The case for UX research

Question mark

Photo by Emily Morter

Dear UX researchers (and appreciators of UX research), this article isn’t for you. Okay, stay if you want. This article outlines the importance of User Experience Research (UXR), why it needs to be invested in, and its ROI. 

1. What happens if you don’t invest in UXR?

AKA, what’s wrong with going with user assumptions? 

The short answer: Well…nothing good. 

The long answer: At best, product and user assumptions are educated guesses. And the user in these assumptions is never really “the user”, but an idealized version of your future customers. 

Assumptions are a stepping stone in the design process, not the whole bridge. In fact, more often than not, they take the product further away from where their users are and where they need to go. 

The best case scenario with neglecting UXR is leaving money on the table. The worst-case scenario is creating a product that doesn’t have a market fit. 

Let’s look at a real-world example. Zenprint, an online printing service, was looking for ways to lower its bounce rate. Using a more robust analytical tool, they could see where users were dropping off and losing interest. These insights gave them the data needed to change their design and reduce their bounce rate by 7%

What if they didn’t make those changes and only had a surface-level understanding of their data? In the best-case scenario, the situation would remain static with fewer users bouncing. The realistic case would be Zenprint hemorrhaging users. 

This insight was gained from looking at data and user behavior with a few screens in their product. Imagine how much your product could improve with a few key insights and targeted research.

2. Types of UXR

With UXR, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each scenario merits different research methodologies. 

There are two different ways to gather and analyze data in UXR. 

QUALITATIVE
This is all about user observation. Centered around understanding people’s beliefs, behavior, and habits. Some qualitative techniques include

  • Interviews 
  • Field studies 
  • Moderated usability testing 
  • Unmoderated usability testing 

These insights can lead to a deeper contextual understanding of users’ interaction with the product (or lack thereof). 

QUANTITATIVE
This is about pure measurement. Using numbers and statistical behavior analysis, researchers can gather bias-free user insights. Some quantitative techniques include

  • Benchmark analytics 
  • A/B testing 
  • Tree testing 
  • Surveys or questions

Because quantitative research can require a larger number of users for testing, this is great for challenging a product hypothesis. 

Each list is just scratching the surface of the methodologies available. This is here to illustrate how vast the field is rather than fully explain the nuance of each approach. 

Not sure what kind of UXR you need? Hop on a quick discovery call and let us help.

3. Understanding the ROI of UXR

Earlier, we established the consequences of neglecting UX Research. Let’s dive into the ROI.

Now it may seem like the price of an assumption is free. But the reality is that assumption will get very expensive when the product comes into contact with the market. 

Whereas UXR can have some sticker shock, with labor, time, and money, it does pay for itself. To determine the ROI of UXR, there are a few steps to follow.

Firstly it starts with metrics. More specifically, it starts with a metric that you are looking to investigate/improve with research. For example, here are a few to choose from. 

  • Success rate 
  • Completion rate 
  • Ease of use rating

Let’s say we are looking to improve the success rate with the checkout flow for an e-commerce product.

The next step is to complement this metric with the right Key Performance Indicator (KPI). This KPI is something that should be appreciated by every department in the organization. A few examples are

  • Profit 
  • Cost 
  • Employee productivity

KPIs provide a more valuable context for the product metrics. 

Your research shows that the purchase confirmation page was poorly worded, and the content wasn’t providing enough clarity about the user’s specific items. You adjust the content and the UI to provide more clarity around the total amount and the option to see all the items in larger orders. This gives people more confidence and lets more users complete the checkout process. 

In this case, an improved success rate metric in the checkout flow would improve the profit KPI.

4. Common Objections to UXR

IT’S TOO EXPENSIVE
Yes, UXR can be costly. No one is denying that. The average cost for a larger UXR study can be as much as $30,000, depending on your project’s needs. That said, it’s too expensive not to. Just because there’s a feature that works for you doesn’t mean that it will work for your user base. You can spend some money now and know for sure or lose more money in the market.

WE DON’T HAVE TIME
Product development as a whole is a long process. It can take up to 3 months for a product prototype to be developed and much longer to make that product viable. There might not be time to do the UXR the situation merits, but there is still time to gather some useful insights.

IT’S NOT VALUABLE
This might be the most baseless objection. Proper user testing with just 5 people can reveal up to “85% of design issues. If the assumption was correct, then it’s been validated! If the assumption is… incorrect, then the untested product or feature is wreaking havoc with your UX.

5. Conclusion

I’m going to make an assumption and say you have heard of the three little pigs story. I want you to imagine the three houses. In the first two houses, straw, and sticks, your product is built with untested assumptions. The stone house that survives the wolf (aka the market), is the product built with proper UXR. Are “straw” and “stick houses” cheaper and quicker? Yes. Do they last long with a hungry “wolf” nearby? (and the wolf is always nearby)

Assuming you want your product to be a stone house and not be eaten by the wolf, invest in UXR. It might just save your bacon. 

Three little pigs gif
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