Demystifying User Research

A blue background with black dots arranged in a grid. A blue rectangle sits on top of the black dot grid and the text says: Demystifying User Research: An Inside Look at Mediacurrent’s Process and How You Can Get Started, Too

Why Do We Do User Research?

Sometimes clients will say that they already know their audiences’ needs and they don’t need additional input. There is often an expectation that user research needs to be an elaborate, expansive and academic process that will take more time and cost more money than they have planned.

  1. What are you looking to uncover?
  2. What will you do with the research after it’s completed?
  • Company employees are able to find information about HR benefits on the intranet site without direct assistance from the HR team
  • The value of creating an account to use the product is clear and new users are able to register quickly

What Methods of User Research Do We Do?

We are always expanding our research practice and trying new methods and platforms but there are few core tools in our toolbox that we use on virtually every project:

A blue background black dots arranged in a grid pattern. Three white boxes sit on top of the blue background. The first box says: User Interviews. The second box says: User Observation. The third box says: Prototype Testing.

User Interviews

Almost all of our projects start with user interviews where we connect with real users of a product or service and ask them about their experiences. These generally take the form of a one-on-one conversation of around 30–60 minutes.e use a pre-written set of questions to learn more about the problem we’re trying to solve with a new experience, what’s missing from a current experience or how a user generally expects to interact with the product we’re going to make.

  • Ask the participant some introductory questions about themselves so you can get to know them better as a real person.
  • Start with broad questions and then narrow the focus with follow-on questions (think: “Tell us about your experience with booking travel online…”).
  • It’s helpful to ask users to recall a prior experience (“Have you ever purchased movie tickets online? Walk us through the last time you did that.”).
  • Ask a mix of questions about the functional experience of using something (eg. “When you got to XYZ page, what were you hoping to accomplish?”) and emotional questions (eg. “When you used this feature in the past, how did it make you feel?”).
  • Try to avoid leading questions. Asking “What did you like about the product,” assumes that they liked it. Instead ask “What stood out to you about the product — good or bad?”

User Observation

Another method that we use in our research practice is user observation, a method that can take a few different forms.

Prototype Testing

One of our favorite methods of user research is prototype testing — another method that can take many forms. A prototype doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be something that’s made exclusively by a product designer. You can get great feedback from a very basic drawing on a piece of paper and use that to shape what you ultimately build.

  1. Precision: Will the prototype be low fidelity or high fidelity? A paper prototype can be high-fidelity, with different drawings or layers of paper depicting different states of the product. A Figma prototype can be low-fidelity, with gray boxes in place of images and default fonts.
  2. Interactivity: How will people interact with the prototype? Is every possible action interactive or are screens just linked together?
  3. Evolution: What stage of the design and development process does the prototype come in? Will you continue to evolve a prototype or go straight into development?

How Do You Find Users to Talk To and Test With?

Recruiting for user research is sometimes the most daunting part of the process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Conducting user research doesn’t mean that you have to talk to 50 people or achieve any kind of statistical significance in your results. You can research and test with as few as five users and get extremely useful feedback.

  • Using a client’s email newsletter
  • Social media ads
  • User recruitment panels like User Interviews

What Do You Do After You’re Done Researching?

The final step in the research process is synthesis. Take all of the inputs from your research (eg. interview and observation notes, prototype feedback, session recordings, etc.), identify any patterns or trends that you see and determine whether your initial hypotheses were validated.

  • How will this new information shape the experience we’re creating for them?
  • What changes will we make (or not make) based on the input we’ve received?

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