One of the most important and overlooked steps in the design process.
First time users of your product start judging it the second it’s launched based on their prior experiences and associations. You don’t have time explain everything or think that they’ll get the hang of something once they start using it for awhile. Nope, you usually have one shot to get this right. And if the user can’t figure something out or your product doesn’t look like it will provide value, you better believe they’ll move right along to the next app that might. This is why UX research is so important.
What is UX research?
UX research is the gathering of information from users which includes some of the following methods:
Competitive Analysis: identifying your competitors and evaluating their strategies to determine their strengths and weaknesses relative to those of your own product or service.
User Interviews: a UX research method during which a researcher asks one user questions about a topic of interest (e.g., use of a system, behaviors and habits) with the goal of learning about that topic.
Contextual Inquiries: semi-structured interview method to obtain information about the context of use, where users are first asked a set of standard questions and then observed and questioned while they work in their own environments.
Surveys & Questionnaires: a set of questions used to collect topic-specific information from a representative sample of your target audience.
Personas: a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.
Card Sorting: a method used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a site.
Usability Testing: a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it on users.
At what step in the design process is UX research done?
I think determining when to do research depends a lot on the project. There might be times when you go directly to UX research before any design is done. For example, if the project is reworking the navigation (something like untangling a complex site map), no real design work is needed before meeting with users. Questions and a card sorting exercise might be all you need to get valuable feedback. On the other hand, if you’re project is something more complex, such as adding a budgets tool or feature, having some mockups or even a rough prototype could help assist to gain valuable feedback.
Regardless of the exact phase, UX research is a must at some point before the product/feature launches to users. Think about all the insights you’ll gain and all the potential landmines you’ll avoid (not to mention all the time you’ll save).