UX RESEARCH AND DESIGN: THE ESSENTIALS

“UX” stands for User Experience and refers to the process that involves the interaction of the user target with a service/product. This can be from an app to a cash machine and the interaction ranges from the set of feelings/emotions to the action itself. A thoughtful research allows to know what the user needs (problem) and what is the best solution that can be given through design.

“It’s not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives.”

Don Norman, Pioneer and creator of the term UX Design

1. Understanding UX Process: The 4 Stages of Double Diamond

Font: Eva Schicker

This diagram is the best way to explain the UX process. The first diamond represents the Research Phase – design the right thing – and the second diamond represents Design Phase – design things right. The two diamonds represent a process of exploring an issue more broadly or deeply (divergent thinking – where many ideas are created) and then taking focused action (convergent thinking – where ideas are reduced and refined to the best idea).

1st – Discovery (divergent): Start of the research. Exploration of assumptions that have been raised, create hypotheses, getting to know the users as thoroughly as possible, investigate the causes of a problem or room for improvement.

2nd – Define (convergent): Prioritise the feasibility analysis. This means to define, among all the problems raised, which is the biggest for the user and brings the most impact to the company’s business, by using tools to aggregate patterns and trends that were seen on the research data. In this phase, some hypotheses are discarded or put aside for another time, leaving only the most relevant.

3rd – Develop (divergent):  Now that we have the “right” problem in hands, it is time to brainstorm design solutions and test their usability, so that feedback is gathered and changes can be implemented easily.

4° – Deliver (convergent): The development of the solution will be done through low fidelity prototypes and with as few resources as possible. The aim of this “low investment” is for the solution to be validated in an agile manner, subjected to usability tests and with certainty that it corresponds to the existing technology at the moment, all to verify whether or not it really makes sense for the user.

2. First Steps

From the very beginning, the UX researcher must look at different tools in order to create a clear starting point for the research. This can be open (looking for what is the problem and how to tackle it) or closed (already discover the opportunity, the goal is to evaluate how effective it is).

Apart from writing down the research objectives, it is also important to know if there is any existing data (the more information the better) and think about the questions presented below. These will help to make sure that the research problem (or research goal ) does indeed have a purpose, but also reflects on other topics such as the desired outcome, hypotheses and assumptions or target user:

  1. How will those research objectives help to reach that goal?
  2. What assumptions have you made that are necessary for those objectives to reach that goal?
  3. How does your research (questions, tasks, observations, etc.) help meet those objectives?
  4. What kind of responses or observations do you need from your participants to meet those objectives?

After reflecting on these questions, it’s time to formulate the questions for the participants. These already indicate, in part, the best research methods to apply and also goes along with the type of research that will be conduct:

  • Open research leads to open-minded questions
  • Close research leads to close-minded questions
  • Also there is a mix of these two types: semi-open questions

3. How to choose the right research method

Depending on the type of data we want from the questions asked, we can then decipher which are the best research methods to use. It is always best to use at least more than one method so that the data will be as accurate to the users need’s as possible.

Quantitative and qualitative:

Some research methods consist of talking to a large amount of users and collecting numerical data of their opinion on a certain subject (quantitative research), while others are focused on a much smaller number of users, but go into more depth and are able to collect insights of a higher quality and level of detail (qualitative research).

Behavioural and attitudinal

Attitudinal research focuses on what people say they believe (for example, when answering an online form or in a conversation within a focus group), while behavioural research looks at what people do (for example, in a usability test, or in A/B testing).

The UX research methods used depend on the type of service being developed and the best results are achieved when combining more than one type of research method.

Again, a diagram appears so that we can better understand which are the most suitable methods for our research: 3-dimendional framework

Font: Nielson Norman Group

To know more about these 20 research methods, you can access all the information here.

The Research Canvas is a great tool to make sure that all of the research process is being documented and leaning towards the right track.

4. Usability, what it is and why is important?

Usability means how easy to use an interface or system is until the user can complete a desired action, such as buying a product.  The appropriate use of this technique is what will make the user loyal – and give value – to the website. This process besides being simple (easy) should be useful, in other words, do what the user wants. Therefore, usability and usefulness are equally important and together determine if something is efficient.

  • 5 usability components:
    • Efficiency: do users carry out tasks in the estimated time? And does this estimated time, in fact, match the fair time to perform the task?
    • Memorability: users have spent a long time without interacting with the interface. How easily can they return to the activities they had learned?
    • Errors: How serious are the errors made by users and how easily do they recover from them? How many mistakes are made?
    • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the proposed design?
    • Learning: instead of requiring the user to adapt his attitudes and behaviours to learn how to use a tool, systems are created that relate to what the user believes, how he acts, sees and interacts with the world.
How most of the search sites used to be with several banners and news, and how a Google layout is: clean, minimalist and focused only on the person putting the term to do the search they want

5. What we do with the data? – Analyse

Analysis is the process by which the researcher identifies patterns in the research, proposes solutions and makes recommendations. It’s important to go back to the first stages of the research (problem, research objectives, assumptions, etc.) to confirm if these still the same or there is substantial changes.

Then summarize the key points applying some of the techniques:

– Empathy Maps : Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the emotions of others. UX emphasizes a positive customer experience and that’s why the best UX designers take the time to learn about people and their inclinations. A deep understanding of end users allows designers to create products that truly engage and delight.

– Personas: This tool that helps you understand your audience more deeply. With this, create solutions centred on the users of the project. It is not enough just to have several data about the target audience. It is necessary to segment them, group them and humanise them to identify who your persona really is.

Font: NNGroup

– User Journey Maps: Understanding of all the interaction phases that the end customer has with a product or service. In other words, a detailed mapping is carried out of every possible contact and experience that the user may have during the use of what is being proposed.

Font: NNGroup

6. Design’s Ideation

Now that we have a better idea of the target user and what type of outcomes, behaviours and solutions he wants from the service/products, it’s time to start portrait these solutions through different tools in order to then apply for the interface design. The concepts that we can use are:

Prototypes: These are fundamental to identify if the interface is in accordance with what is desired or not and is widely used to carry out tests with the end user. There are two categories of prototypes: low fidelity and high fidelity. In the workshop we covered the low-fidelity prototypes, so we will only focus on these.

Some of the advantages are:

  • They take less time to create.
  • Any changes can easily be made during the process.
  • They put less pressure on the end user during testing.
  • Designers feel less attached to the prototype.
  • To build you literally just need a piece of paper (best if is A3 format) and a pen.

During the workshop, the practical way of presenting this type of prototype was to fold the paper in 8 and each space represented a frame for each idea with  key moments or a particular scenario of the user’s journey.

Sketching: These are the most rudimentary, simplest and lowest-cost prototypes. They generally represent the initial idea of the interface – being used in the first phases of the project’s design – and are widely used in groups and meetings to create ideas around the product and its usability.

SCAMPER: This word stands for

  1. Substitute: Focuses on the parts in the product, service or solution that can be replaced with another
  2. Combine: Tends to analyze the possibility of merging two ideas, stages of the process or product in one single more efficient output.
  3. Adapt: Refers to a brainstorming discussion that aims to adjust a product or service for a better output.
  4. Modify: Changing the process in a way that brings more innovative capabilities or solves problems.
  5. Put to another use: Refers to changing the process in a way that unleashes more innovative capabilities or solves problems
  6. Eliminate: Identify the parts of the process that can be eliminated to improve the process product or service.
  7. Reverse: Explore the innovative potential when changing the order of the process in the production line. 

This is a sequence of tasks and actions that helps refine ideas and solutions. As UX is a process that is in a time continuum, it’s important to apply this technique from time to time to make sure that the service continues to match the user’s needs.

Find here more about other ideation techniques!

7. Prototyping vs Wireframes

These are usually two concepts that get confused (guilty!) and so I thought it was important to do some deeper research and talk about this topic in this article.

The main difference is that the prototype is concerned with user interactions and the design elements responsible for the user experience. They are more flexible tools, may or may not contain content and images and they can be static or dynamic (high fidelity sketch).

On the other hand, a wireframe is concerned with the interface’s structural elements, without focusing on the interactions.

We can say that every wireframe is a prototype, but not every prototype is a wireframe.

8. Content requirements

This is a first approach on which contents should be meaningful to present since it is important to gather it as early as possible in order to appropriate with the design choices. It can be text, images, or multimedia. Again, we focus on the user’s feelings and behaviours using the Key Content Gathering tool. Apart from the content itself, it is important to think what and how we will try to communicate it.

9. Presenting the solution

When delivering the final product, it is important to:

  1. Name the product/service – what is and what is the problem that it will solve.
  2. Show key screens highlighting the key features.
  3. Create a storyboard with key scenarios.

This way the client and other surrounding professionals get a clear idea of the message and purpose of the solution, as well as how they should apply it.

10. Important extras

  • Keep in mind it’s always about what the user wants instead of what you think is the problem/solution. The Pittsburgh Parking Lot vs Ticket Sales situation that was presented in the workshop is a great reflection of this thought.
  • It’s important to understand that the design should be attractive with the main idea of bringing more interaction, empathy and utility from and for the user instead of just being aesthetic pleasing.
  • User Interface Design is based in 3 concepts:
    • User (desirability)
    • Business (viability, sustainability, revenue)
    • Technology (do we have the proper technology available at the moment for the features that we’re looking to put in place?)

REFERENCES

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