4 Helpful UX Research Tips I Wish I Knew

sahvanna
7 min readMar 18, 2023

These are some tips that have helped me in my research career, I wish I knew beforehand.

Blackberry Smartphone

For all the youngsters out here, this is the Blackberry smartphone developed in the late 1990s. They were at the peak of innovation and technology, doing tremendously above all the other players like Nokia, Motorola and Samsung. Their goal was to create a phone for the higher earners to walk around with a sleek, sexy expensive gadget.

Developed by a company called Research In Motion, their user research served them well. At its peak, Blackberry had a 42% market share in the US — higher than any other smartphone for its time. But unfortunately, they didn’t continue to innovate.

In late June 2007, Apple released its first-ever iPhone. They developed smartphone users didn’t even know they needed.

It was revolutionary and if you look back at Jobs's 2007 Keynote for the debut all he ever wanted was that “it fits beautifully in the palm of your hand”.

Today, the iPhone has a 56% market share in the US, while the Blackberry operating system was officially decommissioned last year, this was due to them having an excessive focus on enterprise over user needs.

How do you think products like Apple, Duolingo, and Amazon today do exceptionally well amongst other players?

They considered the user at every step of the journey, they commit to doing proper user research which allowed them to uncover habits, sweet spots, opportunities, cognitive and emotional constraints.

One of Apple’s core values is that they believe in saying no to thousands of projects so they can focus on a few that are truly important and meaningful. Job’s really brought the user to the heart of the company.

Understanding human behaviour and the problem in context is priceless.
As Jobs said; “It’s not the user's job to know what they want, it’s our job to know before they do.”

  1. Define the purpose

Most companies can tell you what they sell but only a few can tell you why they exist. Usually, decisions are made on product features the what and the how. However, in behavioural science, study shows that most people buy once they’ve made an emotional connection to your brand.
We call them “emotional motivators.” They provide a better gauge of customers’ future value to a firm than any other metric, including brand awareness and customer satisfaction, and can be an important new source of growth and profitability. — Snippet from the new science of customer emotions.

Develop the best education in the world and make it universally available.
This is Luis von Ahn’s vision for Duolingo, one of the best learning apps on the market if you want to learn a new language, selvom du ikke er nordmann (especially if you’re not a Norwegian)!

Having a clear purpose and believing why the product exists changes the focus from selling products to focusing on the why.

To understand the why better, conversations with internal management and leadership will help you understand how they perceive the vision and why are we solving this. This way you’ll grasp a better, clearer understanding, spotting patterns and weed out uncertainty.

You’ll be able to contribute to the product roadmap and uncover areas for discovery and research.

Duolingo works relentlessly at improving its product. From interns to executives, they have the ability to contribute to ideas that make an impact on millions of learners. They test everything and prove their theories based on data.
To the point where learning how to break up in 10 different languages is the norm. Now that’s impressive…

At Aize, we are working on building a tool for large organisations in the energy sector to help them navigate data with a visual representation of the asset and mitigate risks out in the field.
The researchers and I have been eager to go on a field study since the end of last year. Research felt impossible when you’re working in a B2B industry and personally, it was demotivating we couldn’t get close to seeing how users are in their work habitat. Recently, we were able to do research on a project our product manager put us in touch with the project lead (client-side) and work collaboratively with him onsite. We were also able to express the importance of research and why we were there and were able to have recurring onsite meetings with others.

2. User contact
Direct user contact exposes your user journey and product.
We started what Terresa Torres a Product Discovery Coach calls continuous discovery.

You’ll learn how to use your own users' stories to discover their unmet needs. Get in touch with domain experts, customer success, product managers, and account managers to emphasise the need to speak directly with users. Stakeholders will endeavour to help out and eventually you’d take them on the journey with you.

If you can’t get a hold of users, you have other options; Guerilla testing, and analytics and express the need for research based on quantitative data, explore internet forums and communities. Make time to talk to your users directly. It shows a heartfelt commitment to understand their needs and a desire to create value.

Nielsen Norman Group clearly states that UX without user research is not UX.

3. Empathy

Teams will learn the importance of research when they’re involved from the start.

In Portland, US the city invested in building apartment blocks for many displaced families of minorities who got pushed out of the city. Even though the offering of the apartments was below market rate and available to only displaced residents.

The city had estimated the apartments would be at full capacity. Most units weren’t sold. The result is the city has to sell it to the open market.

It’s unbelievable how much time, precious resources, and millions of taxpayer money were spent with little impact. They never considered who and how many would be living in the apartments. The apartments were 1–2 bedrooms and most of the families were of 4 or more. Remember no 1. The why and the who.

I truly believe when colleagues start doing research they are more inclined to understand the value and ideal timing of insights to reflect on product strategy. Empathy will start to increase in the organisation and soon, you’ll have a lot of data to generate great solutions.

Last year sometime we held a design sprint of 3 days that involved several internal stakeholders. The PM of the team was skeptical of research. When we spoke to users, we were able to bring users to the heart of the sprint. We validated our assumptions and developed a prototype that kicked ass! We were able to influence the product managers on product discovery, and we came to several conclusions that proved our initial ideas wrong, allowing us to learn and iterate. Providing the team with a sense of purpose when it comes to building the product.

We celebrated by announcing to the whole organisation our findings and spreading the word, which brings me to my next point.

4. Transparency

Share your learnings, when you start investigating a topic no one has ever investigated before, it could be the most helpful thing you can do for your team and company.
We want the data and insights to have a meaningful and impactful effect on our teams and organisation. Even if you don’t know who can benefit from your research outside of your team, it’s still important to keep it accessible.

Sharing quotes, recordings, personas, empathy maps builds a stronger connection between the user and the product.

By having a common repository for insights, makes it easy for anyone internally to find. We use Dovetail at Aize, internally people are able to navigate back to the raw data, view our synthesis and reports, it’s been immensely helpful for building a user-centric product. This will eliminate feature factory thinking and heighten product thinking.

Now being a full-fledged researcher I’m learning every day and my journey is not perfect. If there’s one thing to take away from what I’ve been talking about, is this; users are a source of design guidance, inspiration, and enlightenment, and observing their behaviour is priceless.

Thanks to Finn.no for letting me express the importance of research in a world full of products, start-ups, large organisations and people.

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sahvanna

An avid traveler who wants to spread goodness, inspire and motivate others by word and mindfulness.