Experience Over Everything: A Research Toolkit for UX Design
Challenge: Designing great experiences
Human-centered design is all the rage right now—and justifiably so. People belong at the forefront of any experience design. This is an age where people have more options and greater access to those options than ever before. It’s also an age where people increasingly value experiences over things (the experience economy is booming).
From product development to retail locations, to marketing campaigns and events, designing great experiences is more important than ever before.
The problem is that we usually start by asking:
- What do we have to offer? (Products, Services, Features)
- What do we want for it? (Pricing)
- How do we want to deliver it? (Channels, Locations, Devices)
We should be asking:
- What do people want? (Wants and Needs)
- Why do they want it? (Motivations and Challenges)
- How do they want it? (Behaviors and Habits)
UX research tools can help us ask and answer these questions in ways that deliver actionable insights we can then use to design great experiences.
Solution: The UX research toolkit
As you become more comfortable with UX research, you’ll develop a toolkit of your own. Here’s our recommended toolkit to help you get started.
Existing Research Reports
The best place to start is in reviewing the work that people have already completed.
Search for research reports, market studies, case studies, white papers, articles, and studies relevant to your industry, area of interest, etc. This will help inform your own research and methodology.
Company / Client Artifacts
Your organization already has much of the information you need to understand the people you work with or serve.
You just need to find a way to access it and evaluate whether or not it is still valid. It could be customer notes in your CRM, survey results, product usage metrics, internal documentation, customer videos, etc. It could be research completed by a teammate or predecessor.
Align on Goals and Objectives + Identify Customers/Users
Stakeholder alignment is a critical factor in gaining insights that will be understood and used.
Have conversations with the people involved in conducting, evaluating, or using the research. This will help to ensure that you’re honed in on the right people, asking the right questions, and using methodology with which everyone feels comfortable. Without this critical alignment you’ll face many barriers with socializing the findings, as they will definitely be challenged. There’s also a chance they won’t be used because people will not have bought into the importance of the research or value of the insights.
Start with Surveys or Screeners
Ask the easy, profile-building questions up front and make sure you’re speaking to the right people.
As a standalone research tool, surveys have little value. However, they are very valuable when used to identify the right people to interview and build basic profiles of respondents. This is a great place to capture demographics such as age, gender, title, company, geography, etc.
A customer or user interview should feel like a conversation – not an interrogation.
Ask open-ended questions that give participants the ability to add context. A recorded free-flowing conversation with light notes is better than a series of short questions with answers captured verbatim. This will yield more powerful insights and can be used to supplement your summary of findings, as you’ll have great audio or video clips to use and quotes to pull.
There’s no better way to understand a person than to spend a day in his or her life – or observing it.
Observing people in the environment in which you want to add value or replicate is one of the most powerful research tools. You’ll be able to understand what they do and how they do it, and have the ability to ask why during or after. You’ll also have visibility into their sentiments and be able to identify moments of truth in their experiences.
Get feedback early and often—before investing too much time and resources in creating the experience.
You have the ability (and responsibility) to test any experience you create with people who would be a part of the experience. We do this in product development by testing designs and prototypes and gathering feedback. We do this in marketing by engaging customers and prospects while partnering with customer success, sales, and product teams.
Fictional Character + Based on Insights
Insights must be summarized in a way that provides context and is easily socialized.
A persona is a fictional representation of an individual member of your target audience. Even though it’s fictional, it needs to be rooted in reality and based on the insights you have. Wait to build personas until after you have gathered insights through interviews or observation. These personas are the characters in the story that is your experience.
Say + Do + Think + Feel
Breathe life into your personas with values, challenges, and motivators.
You need to have and share an understanding of what people are saying, doing, thinking, and feeling during their experiences in the current state and the future state. These insights need to be taken into consideration throughout their experiences.
Transform Steps and Processes into Stories
Illustrate the experiences people are having or that you’re designing with character (persona)-driven stories.
Journey maps are more than process guides and workflow overviews. A good journey map should navigate you and your team through an experience in the eyes of the people who are a part of it. This means you’ll need to layer in the insights, empathy, and moments of truth. It also means you’ll need separate lanes and story arcs for different personas and characters.
Interviews and Focus Groups > Surveys and Analytics
If you’re not literally listening to people during or after an experience you create, then you’re not getting the insights you need to make it better next time.
Each of these tools has its merit and some value. However, as mentioned before, nothing beats a free-flowing conversation. You can gain more insights from interviews or focus groups of 10 out of 1,000 people than you can from a survey of 100 out of 1,000 people.
So What’s Next in Your UX Research?
Now you have a UX research toolbelt full of new and refined tools. Where to next?
No matter what you do in your life or career, you are creating experiences for yourself and other people. You should feel empowered to make these experiences better. Depending on what you do, you can start using these today at home, at work, and everywhere in between.
Build better products and websites. Launch better marketing campaigns. Design better retail locations. Improve processes at work. Plan better parties and events.
If you need to bounce some ideas, send me an email—I’d love to hear from you. If you need a team to plan and conduct the research necessary to design a better experience, let me know and we can schedule some time to meet! I’d love to introduce you to our team here at Skookum.