User research can make or mar a design process. We think people can only understand people; so we being users can read users well. This is where we go wrong and end up ruining the user research.

The truth is our user experience doesn’t count at all and the fact that we too are humans doesn’t have any weight. User research can be a disaster if there is a poor understanding of the process, lousy preparation, absence of recording, etc.

These cases aren’t a big deal as they can be easily resolved and won’t dare occur again. Our brains are what pose a real danger. This is where super control is required. On the face of it, user research sounds easy i.e. observing users perform their tasks and interview them.

But in reality, it takes a user researcher much more than that and it is tougher than it appears. Another challenging aspect is to keep the research unbiased. Every researcher must be careful of some of the common mistakes in the design thinking process.

This article will illuminate the biggest blunders people commit while planning and performing user research and how to keep them at bay-

Irrational Users

People are far away from rationality as you’ll find them scrolling on Instagram or Facebook even though there is other important stuff to do. Some of our decisions are even beyond the scope of our understanding.

And we are not to blame for it. It is our ‘lizard brain’ – the old part of our brain that corresponds to survival, anger, and fear. Ancient times have passed but the ‘reptile’ is still present. Our lizard brain represents our irrational side which can’t be dealt with by us.

From the product point of view, it shows the unpredictable behavior of the user.  And this, in turn, gives a chance to turn irrationality in your favor. After all, we all use red color to mark significant elements, don’t we?

It is best if we accept things the way it is instead of trying to change the circle into a square. Keep a distant watch and at the same time record and analyze. If you find something weird and away from logic, stick to the research process and don’t induce patterns unnecessarily where there isn’t anything at all.

Considering a user’s irrational approach, it is difficult to find a rule of thumb for the products that will make customers happy. Always try to explore ideas and get insights on user behavior.

Inaccurate Answers

In order to extract answers from the users, we need to put in a lot of time and effort. But why so much trouble? Irrationality comes here too. Users in the first place aren’t themselves clear with their list, what they want, what they are looking for.

But still, they will try their level best to give information which is true for them. Maybe, just to make us happy. In order to get real information, firstly we need to be true to ourselves. If the product is perfect by all means, then you get easy access regardless of the results.

If you are looking for real insights, remember, users don’t know exactly about the desired product; that is your job to find out. They might think they are aware of it; still, you are the one responsible. Secondly, if you are searching for true answers, study behavior depends on metrics and see to it, not listen to it.

The best thing to happen while collecting answers is to have experienced users that can open their ideas. To have them is a matter of luck as the information gathered could prove really beneficial.

Communication Barriers

Language can pose barriers while exchanging information. Communication can always be misinterpreted. Yes, familiar words can be categorized, understood but the meaning can have a different context. Everything influences ideas and approach- education, nationality, past experience, mood, etc.

To find a solution here, first of all, remember that we all are unique. Users can’t match the level of your awareness. Miscommunications can be sorted by getting thorough feedback. Brief pieces of information are simple to decode and difficult to tamper.

Solutions:

We can avoid complications if we ask apt questions and refrain from inferring answers. Go ahead and get extensive information about your users, their habits and even hobbies. Don’t question them about their idea of an ideal product rather ask more about their personal interests and choices.

Biases and assumptions should be checked so as to remove all hurdles. Be systematic and prepare a quick questionnaire consisting of age, educational qualification and any experience with the product of the same type. Include questions that will enhance clarity but at the same time, make it concise.

Avoid asking the leading question as they revolve on your opinion. In case of confusion, don’t construe. It is better to explore and go for a detailed version. Note- don’t go for foolproof options that can manage everything. Try to be random in the selection even if the product enjoys a set audience.

This will make the research more authentic and reduce chances of selection bias.

Data Shortage

Biases can tumble down everything. All problems occur because we are biased all the time! We are the first ones to jump to articles like ‘How to earn your first million in 20 years’ which should actually be renamed as ‘How to lose all your money in 20 years’.

The harsh truth is that unconsciously we all think that there is sufficient data for taking decisions and deriving conclusions. But the crucial part is under wraps.

For user research, we got to be concerned with the experience of the related users and leave behind the ones who have no part. Surprisingly, the lack of information is itself significant information. In such a situation, unfortunately, there isn’t any one-size-fits-all approach.

Solutions:

In order to pull lost users, we must mix and match different types of analyses. Firstly, state what all are the issues hindering the progress of the product. Metrics can make things much clear in this regard. Know about the first time experience of users.

Use suitable questions, random selection, and repeated research to make sure that the data is accurate. Also, there could be some serious bugs in the product that you might not know. In such a scenario, a user must be enabled to shoot feedback or report an issue from every feature of the product conveniently. 

Don’t forget to examine every feedback thoroughly and approach the user to obtain more details. In case you are successful in analyzing the experience of a lost user, the research might yield complete results.

Mixing With Usability Testing

90% of people tend to confuse user research with usability testing. They start to perform tests on their product or a prototype to ascertain where people are facing problems. Yes, usability testing is a vital type of user research, but it is just one method out of the rest.

Solutions:

There is no need to have a product or a prototype to conduct qualitative user research. Qualitative research can begin with the onset of an idea or a market or even a single potential user. Actually, you must know your user and user’s troubles much before you start establishing anything.

Interviewing prospective users about their troubles and their experience of other products will ensure success in the first thing that you create. That said, usability testing keeps doing its rounds.

Blinded With Metrics

People have a wrong notion with A/B testing that it tests anything and everything that comes to your mind. They imagine a world where engineers calculate feasible options and bring forth the best of the lot.

Solutions:

However, this is not the real world. A/B testing clearly takes up testing of new designs as against each other or with some form of control. It doesn’t specify how you generate those design ideas.

The best way to deliver commendable products is to read your users and find the issues that you can tackle and further use reliable design processes to solve them. When you incorporate A/B testing, you are not modifying anything about the process.

You are merely concerned with metrics as to how these changes impact real user behavior. You can’t predict what you’ll test with A/B testing. That is the reason you can’t ignore design. By no chance, A/B testing can replace it. It can only show a design’s influence, but it can’t substitute design at all.

Ignoring Client And Stakeholders

Sometimes it gets annoying when your clients and stakeholders argue that user research isn’t required as they already know a lot about their users and can provide you with relevant information.

Solutions:

However, it is a blunder for researchers if they completely ignore what the clients and stakeholders already know about their users. Quite a few times, clients and stakeholders prove to be a great source of information for knowing about the product domain and basic knowledge about user groups and the tasks they undergo.

Such stakeholder knowledge is vital in conducting a fruitful user research study. You must try to learn as much as possible from your clients and stakeholders by organizing workshops or interviews to discover what they think about the subject matter corresponding to the product domain, user groups, tasks, tools and technology and also the environment.

Yes, you could come across many inferences but it is generally a kickstart to the learning process. Anyways, you can always confirm stakeholders’ viewpoints during user research.  Information from previous research, metrics, survey, customer comments or problems can also be brought into review.

Short Sessions

Conducting sessions with the participants is a tedious process- from planning to execution. So, it is irking when the sessions are of very short duration and you are unable to complete the tasks you wanted to observe and the topics you wanted to converse.

Solutions:

Such short sessions can make you skip certain tasks and speed through others such that you won’t be able to put many questions. In a perfect case, you’ll be aware of the tasks you have to perform with each user group and how much time these tasks consume so that you can calculate how long these sessions will last.

Nevertheless, it is challenging to get accurate figures because of the unpredictable nature of user research process; you can’t determine exactly the time span of each participant. Demonstrations can take time, also when they are talking about the task it adds up to time.

Your questions and answers can further increase the duration. Plus how can you forget the time taken to introduce yourself and elaborate your research method to participants; so, it is always advisable to have extra time and end early. No one has an issue with ending early.

No Preparation In Advance

It is seen that most people are totally clueless when they give consent to participate in user research. The recruiting company, client or whosoever contacts these participants might not have revealed what exactly happens.

Yes, it is very difficult to explain clearly and briefly the field-study process to the participants. Be specific when you are in person with them and explain your method properly. An email message can also be used to introduce you and the details of the session.

Notetaking Distraction

It is very challenging to observe, listen, analyze what you are observing and hearing, put questions neutrally, maintain eye contact and flow with the participant, monitor the direction that the session is proceeding to, encourage the participant in performing the tasks, keep track of the tasks you have seen and the ones that are pending and record the time of the session left.

If you make notes along with all these activities, one or more tasks are likely to suffer. Maintain only high-level notes of your observations and results and mark the questions that you will ask later.

Another approach could be to assign note making to someone who is observing the session as there won’t be any pressure to conduct it. Video or audio recordings of the sessions can also be used later to extract more details.

 

Wrap Up

It is very common for mistakes to pop up during user research. And why not. Even user researchers are humans. Every experienced user researcher has had his quota of faux pas. What matters is whether you have taken your lesson and honed your skills as a user researcher, so that you can have many successful cases under your belt in the future. Hope the above article will help you refine your research and make you find out more about yourself and your users.

The following two tabs change content below.

Prince Pal

UI UX Consultant Helping Digital Startups & Stakeholders Grow Their Business at Think 360 Studio
For 15+ years I have designed, developed and marketed websites/apps startups in New York, California, Florida and in India. Always focused on great User Interface is key.

Latest posts by Prince Pal (see all)