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How User Research Builds Better Products

November 10, 2015

Great apps start by acknowledging the most important person in the process: the end user. You can release what seems to be the best idea into the wild and still watch it fail if you don't take user needs into consideration during design and development.

Think about the people who make up your target market and what type of experience you want to provide for them. Understand your target market’s problems and needs, which you’ll discover by conducting user research and testing. Directly address a single problem that’s common among your users, and solve that problem in a way that provides clear value to them.

Building for the Experience Economy

Think of how many companies provide a service as a catalyst but not the main focus. Instead, their services are a means to an end - a gateway to an experience. Uber isn’t selling a private car service; it’s selling a streamlined experience that enables customers to book a ride with the touch of a button. Brands like Uber know that their entire success banks on customers having a frictionless first experience, remembering it, and coming back to recreate it. We are in the midst of the experience economy, and companies like Uber and Airbnb know that their brands extend far past the interactions happening on-screen.

The first interaction a user has with your product sets the stage for the rest of that brand-customer relationship and continues to color every interaction he'll have with your brand in the future. As such, it’s crucial to understand exactly who your audience members are and how you can better solve their needs with your product.

Provide a Tailored User Experience

Consider your users' needs and use those to shape the way your product functions. A user-friendly interface doesn’t just mean that it’s easy to use. It means that it takes the user’s needs into consideration first. Keep the minimum lovable product (MLP) in mind here: what can you do to make sure your user base loves your product? Having a product that’s “good enough” just isn’t enough.

To make your product lovable, focus on the core experience that users will have. Solving many small problems adequately will help your users, but solving one big problem really well will delight them. While your product may be able to do many things, that won't make it lovable. A lovable product will go the extra mile to please a user. Be wary of introducing new features to your product without considering the impact they could have on the core experience.

Use the Right Tools

Before building a product, it’s essential to spend time conducting research in order to learn more about potential users and their needs. Your chosen tools will depend on your research goals. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Craigslist helps you reach out to a broad audience to recruit for interviews.

  • Ethnio provides live recruitment services that include audience screening.

  • ScreenFlow is a helpful screen capture tool that you can use to record interactions with your product.

  • UserZoom is an automated, customizable UX testing and remote usability testing tool.

  • Typeform provides you with beautifully simple user surveys for quantitative data collection.

  • Intercom lets you communicate with current users directly, which is great for qualitative data collection.

User research and testing are essential components of the product development process. You're able to make more informed decisions when you're looking at actual user data and feedback. When working with our own clients, we always incorporate user research into the consulting process if they haven't already done it or plan to do it. If you skip this stage, you could end up with a very expensive mistake: a product that doesn't solve any of its users' problems.

Know Your Goals

Knowing your research goals is even more important than having the right tools because the data you collect can only benefit you if you know what to do with it. Smashing Magazine has a thorough sample UX plan that you can model yours after.

When soliciting feedback, identify the right audience and target users who match your demographic criteria rather than those who are only interested in an incentive. Interviewing users of competing products can often be revealing because you'll get a sense of what competitors might be doing wrong and have the opportunity to improve your own product. When Slack began building the first version of its product, it took a look at the most-requested features of existing competitor HipChat and built those first.

Optimize for Success

When conducting research, ask questions with the goal of revealing consumers' biggest unmet needs. You'll know that you've built a great product when these needs are met and users won't stop raving about it.

If your product doesn’t prove to solve the problem as well as it should, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and refine your strategy prior to any further development. Focus on developing a core purpose for your product that you can later build on. Hone in on your ideal users, and build something that will delight them with its simplicity. Everything else can wait.

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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