Friday, April 15, 2011

User Research You Should Be Doing (but probably aren't)

Startups know they should get out of the building and talk to their customers, but sometimes they’re a little too literal about it. There are tons of ways to get great information from your customers. The trick is knowing which technique answers the questions you have right now.

Sure, you’re doing usability tests and trying to have customer development interviews, but here are a few slightly unusual qualitative user research techniques you should be employing but probably aren’t.

Competitor Usability Testing

Have you ever considered running a user test on a competitor’s site?

This one’s fun because it feels a little sneaky. It also gets you a tremendous amount of great information, since chances are somebody is already making mistakes that you don’t have to make.

For example, when one of my clients, Crave, wanted to build a marketplace for buying and selling collectibles, we spent time watching people using other shopping and selling sites. We learned what people loved and hated about the products they were already using, so we could create a product that incorporated only the good bits.

The result was a buying and selling experience that users preferred to several big name shopping sites that will remain nameless.

Bonus tip: There’s always the temptation to borrow ideas from a big competitor with the excuse, “well, so and so is doing it, and they’re successful, so it must be right!” Guess what? Sometimes other companies are successful for a lot of reasons other than that thing you’re stealing from them. Make sure users like that part of a competitor's product before using it in your own.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Creating a Great Design and Research Culture

I led a conversation recently at Web 2.0 Expo about creating a great design and research culture at your startup. To be clear, I didn’t offer to run it because I’m an expert, but it’s a topic I’m extremely interested in. I wanted to find out from other people what their problems have been and see if we could help each other solve those problems.

The most interesting thing to me was how similar many of the problems were, which leads me to hypothesize that too many companies are making the same mistakes over and over when trying to integrate design and research into their organizations.

Here are a few of the common complaints I heard and some of the solutions that were proposed.

Keeping Design in a Silo

The most common problem was bad communication between the design team and other teams within the company. One participant said that, in her company, the visual designers were on another floor from the UX designers, and the designs didn’t always translate correctly.

Another participant talked about a company where the engineers, designers, and strategy people were all in different countries. The cultural differences between the different teams led to even more communication problems.

Solution: Our proposed solution to this problem was to blend teams whenever possible. A participant told us that, when they embedded designers with the engineers all sorts of good things happened. Not only did communication improve because they were all sitting together, but they actually became friends, which made them all more willing to listen to different points of view.