6 Lightweight Research Tools
I have crafted a research toolkit that helps me quickly embed myself into any multidisciplinary team to uncover user needs.
Interviews are important when trying to get to know your customer. No amount of quantitative data can replace a few valuable interview sessions with the target audience. I gather context about my users by setting up remote or in person chat sessions. I ask basic questions about their day-to-day activities, the products they use and how they view the current market. Often, I find 6-8 interviews sufficient to tell a story about a customer’s needs and pain points. In a few days, I can bring curated video clips with data and stories back to the team I work with.
Empathy Maps and Personas
An empathy map helps me organize my findings and is a simple way to share customer data with the rest of the team. Empathy maps are also a great tool to kickoff a team discovery phase or brainstorm at the beginning of any project. I like to use empathy mapping because it helps us look at how users are thinking and feeling rather than just focusing on existing behavior. Empathy maps are useful to help create personas and identify new product opportunities.
Surveys help me collect data about my target audience and their motivation for coming to the website or product. I can intercept users on a website or reach out by targeted email. I like to keep my surveys anywhere from 1-10 questions depending on the context. Surveys are great when gathering feedback on a visual design or experience, trying to understand more about a customer segment and/or gathering market and user insights.
Concept tests help prove an idea before engineering invests several sprints building it. A concept test can be done with a quick prototype or within a beta environment. When a newly designed product or website is in its early stages, I can design a concept test geared at validating the success of the new experience or getting feedback on how to improve/change it. Doing a concept test as part of a product design cycle can help save time, improve the overall final product and give the team confidence to move forward. I do concept tests in UserZoom or UserTesting.Com.
Usability and Benchmark Tests
Usability and Benchmark tests help the team uncover and improve user experience challenges a customer may face when trying to accomplish a core task. A usability test can be done with a quick prototype or with a live website. I can design and script a quick usability with a handful of customer or a quantitative benchmark with a hundred customers. During a usability test, I measure task completion, task time and ease of task.
I propose doing Card Sorting exercises when the team needs to rethink categorization around product or content. This exercise is often paired with a top level navigation redesign. Card Sorting is a great way to bring team members together and categorize items based on what is intuitive to the user rather than a business or technical constraint. I like to do in person card sorts but often digitize them later to do a full analysis and help the team workshop the results.
Over many years and projects, I have learned that it is critical to involve users in the design process. I have experimented with various lightweight user touch points to bring customer perspectives and feedback into the products, services and websites I design.
In more recent years, I have taken on design research in a more official capacity. I have refined a research toolkit that helps me quickly embed myself into any multidisciplinary team and product design process to uncover user needs.