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5 Categories of Research for the App Development Process

March 16, 2015

When shaping the User Experience (UX) of your app, common sense, logic and best practices only go so far. Each app is different, solving a different problem for a different set of users. As experts it can be easy to focus on the solution, forgetting about the problem—which can lead to costly oversights.

“We had new features in mind that we thought were cool, and we spent more than a year building them only to find nobody wanted it,” said Kishan Gupta, founder of UXCam. “Now we have taken the lean startup approach of 'build,measure,learn' and have everyone in the team review data and do customer support. This has allowed all of us to know where the highest ROIs are, and be aligned on the product road map saving us huge time, effort, and money.”

By including the voice of your users in the design and development process, you avoid relying on guesswork. Here are five ways to conduct user research and involve users in the process.

User Interviews

One-on-one conversations are great when it comes to gaining a deep understanding of target users’ motivations and perspectives. Good user interviews involve asking the right people open questions. The right people to interview are those who match the target users of the app. Open questions help the interviewee open up, and can be as simple as asking what he or she finds difficult.

Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiries involve interviewing and observing the user where he or she encounters the problem, usually a workplace. The information gathered during contextual inquiries is very reliable, because it comes directly from the source. This often leads to new perspectives on the problem and ultimately, the solution.


Surveys can be used for a range of feedback gathering purposes, from finding out why people use an app, to quantifying results from contextual inquiries and user interviews. Good, reliable results only come from well-designed and written surveys. Questions need to be easy to understand with a logical flow.

Focus Groups

Group discussions help uncover feelings, attitudes and ideas. Focus groups give you a chance to watch people build on, or argue with, other peoples’ thoughts. That type of discussion doesn’t happen during one-on-one interviews.

Usability Testing

During usability testing, users interact with a version of your app, often a prototype, and attempt to perform designed tasks. Measuring the results of the tasks, whether the user failed, succeeded, or partially succeeded, is important to quantifying problems with UX. This is a great way observe how well the UX matches up with users’ expectations. The information gathered from usability testing will help steer UX design.

Different methods provide varying levels of information and are suitable to different stages of the project. While a survey may show how a user perceives your app’s difficulty, it doesn’t compare to a contextual inquiry to illustrate exactly how a user engages with the app. Make sure to budget time for various forms of UX research into your app development process: By incorporating a combination of user researching methods, you’re able to gather more genuine data and end your reliance on unproved guesswork and assumptions.

is a Yeti Alum. He designs and builds digital products to help solve meaningful problems. You'll probably find him behind the lens of his camera. Follow Mike on Twitter.

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5 Categories of Research for the App Development Process
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