The ability to do DIY user research is becoming a more valuable skill

User Research is starting to get outsourced. You still need in-house research

Three people in business casual attire sitting in front of desktop computers in an office
Photo by Arlington Research on Unsplash

I was surprised to find myself one of the few designers advocating for user research at a startup.

For me, user research was a crucial part of any design process, and I was trained extensively in its methods.

When I entered the world of startups, though, people would look at me oddly when I mentioned it. Either they thought I was making an unreasonable request, or they’d nod and ignore me.

This is part of a trend I’ve noticed with how startups and newer organizations organize their teams. A lot of the time, companies are now outsourcing their user research, and it’s a weird and worrying trend.

Here’s what you should know and do about it.

Startup life, product designers, and the scarcity of UX resources

“Fail fast and break things.”

That’s a motto of Silicon Valley that you’ve probably heard before, and it’s a mentality UX is well-suited to. Newer companies today often understand the value of UX very highly, but the way their product teams are arranged shows where their priorities lie.

According to Teresa Torres, author of Continuous Discovery Habits, there is a “Product Trio” at the heart of every team:

  • The Product Owner who defines the business problem as best as possible
  • The Product Designer who understands users and designs solutions to fit their needs
  • The Engineer who is responsible for back-end technical stuff and implementation of the design

These three are the core of any product and how business problems get addressed to suit user and business needs.

However, here’s where things become slightly odd: where does user research fit into this? According to Tony Jing, author of Hacking Product Design, UX Researchers are part of the ‘support’ team.

They’re often grouped with Data Scientists and Business Analysts to support the core team and their actions. However, they’re often considered a lower priority, so dedicated UX Researchers may not be hired.

As a result, Product Designers often are left to figure out user research by themselves, with stakeholders providing several reasons to resist formal user research:

  1. The main concern is getting a product out for users to use (and buy)
  2. It’s too expensive (for not enough benefit) to do user research now
  3. If we get it wrong, then we can iterate and roll things out later
  4. We can outsource our user research

Each of these arguments against user research could be an entire article, but I want to focus on the last reason because it’s what I’ve seen recently.

Outsourcing user research is especially popular for startups because it allows you to build something, gather customer data (and money), and then worry about user research. It seems backward to do it this way, but for startups, the first iteration is about getting something up and running.

That’s not to say that outsourced user research is terrible quality. I’ve attended demos from user research companies like UserTesting/UserZoom and tours of Analytics-based tools like Pendo. These tools have a lot of benefits, but some dangers occur from fully outsourcing your user research.

You don’t want user research to be something you can access (if your company is willing to pay) and nothing otherwise. However, you may not know how to support user testing without much of a budget.

As a result, here are some things to consider for DIY user testing with very few resources.

How to do ‘just enough research’ to support outsourced user research

If your company intends to outsource formal user testing to another company, you might only have to do some of the user research process by yourself.

This is where the term “Just enough research” comes into play. Erika Hall wrote a book dedicated to ensuring that enough research gets done to address your primary concerns, which is what we want to do in this case. You don’t have to be a one-person user research team that tackles everything by yourself.

Instead, do just enough research to support outsourced user research.

Ask questions about workflows or tasks, and link them to design solutions

One of the things that I’ve learned is that asking questions without a result can make you unpopular. While learning about a process can be helpful, getting a bunch of people together in a meeting is hard, so you want to save meeting time on those discussions.

Instead, it would be best if you focused your questions on a few sample topics:

  • Is this user workflow frustrating/tedious/etc.?
  • Are there particular tasks that seem frustrating to users?
  • How do users do their work?
  • How do our competitors accommodate our workflow?
  • Etc.

For example, I might not know much about setting up a company server, but I know that “waiting around for 15 minutes for a program to detect a new server” might be frustrating without good UX.

When I understand that, I can design something that addresses that issue in my solution. One thing to mention is that when you show off your design solution, specifically mention why you did that. For example,

“From previous discussions, it sounded like users waiting around for a server to be detected might lead to them sitting on this page for a while. As a result, we added these controls to manually scan rather than waiting for the next refresh, and a progress bar to show when a scan is in progress.”

Doing this helps link your questions during meetings to design solutions, and your stakeholders may be happier to support your questions (and even have quick chats).

However, there are other ways to validate user research.

Validate your user research instead of collaboratively building with others.

In an ideal world, you would work with other team members to build up design artifacts, workshop solutions, and more. However, this would be the case if they hired a UX Research full-time and if others had the time to build these things out collaboratively.

In reality, it’s usually necessary to do the lion’s share of the work to build up your basic understanding of something before you validate it with others.

This is where things like “5-minute interviews” can be beneficial. Taking a few moments and walking stakeholders through your understanding helps to clarify any issues you might not be aware of.

It might seem like a whole bunch of extra work, but there are things like FigJam and research templates in the Figma Community or Miro to help put these things together.

A gif showing how figJam works, including sharing, following, and more.

Of course, it could be as simple as sticky notes on a board, but having these things can ensure that your design is based on stakeholders’ understanding.

Reach out to internal experts like Customer Service and Subject Matter Experts.

If user research is being outsourced, you won’t have a budget to go around and recruit users. Instead, you might use a decent (but somewhat biased) solution: talking with internal users.

There tend to be three internal groups that can offer you a picture of your users and their motivations:

It’s essential to remember that these views will be somewhat biased (for example, there could be a significant usability problem that users don’t complain about to customer support because it makes them feel like an idiot).

However, talking with these people can provide helpful user insights without wasting too many resources. So that’s something that you should always keep in mind.

Be flexible with your company’s limited resources

Some companies I’ve worked for are complete advocates for user research, and they know its importance, but they still don’t have the resources to spend on it.

When the choice is either to release a sub-par product that users can buy now or a well-polished one that might not come out for six months, they’ll choose the former to ensure they can pay everyone at the end of the month.

After all, many companies outsource their user research because they want to have a product released to customers (to earn money) before they iterate based on user feedback.

However, these are not isolated cases, either. With the rise of Product-Led Growth, many companies might follow this way of setting up their organizations.

So if you hear that your user research will be outsourced, don’t just leave everything up to outside companies: do the best you can to do some in-house research that also helps inform your design.

Doing so will help ensure that every design iteration (including the first) will suit your user’s needs.

Kai Wong is a Senior Product Designer, Data-Informed Design Author, and author of the Data and Design newsletter. His new free book, The Resilient UX Professional, provides real-world advice to get your first UX job and advance your UX career.

Read the full article here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

What is Auto layout in Figma and 5 properties to get you started.

What is Auto layout in Figma and 5 properties to get you started.

Table of Contents Hide What exactly is auto-layout?

Ministry Design Agency on Land-book

Ministry Design Agency on Land-book


You May Also Like