get your team involved in the research

Getting the whole team involved is not just more efficient, but it’s also a very effective way to bring insights directly into the team. Having an in-house research resource is great but it can come at the cost of team engagement. To avoid this pitfall, Michelle brought the testing back in-house, setting up a simple lab for both in-person testing and remote testing, where the whole team could be involved in running the research and coming up with both the insights and solutions needed.

7. Prioritise

You can’t do research on everything, and it isn’t even the best way to answer every question the business has, so it’s important to prioritise your efforts. Ask yourself how the research would be used and by who, how it supports the product roadmap, and how sure are you that action will be taken off the back of the research.

8. Shift from making it usable to making it valuable

Early on, UX research teams tend to focus on usability, and it’s easier to quickly show value this way. However, it’s important to use those early wins to build up an appetite for more strategic UX research that can provide more context, more strategic insights, and open up new opportunities for the business to build value.

9. Some research is better than no research

If you’re not doing any testing today, it’s important to start somewhere, even if it’s just simple guerrilla testing or online user testing. If you don’t have dedicated user research resources or the time to do it yourself, it’s worth hiring an agency to help get the process started and make sure you’re getting the insights you need before you build the function in-house (see above regarding showing value quickly!).

10. Empathise

This can’t be said enough, and while as a researcher it might be easy to remember to show empathy for your users, it’s also important to show empathy for your team. Some team members might feel their creativity is being limited, others might feel like they’re doing a bad job – so it’s important to be patient with them and involve them in the process of discovery.

If you’re looking to start a user research function – or even doing some UX research yourself – you need to watch this talk for all the details and examples behind these great tips.

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