Confession: User Research is Boring
Yeah that’s right… I said it. After getting up and talking about how we need to do more research, and knowing that many of us would kill to be able to conduct more user research, I make this statement. Now, of course, I realize that I have been extremely lucky to be able to conduct a great deal of user research, and I’m grateful for each and every opportunity. But, in reality, conducting research isn’t all that we hope it to be. Yes, you should do it and yes, you will get a large amount of insights to design from. But don’t be fooled into thinking the research part is glamourous, because it isn’t.
The problem with thinking that user research is going to be as exciting as a Vegas show is that our own hopes as well as those of the larger team, get set too high. We are expecting major breakthroughs and “answers” to all of our user experience questions. Having these high expectations can deter you from understanding the true purpose of user research, and from sticking to your user research goals. You, and more probable your team, will start to throw everything into the research agenda and your goals will become a distant dream. You and your team will then wait for the research day in extreme anticipation, and your hopes and dreams will be deflated once you begin talking to people and realize that they aren’t the saving grace that you were hoping for. You’ll then begin to “tweak” the research approach and questions in order to try and elicit more direct responses, which will bring your further from reaching your research goals, as well as further from conducting valid research and gaining true user insights.
The solution to these problems it to first realize that research is a means to an end. The analysis, more specifically YOUR analysis is the real Golden Nugget (see the Vegas theme here?). Your ability, and your UX team’s ability to create a great interview which gets at the user motivations you’re trying to understand, as well as helps to disseminate from that interview persona needs, goals, and tasks is the real gem of user research. User research sessions are usually pretty boring, especially after you have conducted many of them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love talking to people and enjoy understanding their motivations and behaviors. When I say user research is boring, I mean that you and your team will not get direct answers to your product questions from the users lips. Don’t expect to walk out of the sessions with answers to your problems. Expect to walk out with insights that will help you better understand your users so that you can better fulfill their goals.
By realizing what place user research has in our “toolbox”, we can better set expectations for our teams, as well as better sell the more fun parts of conducting user research; the analysis and problem solving that comes after. Of course, your team would still be encouraged to take part and observe, however they are now more aware of what to expect, and are more aware of the importance of your role as the UX professional. You are not just a wireframer, you are also not just a researcher, you are a problem definer and solver, and better setting expectations will expose this to both your team, but more importantly to you.