“Twenty-one business days with four resources.” This was the estimation which the project lead shared for a proposed API development project. The objective of the project was the migration of features and functionalities of legendary network monitoring application to a new web-based environment.
The meeting started with analyzing existing features individually and discussing them in detail. As the discussion moved to a feature, the “Network Monitoring Widget,” the product owner appeared keen on enhancing the feature as he believed that this was one of their key selling points. Even their promotional activities revolved around this feature. Based on his ideas, he presented a concept of enhancing it and engaged in a detailed discussion with the marketing and sales teams, and technical managers. The project team came up with an estimation to meet the product owner’s expectations.
Figure 1 -Project Discussion
As the stakeholders discussed various aspects of this feature, a few were not convinced on certain areas. The technical lead suggested they get inputs from a team member who had already worked on this product to arrive at a decision.
The stakeholders explained the context to the member, mentioned that adding functionalities to the feature “Network Monitoring Widget” was their primary objective and wanted to seek her opinion on the same.
The team member’s response took the whole group by surprise.
The team member replied:
“In my experience with the application, I have hardly used this feature. I nearly forgot about this feature until you brought it up. There are better shortcuts to get the same details. I may have used this feature only a couple of time in the last three years.”
Most of the stakeholders formed the opinion that she was an amateur and did not have adequate exposure to the product. They decided to get an opinion from seven to nine engineers who had been using this product for nearly three years. The results were similar. They too had rarely used the widget. Later, the team decided to remove the feature since it was barely used.
This survey helped save the effort of four resources, who would have been engaged in developing and enhancing a feature that would seldom be used by the end users.
The effort involved in taking part in the discussions was considerably lesser than developing a feature which would clutter the interface instead of being a value add.
The same scenario could have been more productive if the project team had involved the users at the first stage of the product development. When we do not have access to users who have dealt with the product, we use personas instead.
What is a persona?
Persona is a representation of the target user who will be using the product. It is an outcome of adopting research methodologies where prospective users are interviewed and observed. It describes interests and pain points of the user. If the project team had conducted user research and defined a persona, they could have easily avoided the feature. But a majority of the projects are executed under tight budgets and timelines.
Figure 2- Persona
User research and budget constraints
User research is a process of understanding user behavior, attitudes, and needs using various feedback collection and observation methods. The benefit of user research is that it provides insights into user preferences which help us to address their needs with informed design solutions.
As project teams prioritize their budgets for more critical tasks, they often realize the importance of user research when it is too late. User research is a proven methodology that helps prevent rework and ensures a better experience for the users. The cost of user research is much lowered compared to fixes involved later because of the lack of research.
When it comes to user research, the richest and most high-quality results are obtained by user interviews and contextual enquiries.
User interview is a popular user research method, wherein the interviewer asks questions and records responses from prospective users of a product to discover their attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. Interviews are usually carried out by an interviewer interacting with a respondent. He can use various mediums like face to face, phone, or video streaming. Because of the one-to-one aspect of interaction, any individual issues or miscommunications can be resolved promptly. It also provisions the interviewer to assess verbal and nonverbal signals such as body language or emotions. Since such types of interviews require a crew of interviewers to conduct and record responses, the staff cost is likely to be high.
Contextual enquiry is a process of collecting detailed information about user’s work practice by observing and intervening them in their actual work environments. The user will take the lead while the researcher takes a back seat. This helps the researcher understand the user’s everyday tasks, how and why a task is performed or why it’s not. This involves one-to-one interaction and travel to user’s work environment, which means higher costs.
Figure 3-User Research
Cost-effective user research methods
User research is not always cost-intensive. It can also be carried out through user observations. Interviews and contextual enquiries are effective UX research methodologies, but this does not mean that there are no alternatives.
There are data gathering techniques which can be alternate approaches and are equally effective. These techniques are generally faster per individual and help gather data from multiple individuals. They are considerably less expensive, less time-consuming, and cover a wide range of users in a short span of time. I have listed few of these methods below:
This is an alternative approach for interviews, but as a group. A facilitator will be involved to lead the discussion and brainstorm. An observer can also participate to document key inputs from the users. This method helps save time as the interviews are conducted as a group.
While focus groups are led by facilitators to gather inputs from a group of users, facilitated workshops involve the technical team. This helps in getting rapid feedback on critical issues as key stakeholders interact with the users directly. But there is also a chance that the discussion may lead to justifying the solution in these facilitated workshops. With the presence of a good moderator, however, this can be avoided.
Surveys help cover a larger section of the population – a feature which other research methodologies do not offer. This ensures that the results are more accurate by targeting a specific user group, which helps make better design decisions. There are many modes of surveys which include online surveys, paper surveys, telephone surveys, and social media surveys. Data collection and analysis can be automated to reduce time and cost.
Figure 4 - Survey
Help desks and service lines
Monitoring customer support phone calls, e-mails, chat conversations, and in-person requests helps identify the pain points. This provides valuable data on where the user is facing difficulties and repeated issues. It helps understand the user’s vocabulary, identify the areas to focus on, and provides solutions specific to these areas.
Web analysis logs
Web analysis logs provide rich quantitative data on identifying what actions users take when they come to a page, and how many engage in those actions. This data helps us evaluate the success or failure of the design and identify areas which require intervention. This data also serves as an input for other direct and indirect data gathering methods like interviews and surveys.
uUser research data provides valuable information about the potential users, their needs, behavior, and pain points. While some methodologies like interviews and contextual enquiries provide rich data on users, there are alternative research methodologies which are cost-effective and quicker. The persona creation process is informed by research and an intimate knowledge of an established user base. Personas will help create a better design for the user base which will not only be useful during the design process but also validate if the designs address the user’s needs.
User research data provides valuable information about the potential users, their needs, behavior, and pain points.
If this crucial activity of user research is ignored, it can lead to a design based on mere assumptions of the developers or designers’ concepts and ideologies. Any application designed on assumptions will fail to address the user’s needs.