Importance of User Research

March 17, 2014

Unfortunately, the word research has gotten a bad rep over the years. Someone hears research and suddenly they think high dollars and waste of resources. Most people think of it being a waste of time without understanding it’s value, importance, and outcomes.

But it’s important. So important that it’s probably the reason the experience of your product isn’t satisfying your users or driving the revenue you’d like to see.

By conducting user research it will help you learn why users make choices and how they behave in their environment. It helps us understand our users and determine how our products fit their lives. It gives us context.


You might be saying I already know how often users engage with my product, and when they interact with it. I use analytics! But can you determine why users use your product in the first place? Do you know why they choose your product over another? Do you know what changes could to be made so that the product fits better within your user’s lifestyle?

Those whys and hows are almost impossible to determine unless you engage your users. Furthermore, when you do engage a user, their attitude and behavior isn’t always what they may report to you in an interview. Observing users in their own environment is key to determining the right experience for your product.

A $300 Million Dollar Example

Have you heard of the $300 million dollar button? It’s fascinating. A very prominent e-commerce site had a simple form in their checkout process – an email address field, password field, a login button, a register button, and a forgotten password link.  The thought behind this was as a user checked out, they could purchase faster. First-time users would have to put in a little extra effort, but every time they returned it’d be easier. Sounds simple right? Well, not exactly. Sales went down and no one had any idea what was going on.

As Jared Spool states in his article, The $300 Million Button, this e-commerce company hired him to conduct usability tests on this site and determined that this company was wrong about those first-time shoppers. They minded registering. Repeat customers sometimes remembered if they had an account, other times they forgot which email they registered with, etc. etc.  So this simple form, designed to make the experience easier on customers ended up prohibiting sales for this company – a lot of them.

Spool and his team analyzed the feedback from this research and deduced that taking away the Register button and replacing it with a Continue button and a simple message stating you could create an account later might help the situation.

It did. That simple change resulted in a 45% increase in customers and those extra purchases yielded $15 million dollars in the first month! In that year, sales increased by $300,000,000. That one simple change deducted from a few sessions of user testing returned millions of dollars.

The Process

So how do we conduct research? Let me be clear, there is no silver bullet when it comes to conducting user research. In order to achieve the right feedback with actionable outcomes, you must use multiple research methods throughout the lifecycle of your product.

If you’re looking to learn how users behave using your product you’re probably looking to conduct usability testing to get qualitative feedback. Or perhaps you don’t want to actually recruit your users but still seek to gain some quantitative feedback about their behavior – in which case you’ll probably need to conduct some analytics reviews or add A/B testing to your product. Or, perhaps you’re just looking to learn about what a user thinks about a potential product before you build it. Compile all these reasons and methods, plus the required learned outcome, and the timing and status of your product when testing – selecting the right method is a science within itself!

However, no matter which direction you pursue and no matter when you time it in the development of your product, there is a step process followed when conducting user research.

  1. First, we must know what we want to learn. What are we trying to answer?
  2. Second, we consider what we already know about our users and the product. These are known as hypotheses.
  3. Third, we’ll consider what we know from steps 1 and 2 and consider the best route to learn about the missing information. These could be diary studies, A/B testing, focus groups, well, the list could go on and on.
  4. Tests are conducted with users using the methods selected.
  5. And finally, we’ll analyze the data.

All of the information that comes out of the testing will be abundant. This is when you need an experience (UX) designer or architect, visual designer, tech lead, product owner, and the client to come together to analyze the data. Working together, those results will help us to understand why users are behaving in a certain way. We can respond more effectively to user needs with informed and innovative design solutions.

So, instead of thinking of user research as a hefty process, I ask you to switch your mindset to see that the effort made during the product lifecycle could end up providing savings to your organization. More information could lead to less revisions, a faster development cycle, and a much more valuable experience for your users. Not thinking this way could lead to the next $300 Million Dollar Button.