How I approach research: 6 questions
Which product goals / user needs are we trying to address?
It's crucial to clarify the purpose of research before moving forward. What kind of insights are needed, and who will use them? Perhaps marketing wants to develop user personas. Or maybe the product team needs to understand why a certain behavior is happening. The original problem, the end goal, and the metrics that will be used to measure success all affect the way that research should be designed and carried out.
What can we learn from existing data?
Existing data doesn't always provide conclusive answers, but it can be used to inform good hypotheses and identify promising areas for deeper study.
In my research, I draw on existing internal data, academic research, and publicly available resources. This has been valuable in framing my inquiry and informing early design direction.
How else could we study this?
To get a more complete understanding of users, it's valuable to combine qualitative and quantitative methods. If we focus on "what" without understanding "why" -- or vice versa -- it can make us misunderstand important problems, or misunderstand which problems are important. One of the most powerful ways to combine methods is for user researchers and data scientists to plan research together.
In addition to combining methods, I'm always willing to try a new or uncommon method when the situation calls for it. I've used surveys to gather qualitative insights with desirability testing, for example.
How will this affect our users?
One of the reasons I love user research is that I get to be an advocate for diverse groups of users. Internally, I convey the needs, joys and frustrations of real people. In addition to thinking about the product experience, I'm mindful of how my own research affects people.
Before designing a survey, for example, I think carefully about how much I'm asking of users, how frequently they get survey requests, how intrusive my questions might feel, and what impression they might give people about the company's priorities.
During research sessions, on the other hand, I use my demeanor and behavior to make every participant feel heard and valued.
How can we get stakeholders involved?
A major part of my job is empathizing with users and learning about their needs. I also do this with designers, product owners, and other stakeholders. By understanding their constraints, concerns and interests, I can make my research more relevant to the questions they're grappling with.
I also strive to include these stakeholders in the research process as much as possible. This includes:
- Working with designers to ensure that usability tests are addressing their areas of concern;
- Inviting product stakeholders to observe the live testing sessions;
- Holding debrief sessions with stakeholders to identify key insights and discuss their design implications.
How actionable are these insights?
A crucial part of my job is to turn data into actionable insights that tie directly into product goals. I constantly ask myself:
- How usable is my research?
- How relevant and actionable are the insights I'm providing?
- What will designers and product owners be empowered to do with what I'm telling them?
I prioritize research questions by evaluating how directly they address key business goals and critical user needs. Involving product stakeholders in the research process helps to keep these challenges in focus.