Successful products solve real-world problems for real people. It's only natural that we start by understanding the users of our product. We use research to build a shared understanding of those users and their problems and then identify opportunities.
We conduct interviews or observe people in their lives in order to answer questions like:
- What are their pain points and problems they are having?
- What solutions have they created to mitigate those pains?
- What outcomes are they looking for?
- What goals are they trying to achieve?
This questions and answers help us frame the problems that we're trying to solve. With a real understanding of a user's problem, we can mitigate most risks involved with building a product.
How we conduct research
We have two primary modes of researching our users: interviews and ethnographic research. While each provides us with a solid understanding of the user, they follow very different approaches.
To better understand users, sometimes it makes sense to sit down and interview them. These interviews are lead by a designer and very structured. We typically do quite a bit of research before hand in order to come prepare with the right questions and expectations.
Interviews allows us to understand what the user is trying to achieve and how they go about doing it. Through this in-person approach, the user can walk us through their process, the decisions they make, and the outcomes they expect. We can explore the work-arounds they use and the "solutions" they've created to avoid the pain points.
The interviewer can take notes or record the entire session for future reference. Interviews are typically private, meaning only the interviewer and user are in the room, this helps avoid distractions and derailment. We find that interviewing three to five users will suffice, but in some situations, more interviews may be useful.
Some problems are better understood through ethnographic research, which is conducted by watching people perform their daily tasks in their typical environment. This means getting in a truck with a driver to understand their routine or shadowing an insurance claims representative throughout their day.
Ethnographic research allows us to observe and document how users go about their day. The researcher will take notes, ask questions, and identify the bottlenecks, pain points, and problems the user experiences. Unlike an interview, ethnographic research allows us to directly experience the pain points of the user.
Through ethnographic research, we gain a better understanding of the context of the problem and the opportunities for solutions.
Keeping the data objective
Over the years, we've found that it's best to interview and research users that are not emotionally invested in the product. When people have an investment in the business they tend to have biases on the problems and potential solutions. Our researchers will be transparent in our process but will conduct the interviews and research without influence from the invested parties in order to deliver objective data.
In the past, we've learned that interviewing stakeholders usually leads to subjective data that pushes a specific agenda or an underdeveloped idea. Our approach is to understand the problem, research and interview the users, and provide feedback for the stakeholders to act on.
We've found that user research has helped us build better products and reduce risks significantly.