Let’s face it, user experience research is a fickle companion. On one hand, we’re able to draw upon centuries of research knowledge, from various fields, to help us understand and improve users’ experiences. On the other hand, conducting research in this industry means having to deal with unique circumstances that often make it difficult to best utilize these methods.
Piaget never had to deal with over-stressed stakeholders. Margaret Mead was never asked to deliver results in two weeks. They had it easy. Okay, maybe our plight isn’t unbearable. Our challenge, however, is to adapt these tried-and-true methods and make them work for us.
To help us in this endeavor, I’m sharing a framework that has helped me stay aligned with best research practices as I navigate the complexities of conducting research in a business setting. It’s called the “IZE” method, because, well, the phases are:
The infographic below is fairly self-explanatory so I won’t go into too much detail. I do, however, want to stress that this framework is merely a guide to help us stay anchored in a sense of research normalcy. There will be projects in which each stage may not apply. I use this framework as a mental check-in, as the connective tissue between the centuries of research practice that we draw from and the fledgling field of UX research that we’re creating.
Often, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding aspects of a project. This is your opportunity to make sure everyone is on the same page. Try to get a clear understanding of the research goals, and if you’re lucky enough, the business goals. The clearer these can be defined, the easier it will be to pave a path toward success.
It’s helpful get clarity on the roles of team members and stakeholders. It’s also important to get clarity on how to define key constructs. The more clarity you have on definitions of constructs, the better you can determine how to measure those constructs. For example, there are many different interpretations of, and ways to measure, ease-of-use, task performance, brand perceptions, etc.
If things still seem murky, try conducting interviews with stakeholders or others who can help shed light on things. The biggest “oops” we’re trying to avoid here is embarking on a study based on good intentions and misunderstandings.
While this phase is critical for empirical research, it’s often a luxury for us. However, it’s important to get familiar with past research that’s been done on the topic or product. Understanding how your project fits within the larger context will help you glean insight and accurately situate your findings.
This will also allow you to determine whether your project will make a unique contribution to what’s already “known”. If you can’t see the value in executing this project, think about what you can do to make it worthwhile. Perhaps there are variables that haven’t previously been considered that you believe could have an impact on users and the outcome of the study. Perhaps a twist on the study design will yield valuable insight.
That brings us to our next phase. Most UX researchers know which methods will best address the research goals. However, as we’ve discussed, there are going to be limitations and obstacles that make executing these methods less than ideal.
At EchoUser, one of our values is to “harness ambiguity”. I’ve found this to be critical, as ambiguity rears its ugly head during many phases of a project (especially for consultants). In this particular phase, I remind myself, “make the most with what you’re given”. Let’s explore creative research solutions that allow us to achieve the stated goals of the project.
This is where all your hard work pays off. You’ve recruited participants in record time, you’re collecting data exactly as planned, everything is going perfectly. Right? Nah, probably not.
Issues here are to be expected, don’t be afraid to change your approach. Keep the research goals in mind, they are your true north.
Now, what to do with this messy pile of data? Get organized as best you can.
You know that “I can conquer the world” feeling you get after you worked hard to clean your house? That’s what I’m trying to achieve here. By organizing, cleaning, and coding the data, you’re providing yourself with a foundation on which to discover patterns and themes that emerge from your participants.
Here we’re looking to take the results and make them findings. By this, I mean we’re looking to make sense of the results. Not only do we need to address the research goals, but we need to look a bit deeper and consider “why” we’re finding what we found. If you made earlier predictions or hypotheses, how did the actual results compare?
After turning your results into findings, the challenge is to turn the findings in to insight. My experience has been that stakeholders care mostly about the insight. Particularly, actionable insight. As a UX researcher, this is where your value is most potent. We have the distinct honor of representing the user, and sometimes they have no other advocates. So, if lessons learned from your participants aren’t quite clear, find a rocking chair, stroke your figurative beard, and reflect. Or, more realistically, grab a coffee with your team and reflect.
I’ve come to believe that the primary role of UX researchers isn’t to understand users, but to help others understand users. This is why I labeled this phase evangelize. Often, we need to be the evangelist.
When conveying your findings, it’s helpful to understand your audience. Some will have little research background, some will only care about about the bottom line, some won’t hear a word you say because they’re daydreaming about the strawberry salad they’re going to have for lunch. It’s up to us to demonstrate the implications of the findings, why they’re important, and how they inform the enhancement of users’ experience.
I hope this framework is as helpful for you as it has been for me. If you have any thoughts, please do share.