User research

Creating a successful user engagement depends on many things, but central component of the process which informs all others is user research. As an user experience architect my primary efforts are allocated towards understanding needs, intents, behaviors and expectations of solution audiences as to define most viable tactics to leverage the same in order to raise mutual lifetime value and reduce risks.

Impact and understanding of what it takes to conduct user research well is often underestimated. Some wrongly perceive it as time-consuming and expensive, or as just another part of the discovery stage disconnected from the actual execution process that comes afterwards. Nothing could be further away from reality.

By understanding what catalyzes prospects into customers and also what makes them return we utilize gather information to grow the solution impact.

We continually appraise behaviors and contexts through which solutions are engaged with in order to framework most suitable use case scenarios and navigational models and prioritize content and features. Through collecting and organizing behavioral data we can map the engagement experience in order to identify appropriate methods and times to target the users as well as to eliminate any frictions they may encounter.

User Experience Map

Example of mapping user engagement across different channels.

Persona development

In order to deliver relevant digital experiences, identify behavior patterns, determine influence triggers, prioritize development of functionality and bring a voice of the user to all process considerations we must first define who those users are.
I do so by combining available data such as site analytics, survey responses, affinity matrices, performance metrics etc. with research gathered through directly interviewing and testing users.

These archetypes of audience segments will provide the entire team with a point of reference for making design decisions based on user impact and not on subjective opinion. So instead of hearing “I don’t like how X is presented” we will be able to say “Persona A will find X hard to understand because of his/her …”

User research persona example

Example of an “one-page” persona.

Additionally, knowing the demographics, technology specifications etc. may be leveraged in campaign development when determining best methods for targeting and engaging users as well as in joint application design when prioritizing development of features.

But where do we get all this information?

Conducting interviews

Quality I strongly believe determines extent to which an experience designer will successfully align user expectations with business objectives is empathy. Some may argue empathy is not an acquired skill but rather an intrinsic moral value. While I agree that some predisposition towards identifying oneself with users to best understand intent is required, same only becomes practical through talking with and listening to people who will be using the solution, understanding their needs and challenging our preconceptions.

By creating effective recruitment briefs used to find the right participants and preparing discussion guides used to ensure interviews yield in desired information I set expectations for both participants and outcomes.

When conducting interviews, I allow for discussions to flow naturally as to pursue valuable information but keep the conversation on track in order to capture precise answers and enable translating collected observations into informed design decisions.

Synthesizing as a team

Once research has been concluded a large amount of information, conflicting perspectives and different ideas will need to be distilled into actionable hypotheses for testing our assumptions regarding the findings. This is a process, rather than a destination.
It is crucial for stakeholders, as well as other team members, to not only be presented with conclusions but also to understand the  thinking that led to same. Giving everyone involved an opportunity to ask questions, challenge assumptions and include their subject matter considerations will both strengthen the findings as well as improve the implementation.

Mapping the experience

In a same way that personas help us reference user impact when making design decisions, experience (or engagement, or journey) maps help us identify the context through which the users are engaging with our solutions.

This will help us target with a higher degree of specificity by being able to determine not only what user intent is but also how he or she might go about achieving the same.

 

Engagement map composed as part of user research

Identifying relevant engagement points and contexts

Affinity mapping

Also known as affinity sorting – it’s purpose is to apply structure to the information gathered through research by deconstructing then reconstructing the same in an iterative fashion. Key takeaways are singularized and participants are asked to organize the information into groups, which are then named and prioritized based on level of impact they have on business objectives.
Tactics for accomplishing those objectives are then established by reaching consensus between stakeholders and ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Mental models

A similar user research method to apply structure may be achieved through construction of mental models. Extracting common tasks and approaches taken in accomplishing them from the research data; and then identifying common and connected groups in order to appraise direct user needs against product’s or service’s content and functionality.

Hypotheses as user research outcome

Often user research concludes in a presentation of findings to stakeholders as a series of artifacts, documentations and actionable recommendations; that’s the easy way out. Purpose of all the research we have completed and documented is not to prove to anyone that we understand the audience nor even how to best engage them but rather to provide a purposeful design direction. Therefore, rather than making recommendations, a better approach is to make assumptions.

Example of a generalized format which may be used is

By providing audiences with X we will achieve Y. We’ll know that our assumption was correct when we see measurable feedback in form of Z.

Regardless if we started our research in an inductive or deductive fashion, concluding with assumptions will challenge and refine or create ideas for humbly proposing a course of action to connect our research with execution processes as means of moving from findings to opportunities.

So instead of esoteric recommendations, visionary ideas, or even suggested principles, deliberate construction of explicit, tangible and testable hypotheses will provide us with a compass we can use to orient our audience learnings as they engage with the solution, thus providing an opportunity to refine and grow.

 
 

Let's work together

If you have a project that will benefit from my experience and are impressed with what you see in my portfolio, contact me to discuss how I can add value to your team.