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User Experience Research

Building a product in a vacuum, just driven by your team's intuition, is obviously not a great idea, but done more often than you would think.

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The best way to get to product-market fit (and to improve it constantly) is to conduct in-depth research about your users' reactions to your product prototypes and of course the actual product.

User experience research is an abstraction level down from the persona interviews explained here. While persona interviews try to understand customers' general needs, user research aims to verify if your concrete product (or prototype) can satisfy those needs.

Steps to conduct user experience research

  1. Plan the goal and scope of the research You should first clarify which hypotheses you want to verify with the research. Decide how many interviews you will need. Typically you can get 90%+ of the insights with just a handful of interviews, so there's rarely a need to conduct more, at least in early stages. Define which types of users you want to interview.
  2. Recruit target users Decide how you want to recruit the right users. Tapping into your pool of customers and prospects is often the easiest way, but you could also go broader and recruit interviewees online. Decide if and how you want to compensate people for their time, e.g. with gift certificates. Figure out the details of confidentiality, e.g. if people will have to sign an NDA. Schedule the interviews with enough buffer time between them — you don't want to interrupt a great interview due to time constraints.
  3. Develop the interview script Write the interview guide and prepare the necessary assets, such as design prototypes, wireframes, etc. A good interview length is about 30-60 minutes. Decide who on your team will participate. It's typically best to use at least two people, so that one can concentrate on the interview and the other can observe and take notes.
  4. Test the interview Do a dry run of the interview with internal people to hash out any open details.
  5. Conduct the interviews Next to the formal answers to interview questions, it's also important to observe interviewees' more subtle reactions such as facial expressions. Also make sure to ask them at the end in an open-ended way about their impression. After the interview, do a quick debrief with your own interview team.
  6. Analyze results Identify the most relevant insights from the interview. Some might be higher-level and could lead to fairly fundamental product changes. Others might be smaller, low-hanging-fruit type of inputs. Prioritize the recommendations and share them with the product team, but also beyond. These kinds of insights can he helpful for sales and customer success, for example.

Who should lead UX research?

UX research is the responsibility of the product management team, but that doesn't mean that product managers are the best people to conduct the research. Interviewing users requires a fairly specific skill set. Furthermore, product managers often are passionate about their own product ideas and might react negatively (often unconsciously) to a user's criticism. This can affect research results negatively.

More mature startup teams often have full-time UX experts on staff. Earlier in the development cycle, it can be worth working with an external UX specialist who has the experience, tools and dispassionate distance to conduct effective UX research.

Useful Resources

Donoghue and Newell: Envision Product

A focused guide on how to get user experience right for startups