User Research (UXR) is a process through which things about target groups of users or consumers are discovered. Through UXR, ways in which different users interact with a product are observed, documented, and used to inform product design. Unlike methodologies of more established types of market research that are used to quantify things like ‘feasibility’ of a new product within a market, UXR methodologies are used to determine users’ own experiences of products as these are used in natural (everyday) contexts.
Essentially, UXR methodologies take into consideration user behavioural tendencies and values that users ‘perform’ through their mundane habits. Because these tendencies and values determine how users may approach and interact with product technologies and components, considering them is essential in creating intuitive and user-friendly designs.
Because people are complex and diverse, they present many combinations of values, meanings, behaviours, and strategies of interacting with the ‘mundane’.
Consider, for example, two women living in Malta: Karen, a working mother in her late twenties with small children and Jess, a single working woman of the same age who is living alone. Whilst there may certainly be times when the preferences and tendencies of the two are similar (ex. a gym class in the early evening), the ways in which they organise their days – their breakfast habits, what type of car they use, how and when they make use of food delivery apps, and so forth – will be different.
In other words, whilst Karen and Jess may be of the same age, gender, and at times engaged in similar practices, their values, habits, and needs – and therefore their respective expectations of the technologies and products that are necessary to these practices – are not the same.
Karen may prefer breakfast that is ready-made and in an ‘on-the-go’ format for herself and her children, whilst Jess may prefer to buy fresh fruit daily and take more time to prepare hers. Jess may prefer a smaller car to the one that Karen requires to drive her small children to school. Karen’s ideal user experience of the food delivery app and process may also be different to Jess’: the former may, for example, expect to have a ‘family friendly’ menu option on the app’s homepage, whilst the latter would prioritise an ‘offers of the day’ menu instead.
Acknowledging these differences between Karen and Jess implies a recognition of the fact that the values and expectations of different people depend on a multitude of situational variables. More pointedly, it implies a recognition of the fact that a client, a stakeholder, a product or UX Designer, Karen and Jess may all have different visions for an ‘ideal’ breakfast item, car, or food delivery app.
It follows that any product, app, or website that is intended for use by different groups of people in navigating their everyday lives needs to be designed in a way that seamlessly incorporates the different visions that those groups present.
UXR is about identifying those visions and transmitting them to the designer who may then create an experience that is both intuitive and practical – not only for him or herself, for the client, and the stakeholder – but for the people who will be using it.
One useful way of thinking about how UXR may discover and reconcile different values and experiences is to think about these as different plot points on a graph. Through an application of UXR methods (ex. interviews, observation, journey mapping) the researcher may discover user values and visions that may be represented as these plot points, which may be more or less distant from one another.
It is often impractical – if not impossible – to design user experiences that consider and ‘hit’ all these plot points: if one were to attempt to connect the points with one line, it would be a crooked, disorganised line.
The UX researcher, however, can draw a straight line through those points in identifying elements of common ground between user values, and how the experience may be designed to be as close as possible to user expectations. Through this process, the experience is principally designed upon ‘plot points’ provided by the users themselves.