So why do audience research anyway? There are lots of great reasons. Traditionally research is done to uncover people’s perceptions. What do they like? What don’t they like? Why? What are they expecting to do? How are they expecting to do it?
Research can go beyond perceptions though and help uncover user needs. Most people think user needs are about getting something done…buying groceries, getting from one location to another, or taking photos. Those are all great low level needs. However, often there implied high level needs that aren’t expressed directly. Rather than buying groceries, maybe they want to see their family be healthy or maybe they want to find the best deals or maybe they want to get in and out of the store fast. While they share the same low level need, buying food, they each could have wildly different implications for design. If health is the concern, maybe the design should feature a way to get quick, understandable information about ingredients. If great deals were the issue, maybe listing the biggest discounts first would be important. Or, if speed were the issue maybe mapping the list on a floor plan of the store would help.
Research can also uncover the context of use. When will it get used? Where? How? (and maybe even Why?). Will they be standing in line? With the room be noisy or quiet? Will they be alone or with a group of people? Will they be trying to do something else at the same time? Each of these can have significant impact on the outcomes.
Finally, research can also find hidden needs (or pain points). These are things that users might not express directly, but become evident throughout the research.
Okay, so there’s a lot of great reasons to do user research, so why doesn’t everybody do it??? Well, there are two reasons we hear over and over…
I don’t have enough money…
…to cover research and development. There’s never enough money. The reality of any design project is that features cost less (much, much less, actually) if they are included (or at least considered and planned for) up front. Changes that come late in the process, say during testing or sometimes even after launch, can be very expensive. In fact, there’s an exponential cost to make a change the later it occurs in a process. Taking a little money up front to avoid surprises will save a lot of money in the long run.
We need this fast…
We don’t have enough time to do research. Much like money, time is limited resource. Unlike money, you can rarely get more time. Taking a little time up front to do good research will dramatically reduce the time in the long wrong.
In the long run, not doing research costs more and takes longer than doing it upfront. So, take the time and do it right. In upcoming posts, we’ll talk about techniques and tips to get you started in doing audience research.