While navigating through our increasingly digital world, we desire smooth journeys and perhaps a few moments of delight. Our digital UX experiences currently range from visiting websites, making online purchases, using all kinds of apps on our phones and wearables around our wrists, to smart televisions and inbuilt car navigation systems. Over the next few years, technologies like gesture, eye, head and full body tracking, brain-computer interfaces, personalised interfaces, and other new kinds of both implicit and explicit interfaces will add new elements to our digitally powered, everyday lives.
UX researchers make use of our behaviour data collected through interaction with these new technologies to offer services and products to us that really meet our individual wants and needs. However, transparency, e.g. how and by whom the data is used, is highly important or otherwise trust might be lost forever.
The digital environment
When designing digital environments one should first of all understand the digital media space. Part of this space is the content (what do we offer to our customers), the form (how do we offer it), the person (to whom) and the context in which the interaction takes place. Depending on your own UX research one element might be in stronger focus than the others, but all of them should be considered when designing new or improving existing digital user experiences.
Understanding your customers is key
Designing for everyone is close to impossible. Therefore, you first need to know who your desired main audience is, and then get to know their personal preferences and, as well as possible, also their individual differences.
When conducting digital UX research, there are elements that can be measured. Those include observable behaviours, users’ attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and intentions, as well as patterns within and across consumer groups. Simple ways to find out more about those elements are, for example, observing users while they experience your designed UX and have them narrate the process while they go through it. Like this, it is easy to realise how complex the experience really is and what feelings arise on the journey. In addition, asking the right questions will help to improve user experiences. Researchers should therefore be clear on what they want to find out and if they really want to know the answer(s).
As a general rule of thumb, users seek UX experiences that are intuitive, consistent, reliable, fast, easy to use, visually appealing and in some way engaging. Based on this, when doing UX research, the first step would be evaluating your UX strengths and weaknesses, and then prioritising what to improve based on what you know (or will find out) about your users.
UX research – is it worth it?
Many companies are put off by digital UX research because they think it takes a huge amount of participants and therefore also a huge amount of time and money. But the truth is that you can get rich data from a small group of people if you do your research right. Even ten participants can be enough for real, actionable insights. In proper research, the willingness to get to know your users is key. You have to read about them, observe them, talk to them and ask them questions, group similar people together and predict their behaviours and find out what their preferences are.
Some of the key digital UX research questions are: What motivates your users? What makes them engage with your service and interact with you? In what setting do they use your service? At what time? Do they tend to be distracted while they use it? What are their unmet needs? What do they expect? How can you delight them?
From psychological perspective you should consider that people generally seek for experiences that are rewarding. Perhaps surprisingly, learning something new is for most people the biggest reward. In addition, you should think about the decision making process a person goes through. There are conscious and unconscious decision making drivers. Unconscious decision making is based on free will, determination, gut feelings and intuition. Those are harder to research due to their unpredictability but through reading emotions and body language and with neuroscience becoming more and more accessible for UX researchers they could be to some degree incorporated in research processes. Conscious decision making is easier to research through e.g. asking the right questions. Based on which criteria do people choose to use your service over your competition? Below are a few examples that influence a person’s decision.
Conducting digital UX research is a means to co-create new user experiences together with your customers. Designing a service that works for one or a few does not mean that it works for the majority of your desired audience. Time spent on getting to know your actual users is time well spent since bad digital journeys make the majority of persons not come back to your service if better alternatives are available.
– C. Maiwald, SID14
This blog post communicates some of my personal take-aways from the 2-day short course “Digital UX: Evaluate & Optimise” by Goldsmiths University in London, attended February 24 & 25, 2016.