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A few weeks ago, an independent yoga teacher asked me for advice on pricing. I requested her price list and was a bit shocked what I saw. The layout and structure was complex. It listed base prices, monthly, quarterly and annual cards, 10 different price options in total. It was more like an IQ test. When humans are confronted with too many options, the default decision is not to make a decision. That's why we thought “usability research” might be a topic worth discussing. Many people think it's a buzz word from the Internet industry, a “new” specialty. In fact, every brand and industry, from a noodle place's menu to luxury giant's retail stores, usability research is a must. If usability is not considered, you have to fight it with money! For this topic we welcome back our subject-matter expert Fay Qi, senior mobile designer from Booking.com (the highest conversion rate website world wide). She will share with us how to implement usability research to hack your growth in a simple and easy way. The key is to adopt a method and then smartly apply it to your business.
No matter if AI (artificial intelligence) or AR (augment reality), usability research is essential. For different product development stages, the usability research approach changes, however the fundamental principle always stays the same.
As an academic subject, the history of usability research is not that long. Most approaches come from commercial consulting like BCG and McKinsey. I have studied usability research, approaches and processes for two years. Don't worry, this article is not a boring textbook case, it's a much more practical approach.
I don't think I need to explain again why usability research is so important, just be aware that every company needs it. A/B testing is not part of it because it doesn't tell you the fundamental source of the potential issues you may have.
The good thing is, you can apply usability research to almost every single product or service you are offering.
- To understand who your users are, how they behave and what their attitude is towards your product /service.
- To verify an idea.
- To explore scenarios of new technology usage.
- To understand why users use your competitors product.
- To understand why users use your products for marketing purpose.
- To understand whether your solution really solves the users problem.
In short, usability research can help you solve any issues, from strategies to functions.
I learned a lot from each usability research (usability test). Many things are obvious to users, but not to me. For instance, how a specific function is used in a certain scenario. Therefore, I listen to every user's feedback humbly and more than often, they teach and inspire me.
What is usability research to lean startups?
I used to work for a design firm as a researcher, answer clients' product strategy related questions. Without a doubt, all those reports end up on the shelves, covered in layers of dust. Their value is forgotten very soon. Now I work in a Lean Startup environment. I've thought a lot about how usability research adapts to lean startups.
In lean startups, usability research should be called “Lean Research” or “MVR” (Minimum Viable Research). Usability research doesn't take a month or longer. Most times, it just needs to answer one or more questions quickly. The whole process should only take 1-2 weeks. The process and approach needs to be practical, no need for redundant reports, observations can be shared simply via email. The most importantly, every team member should participate in the research, thinking from the users' perspective and understand their pain points. It encourages developers to realize how meaningful their work is, it motivates them to continuously contribute new ideas and enjoy their achievements.
Let's take a look at regular usability research process and methodology.
Define the research goals
Research goals are usually answering user related questions. Asking the right questions is the key. For instance, what kind of itinerary assistant do users need? That's not a good research objective. Why? Because users can't tell you what kind of products they want. What you need to ask is users behavior and psychological needs. For instance: How do users curate an itinerary? What issues do they encounter during the process? How does their mood change? Your research target needs to be as specific as possible.
Identify a correct research approach
There are two approaches, one is to identify qualitative issues, the other quantitative issues.
Qualitative research is to understand the motivation, emotion and scenario behind users' behaviors. The conclusion helps you to understand the fundamental nature of your issue.
There are many qualitative research methodologies and tools. For instance, in-depth conversation, observation, diary, field research, phone research, survey, usability test etc. Depending on product and research objectives, methodologies vary.
Let me give you an example. Uber is used in a very specific scenario, therefore field research is used. Researchers put themselves in the exact scenario to see how users' surroundings affect their experience. When they need to test a new function, they sit next to the drivers to conduct in-car research, to observe how people use Uber in the real world. For instance, how drivers hold and use their phones in a small space. Field trips help to collect product usage scenarios. Uber did field research in Shanghai and Guangzhou. They realized that the two cities have many highways, drivers often have to make a U turn to pick up passengers, which causes long waiting times for the passengers. That helped Uber to improve their algorithm of waiting time calculation.
Our company, Booking.com, uses many research methods, but mostly we invite users to our lab and ask them a series of questions based on our research objectives. Our team sits behind a glass wall observing and taking notes.
That's the basics about qualitative research. Let's move on to quantitative issues, understanding user behavior data. I'm not an expert on this, but it's still a crucial element in our company. It not only helps to understand user behavior, but also how to prioritize projects. The bigger the quantity, the higher the project's priority. A handful of samples are probably not enough to come to a decisive conclusion, that's the time to dig deeper with further A/B testing.
How to ask user questions?
How to ask users questions is a big topic. First of all, you can't ask leading questions. For instance: “Do you not like this color?” Next, you can't ask biased questions. Professional researchers not only discover issues by asking the right question at the right time, but they are also able to identify whether an user's feedback matches their actual behavior. It happens a lot that users tend to tell you what you want to hear to maintain a good impression of him/herself.
How to take notes
I have to mention how to take notes. I usually use a Google spreadsheet while I observe a test. I take notes on valuable information and try to write down users' expressions as detailed as possible, especially their emotions. The most important thing is writing down ideas that come up at that moment, because my memory is not very reliable.
How to conclude
The final conclusion is an important step as well. Every team member participating in the test should share their takeaway and suggestions right away. If time allows categorize and analyze findings to find a solution. The final sharing is as important as the research report itself, because nobody likes to read research reports. The key here is to share “what you have learned” in a timely manner.
Last but not the least
Usability research shouldn't be the only way to solve your product or service issue. It shouldn't be an “excuse” to stop production or service development. If you don't have a professional researcher, any team member can execute usability research. As long as you think of your users, every conversation with users will inspire you.
Fay also shared with us "How to drive growth with Cognition Design".
About The Author
Fay Qi, graduated from Tsinghua University and Illinois Institute Of Technology. Working as Senior Mobile UI Designer at Booking.com.