User research: Why it’s important and its role at Advicent

September 5, 2019 by Meagan Haan

about the author:

Meagan Haan

User experience designer

Meagan Haan is a user experience designer at Advicent, the financial planning technology provider of choice for nearly 100,000 financial professionals.

When designing a product, there are numerous rules, heuristics, methodologies, and processes you can follow to create a fantastic product. Each user experience (UX) team across the globe will have their own unique set of standards they tend to gravitate towards for their creative process. But one thing that many of these different processes tend to have in common is the emphasis on understanding your user. It is a large part of the design flow, and an important step in creating for a target audience.

This is where user research comes in. User research is by and large an immensely important part of the UX design process. Without it, there is a lack of understanding of what we should be designing or who we are designing for. User research helps gather data to answer these questions and offers better insights into creative solutions for problems our users might be facing.

In this article, I would like to go through what user research really is, why it is such an important part of the design process, and what we currently do here at Advicent for user research.

What is user research?

User research, or UX research, is a part of the user experience design process that makes use of different types of research methodology to gather data. It is often done throughout the lifetime of a project to validate design decisions and to gather data and feedback while also helping focus in on the users that are being designed for.

As a user experience designer, something important to remind ourselves of on a regular basis is that we are not our users. User research helps us to clearly and accurately identify user pain points and goals but also addresses our own biases or misconceptions.

User research can come in many different forms, but there are two overarching types: research that gathers quantitative data and research that gathers qualitative data.

Quantitative vs qualitative data and their differences

Quantitative data is data that is easily measurable or quantifiable. It is comprised of facts and is structured and statistical. It is used to refute or support a hypothesis and helps to uncover patterns in things such as behavior.

Examples of research methods that generate this type of data:

  • Surveys
  • A/B testing
  • Task-based usability testing
  • Card sorts

Qualitative data is data that is more subjective and not as easily measured. This data provides insights into problems and is used to gain an understanding of individual experiences, opinions, and thoughts.

Examples of research methods that generate this type of data:

  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Beta testing
  • Contextual inquiries

Why include user research?

Aside from being helpful to gain an understanding of our target users, there are many benefits to incorporate it into the design process. Here are a few reasons why conducting research is so important:

1. Helps create products that users want

Without doing research, any and all ideas of what a user wants come from assumptions. Without understanding users and without data about the product that is being developed, there is no way of truly knowing if the design is wanted by the target users. If a product is not relevant to the target users, it will not be successful. Through interviewing users or surveying them, we can validate both design decisions and test stakeholder hypotheses about a product to determine whether a product is needed.

2. Decreases learning curve

By incorporating user testing sessions, or beta testing, a user can look through currently designed workflows. This offers the opportunity to see where these workflows are not as intuitive or understandable. Open conversations make it easy to receive feedback on what a user was expecting to be able to do, which ultimately helps to design a better, easier to use product.

3. Saves time in the long run

Research ensures that what is being designed comes from real insights instead of assumptions. We are able to build a product that users want and a product that is easily usable, which means that in the end, we are not going back to fix a ton of usability issues or worse — delivering a product that no one is interested in using. This can often save months, if not years, of labor to just fix a product.

Research activities allow a user to see parts of the product before release by making use of prototypes or mocks and show how a product will fair in a real-world situation. Any issues that need to be fixed before development begins will be highlighted in sessions such as these, so we can prevent problems before they even arise.

How does Advicent incorporate user research today?

The UX team here at Advicent has made use of a large number of different research methodologies.

Before beginning design work on projects, we have done contextual inquiries by interviewing advisors in their offices to understand what kind of tool they might need. Through the use of surveys, we have gained a clearer understanding of how many people use a specific part of released products and which areas they use the most.

During the design stages, we have set up task-based usability tests and interviews with users to get feedback and validate the design decisions that have already been made. We have also made use of card sorts to understand how a user would separate certain topics into categories. A newer research method we are implementing is beta testing so that we can get feedback about already developed features before we release to the public.

We have used various methods, but there are plenty more we can use. We are always looking to include new ways of gathering data and feedback to ensure we design with our users in mind.

To learn more about the details behind the recent visual design update to NaviPlan, click here >

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