Which method to use…oh the choices

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August 25, 2015
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Which method to use…oh the choices

There is a lot to consider when choosing the right UX method(s) for a research project. The research objectives, where you are in the development cycle, the budget, and the type of customer you are trying to reach can all play a role in deciding which path to take. With so many approaches to choose from, we can customize a plan that is just right for you. Our expert researchers are well-versed in study design, and know just the right mix of methods to use for a particular application. Here is a sample of the methods we typically recommend:

User Interviews: One of the most frequently used approaches, interviews can take place in-person or remotely. This method can be especially helpful in the beginning stages of product/system design, as potential users can give feedback on what their needs really are.

Ethnography: To get the ultimate feel for how a system works, ethnography takes the researcher into the environment to get a real-life look at processes. Although tasks that participants perform cannot be controlled, ethnographic studies provide a natural setting outside of the lab.

Journal/Diary Studies: Similar to ethnography, diary studies are designed to collect insights “in the real world”. Participants typically meet up once to receive instruction and a device to use, then update a web diary with their thoughts and experiences as they have them, whenever that may be.

Storyboarding: Studying user experiences in their natural environment is not always an option. Alternatively, it is important to help participants realize how they may use the device “in the real world.” We use storyboarding to present participants with specific use cases carried out in relevant contexts to facilitate a pointed discussion around the overall value that the product can provide.

Risk Analysis: Safety-critical applications (e.g., Healthcare technology) require a comprehensive analysis of all possible risks associated with a user’s interaction with new technology. These risks can be traced back to either the user (user-related hazards) or the device (device failure hazards) or the interaction of the two (overlap hazards). We specialize in formative analysis techniques that identify all possible hazards that a user may encounter long before the device goes into production.

Attribute Mapping / Kano Model: Knowing which features of a particular product or prototype will resonate with users is a tricky problem. Attribute mapping allows researchers to elicit critical features from users, dividing them into 4 categories: (1) “Need to have”, (3) “Unexpected and exciting”, (2) “Nice to have”, and (4) “Don’t know / Don’t care”. We have also developed a proprietary version of this test that identifies the importance of each feature to overall product satisfaction.

Think-Aloud Protocol: Observing users interact with a product can tell you a lot, but it does not tell you what is going on in the mind of the user. This methods allows researchers to capture cognitive processes (e.g., memory, decision making, attention) that can help designers know how much information should be provided, what information is going to demand the most attention, and how design can facilitate more effective and efficient execution of tasks. It is also a useful tool for eliciting knowledge from expert users that can be used to inform more intuitive devices for the novice user.

Critical Task Analysis: When stakeholders know which tasks are most important to their customer experience strategy, CTAs are used to provide design recommendations specific to those tasks. Narrowing the scope of possibilities to particular tasks that need to be carried out helps ensure that the insights gleaned from the results are relevant and actionable.

User Profiling: In multiple-user situations, it can be helpful to list out the characteristics of each specific user or user group. This approach is best for making sense of large amounts of data, as captured by analytics or surveys. A persona can be created to represent a user profile and to “bring it to life”.

Focus Groups: A long upheld standard in user research, focus groups are useful for getting general opinions from a small group of hand-selected individuals. While not as candid as one-on-one feedback, participants can bounce ideas and opinions off each other in this “group interview” format.

Online Surveys: Nationwide or global surveys cast a wide net on participant opinion. When you need to compare metrics and talk numbers, a survey is the easiest way to get a sizeable amount of user data.

Eye Tracking: Although users can tell you what they think they are interested in on a webpage, they may not always know themselves! Eye tracking is a more surreptitious way of gathering quantitative data on (1) what draws a users’ attention, and (2) where they spend most of their time. Armed with these two pieces of information, designers can create websites that attract and maintain visitor’s attention for a more engaging and memorable experience.

Hopefully there are methods in this list that you hadn’t considered before and will consider exploring on your next project. But don’t limit yourself to just one… each provides a unique perspective into your users’ experience. Combining the right methods provides a powerful, holistic view of the motivations, needs, and values of your users and helps you identify usability problems in your design before going to production.