Designing digital products has become more abstract and complicated with time. People have started using their digital devices with much less conscious thought, discarding products within minutes to find a new one if it doesn’t suit their interests.
Businesses have to work much harder to keep their attention since distraction is always just a click away.
As a product manager, these issues make it challenging for you and your design team to build a product that resonates with your audience, addresses their problems, and is something they constantly want to return to.
This is where user research in product management comes into the picture.
User research methods allow product managers to gain an in-depth understanding of their target audience’s behavior, preferences, and perception.
There are different types of user research that businesses can choose from depending on the kind of information they’re looking for. Furthermore, different departments will require different types of research data.
In this blog, we’ll understand what is user research in product management, various types of user research, and how to conduct user research effectively.
What Is User Research in Product Management?
User research in product development is essential in developing digital products that offer real value for both people and businesses.
It enables enterprises to understand the needs of their target audience and the market by collecting information in a structured manner. It helps build a strong foundation that allows them to design products that are flexible to the constant changes in the market.
In simple terms, user research in product management is a phase that is solely focused on gathering information from the market and the audience. It’s one of the most critical steps within the product design and development process since it helps understand the audience’s needs, pain points, motivation, fear, and how well they relate to a product.
User research validates the assumptions businesses make based on real data. Furthermore, this information helps ensure that companies are focused on designing solutions that address the right issues, thereby increasing the product-market fit.
Let’s take a deeper look at the different benefits associated with user research in product management.
Benefits of User Research for Product Success
1. Product-market fit
Many companies tend to focus primarily on developing a solution rather than the problem itself while building new products. Designing or creating a product based on UX research techniques helps businesses keep the problem statement and issues the product is trying to solve at the forefront.
The bottom line is that you can only build a successful product if you have an in-depth understanding of your audience’s habits, expectations, behaviors, pain points, and more,
Without user experience research, businesses will be stuck with a product that doesn’t resonate with their audience. The only way to achieve a product-market fit is to talk to customers and see if their words align with the data you’ve collected to make informed decisions.
2. Validate your assumptions
When businesses start any new project, they begin with ideas based on assumptions. With user research, teams can test their ideas to define the precise issues they need to focus on.
This is a vital step before you can develop a valuable hypothesis that you can (again) validate with your audience with different user research methods.
Validating your assumptions allows enterprises to lower the risk associated with project development at the beginning of the product-development lifecycle — before they’ve made any meaningful investment.
3. Saves money
While user research in product development isn’t seen as a cost-effective step, it saves companies a lot of money. Additionally, user research doesn’t need to dig a hole in your pocket if you build a plan with clear goals.
The thing is, it would cost 50x more to fix an issue after developing a product than realizing it during the user research phase. Building products on UX assumptions can lead to expensive mistakes later in the design and development process after investing in the “less than ideal” solution. Fixing errors on a fully-developed product requires a lot more resources that a company may not be able to afford.
Building a product without proper user research is similar to stumbling around in the darkness of the night, trying to get yourself a glass of water from your kitchen. You will stub your toe or bump your shoulder, which can be painful mistakes in corporate terms.
User research in product development is like placing lights along your path, so you know precisely what path to take to avoid any bumps until you get your glass of water.
4. Avoids redevelopment
The next popular argument after cost is the time it takes to conduct user research. However, what people fail to comprehend is that user research often saves businesses a lot of time alongside other important resources.
When enterprises make decisions backed by data while designing and developing a product, there’s a high potential for teams to build their product the right way during their first attempt without major fallouts.
It also helps them pinpoint what aspects they need to prioritize in order to maximize the value of their product. This, in turn, saves a lot of time and money while they develop a product their target audience is genuinely looking for. This also has the added potential of developing products that have a high user retention rate.
Types of Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative User Research
There are different user research methods that companies can leverage to achieve their goals depending on the kind of questions they want to gain answers to. While collecting data during the research phase, it’s always a good idea to strike a good balance between qualitative and quantitative data.
1. Quantitative user research
Quantitative user research is a process design and development teams use to test their assumptions about people and the market and gather statistical and numerical data. Businesses use this quantified data to draw generalized unbiased conclusions about the behavior and attitude of their target audience.
In simple terms, this research data gives answers to your what, where, when, and how many questions.
2. Qualitative user research
Qualitative user research involves answering open-ended questions that can give businesses an in-depth contextual insight into their target audience. When it comes to humans, feelings and emotions are always going to be a huge factor in their purchasing decisions.
People have often chosen expensive or lower-level alternatives just because they prefer the feel of it over the other options.
Qualitative user research techniques give answers to the how and why questions to help companies get behind how their audience approaches different scenarios.
Trying to understand why your target audiences feel and think the way they do helps expose hidden truths about their needs, motivations, hopes, dreams, pain points, and more that can help you keep your project on track.
At what stage of the creation process should I conduct user research?
Qualitative data deals with thoughts and opinions that can be subjective. Compared to quantitative data, you can’t easily analyze the information you obtain from qualitative user research. Therefore, you need the data from quantitative research to put the information you gather from qualitative research into perspective, and vise versa.
The best time to conduct quantitative user research is at the beginning of a project. This data can be an excellent guide to ensure your project development moves in the right direction and avoid fixing costly mistakes later. You can complement this with qualitative research to create a more comprehensive understanding of your target audience.
This research information can help design teams drive their process towards a relevant and realistic representation of how the market will receive their product.
How to Conduct User Research?
Quantitative Research Methods
There are different types of quantitative research techniques that can provide valuable quantitative information. Here are some of the most useful techniques:
1. Card Sorting
We’ve all come across some annoying software applications where we just can’t seem to find what we’re looking for without actively searching for it. This happens when companies structure their content based on what makes sense to them instead of their users.
Card sorting is one of the best quantitative user research techniques to create a product design and information architecture that makes genuine sense.
In this UX research method, people are asked to group different cards according to criteria that make sense to them. This technique helps businesses build their product’s architecture to match the audience’s mental model and expectations.
There are three different card sorting UX techniques you can choose from:
- Open card sorting: Participants are given a bunch of labeled cards that they’re asked to sort into groups that they feel are logical. Next, they are required to create category labels for each group they’ve created without any restrictions on how they name them. This sorting is excellent if you have already mapped out a navigation system and want to test to see whether it aligns with what the users have in their minds.
- Closed card sorting: This is exactly like open card sorting, except people are asked to sort the pre-filled cards into groups with predefined categories.
- Hybrid card sorting: In hybrid card sorting, people are presented with a few predefined categories, but they also have the freedom to create their own categories. This technique is useful if the team has established certain categories, but they’re looking for input from their users to gain insights into missing categories.
2. A/B Testing
You can leverage A/B testing during the later stages of the design and development process when you have a few versions of your product that you would like to test and pinpoint the most effective one. These versions usually only have one or two alterations and help you understand how one element might affect the user’s response to another.
3. Surveys and Questionnaires
Companies use user surveys and questionnaires to obtain information about their current or potential users. However, conducting a survey isn’t as quick and easy as people believe.
Sure, you can use the modern-day drag-and-drop tools to put together a bunch of questions within a few minutes. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is finding the right questions to ask your target audience. It’s difficult to form the right questions that aren’t biased and don’t lead your users.
User surveys typically include questions that would help the researchers understand their audience’s preferences toward a product or a feature.
You can add different types of questions to your user surveys; however, they typically fall into two primary categories — open and closed.
Open-ended questions have blank spaces where users can express their thoughts and opinions in any way they want. They’re excellent for gaining some qualitative research data when it comes to user behavior. Closed questions give you quantitative information that you can use to back up your qualitative research data.
Qualitative User Research
1. User Interviews
User interviews help companies gain insights into what their audience like, how they feel while using a specific product, what they may think is missing, what’s the best and worst part about a product, and so on.
This UX research technique can be done before you start with the design and development process to develop audience personas and journey maps. They can also be conducted after the product is designed to see how they respond to it and what changes can be made to optimize the product.
2. Usability testing
Usability testing is one of the core UX research methods that design teams leverage to validate the functionality and ease of use of a product. It’s crucial to create a product that users find intuitive to use.
While usability testing is an essential part of the user experience research process, there isn’t a strictly defined process for it. You’ll have to customize it depending on the needs and requirements of your business and product.
Here are some tips to improve user testing:
- Test at the easy stages. Don’t wait until the product is developed to conduct usability tests — take advantage of design mock-ups and prototypes (even if they’re just semi-functional).
- Outline your goals. Know what you’re looking to gain after conducting a test. Develop your usability test keeping this in the forefront of your mind.
- Open-ended questions. Let the users speak and take note of the phrases and terminologies they use while they answer your questions.
- Use real users. Oftentimes, people have their friends or family provide feedback and consider it part of their user research. It’s vital to find unbiased potential users who are a part of your target audience to participate in your UX research.
- Involve the team. When you involve the entire team in the research process and give them the chance to observe the user, it’ll help them understand and empathize with their target user. This has the added advantage of your team consciously (and subconsciously) keeping the audience’s feedback in the forefront during every step of the product development process, no matter how big or small.
3. Concept testing
Concept testing is just as simple as it sounds. This technique allows businesses to validate the concept behind the product, design, and marketing to move forward with the best ones and save their resources.
During the product discovery stage, you have a lot of exciting ideas from different people. How do you figure out which one to go with?
Here’s the thing.
There may be a lot of good ideas, but an idea can only be successful if it appeals to the people you’re building it for.
Concept testing also enables teams to gain real data to back up their ideas, especially when trying to get the stakeholders on board.
Concept testing can be used to evaluate various solutions to a problem and identify the best one during the discovery and ideation stage. It’s a great strategy you can use to put design ideas to the test after you’ve started working on the product.
The beauty of user research in product management is that it’s valuable for everyone involved. Your users get a product that genuinely serves their needs, your design team knows they’re moving along the right track, and it saves your business time and resources by only investing in the most relevant ideas.
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