Thursday, September 30, 2010

User Research Tips

After my talk at Web 2.0 Expo on combining qualitative research, quantitative metrics, and design vision for better products, there were some questions from the audience. Interestingly, the large majority of questions were about the qualitative research part of the talk.

And that makes sense. Qualitative research can be tough to incorporate into your development process. Until fairly recently, it's been a big, expensive, time-consuming endeavor. Often it required having outside consultants come in to run tests in a rented lab behind a one way mirror. Additionally, a lot of product folks assumed that it would slow down the development process, since it would often add a step between design and engineering.

Now, if you read my blog or listen to me speak, you know that I advocate quick and cheap testing over large, formal studies, and I like taking advantage of tools that let me run remote usability studies. I also feel that testing and research speeds up your development process, since it tends to catch problems early, when they're easier to fix.

That said, user research is easy to get wrong. It takes some practice to be good at things like moderating sessions and analyzing data. For those of you who are interested in learning more about these things, I've compiled a list of resources to get you started.

My Blog Posts

These older posts should help you fix some of the common problems people have with user research:


There are a million books about user research. These are two very good ones. Let me know in the comments if you've read any other particularly helpful ones. 

Online Tools

These tools do NOT eliminate the need to actually interact with your users in person, but they can be extremely valuable additions to your user research process. 
  • Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc. - Allow you to screen share so that you can observe how your users are interacting with your product. 
  • - Very fast & cheap way to test your new user experience. 
  • NavFlow - Lets you test your site navigation using mockups, which allows you to get feedback before you build the product. 
  • Five Second Test - Great for testing things like landing pages or whether your calls to action are obvious enough. 
  • Ethnio - Helps recruit session participants who are currently using your product. 
  • Revelation - Helps you run longer term studies with current users.