Conducting user and customer research has increasingly become an accepted and expected part of the development process among companies, from those building consumer websites to those developing enterprise applications.
This is fantastic news for users!
However, this also means that user research can become a box-checking activity, leading to research that fails to deliver on the promise of actionable insights. It’s all too easy to ask the wrong questions, use the wrong methods, and fail to communicate results in a way that stakeholders and product owners feel compelled to take action. In short, we can forget the BASICS – we can forget to think about the STORY.
As a consultant and Research Strategist at Human Interfaces, Inc., I’m privileged to work with experienced research professionals on a daily basis, both within my company and in clients’ organizations – highly skilled, highly educated, highly trained, and exceptionally bright individuals. One might think that with such pedigrees and practical experiences, we never forget the basics; we as research professionals always get it right… Well, we don’t. In a fast paced environment, it is all too easy to lose focus, to jump in without a clear sense of story, and to lose sight of the basics:
When we consider this landscape – we’re doing more research across a broader range of UX topics, we’re expected to deliver at an ever accelerating pace and we’re involving more stakeholders who may not have a deep understanding of research principles – it becomes clear how a focus on the basics can become lost, even among experienced research pros.
Without a clear focus on the Story of our user research efforts, we can end up:
In comparison, thinking ahead to the Story of our research, before ever collecting any data, provides:
When considering the elements that constitute a solid and meaningful research story, it sounds a lot like the basics of sound research design. While in theory that may be true, in practice it is the very act of thinking through the Story that can help us arrive at research that is valid, relevant and meaningful. I find that the ability to ask “…so what’s the story?” is an invaluable tool for building stakeholder consensus during research planning, selecting methods that can provide valid results, and allowing for efficient analysis and reporting of findings.
There are many ways to incorporate the concept – the focus – of The Story into workflows of research planning and execution, and I would love to hear from others as to what has worked for them. That said, I will leave you with several key considerations we strive to bring to our efforts in building our research stories:
Finally, when in doubt during planning, execution, analysis or reporting, don’t be afraid to ask yourself or your stakeholders, “…so what’s The Story?“