User Research and Software Development
User research is the process of surveying, talking to, and gathering information about how a target audience will react to a specific topic or product. It's highly advisable that user research be a cornerstone in any custom software development project.
We get a lot of questions about user research and how it plays into our development process. We've pulled together the 5 top questions about user research that we truly love to be asked and love to answer.
Top 5 Questions About User Research
When do you do user research in a software project?
The short answer is: at the start and constantly throughout. We don't love short answers, so let us elaborate. User mindset and feedback are going to change over time. Do not limit your project by gathering information at the start (or before the start) of your project and then forget about your user. Set up regular check-ins, as we do in an agile development process, with the same users, or the same demographic, throughout the development and after launch (and regularly after that) so that you understand the changes in your user as trends occur and use cases change.
What type of user research is best?
Choosing a user research type will often depend on the type of data you need and your time constraint. We like to recommend focus groups for the conception of a software idea. These help to truly understand the user problem that the software is trying to solve. Surveys are a great way to gather constant, regular feedback data on an existing software product (like a mobile app or website experience). The most ambiguous data collection will be quantitative views of a large dataset, so make sure you're mixing in qualitative data to put a perspective on the numbers.
Do you need to give an incentive to get good user feedback?
Incentives are often a good way to get more users to participate. We also find it's an excellent way to attract the “neutrals”. People with strong opinions (on either side of the spectrum) are often the loudest; this is true for life, not just user research. In order to attract people that ultimately don't care (but still use your software often) an incentive can go a long way.
This is also the case if you are looking to garner feedback from people who are downright angry about your software (or the problem the software is going to solve). Some people just love to be heard, most unhappy people will want compensation for their frustration and tell you about it.
Why is user research so important?
You cannot solve a user's problem without user research. Please don't make us repeat it. Like stated before, the happiest and the angriest will be the loudest. But is it the majority? User research helps you identify the most important problems to fix and often helps you prioritize them. Without understanding your users' pain points, your software may never truly answer their concerns. Step one to creating a solution is to empathize with the users. User research is the conduit to empathy.
Is user testing different from user research?
Yes. That being said, user tests can be used to confirm what the user research showed. Many companies will perform A/B tests on their apps or websites based on information they gathered from surveys or focus groups. User testing, however, can also be unrelated to user research - like testing out button changes on a website or adding a feature that is purely for the business' benefit (those never happen right?).