Designing a successful product or service relies on having a meaningful and ongoing understanding of the people who use it.

A company that invests in user research will outperform those who don’t because they understand who their users are, the context they’ll use the product in and what goals they’re trying to achieve – avoiding the pitfalls of assumptions and bias. Earlier this year, we talked about how and why users are shaping our entire design process, but now we will discuss user involvement across all aspects of business and what steps to take to ensure your users are actively involved.

Knowing who you’re designing for is only half the story, testing your product with real users during every stage of design, development and beyond is paramount to ensure you’re on track to meet your business objectives while providing the best possible user experience.

Aligning on Business Objectives

The biggest question facing businesses these days isn’t whether they can build something, because increased design and development budgets and faster turn arounds mean the answer is frequently, yes.

A harder question to answer is what is it that we should be building in the first place?

The solution lies in user research. The best way to discover new areas of improvement is to talk directly to your users, which can involve performing a combination of exercises including group sessions, one-to-one interviews and online surveys.

Hearing out users’ wishes, frustrations and ideas can be a good way to generate new project ideas based on findings and not speculation. Allow yourself to be surprised, your hypothetical or idealised user might be different from what you imagine.

Finding Your Target Audiences

Some of these surprises might include discovering that your potential audience is wider than you thought, which is great because it means more users and more revenue.

It’s important to invest in getting to know your intended users, but it can be hard knowing who your users are, before a new product or service is launched. What if the people you speak to are the wrong candidates and you make design decisions based on misleading information? However, speaking to a diverse range of users could lead to a discovery of a new type of user with similar needs not currently targeted.

Being open to potential new markets can result in a wider audience and increased usership.

Knowing Your Users

Once you have identified who your target audience is, you need to get to know them.

There are many ways of getting to know your users, and all have value – the decision comes down to what you’re hoping to learn about your users and how much time you have available. Be organised and make sure you set aside time for user research from the beginning of a project, even a few hours spent with users can provide tons of valuable feedback.

Without user research you risk making design decisions that don’t benefit the user. It’s unsafe to assume your users want a certain new feature, or are happy with the way something works just because you are. Knowing your audience also helps design more relevant scenarios and lines of questioning during user testing.

Removing Bias

User testing begins during the design stage of a project and is repeated at multiple stages before and after the product is released.

This is important because internal teams are too familiar with the product and can overlook bugs and usability issues that first time users might find confusing. Remember that you, as the product owner, are not the average user. You will also benefit by putting the product in the hands of your users early because as time goes by, the cost of making changes goes up too, financially and in time and resources. You may disagree with the feedback gained from user testing, but view it as a learning opportunity, maybe you’re not the intended user. If so, remove your own opinions and preferences and rely on data to drive the design, ultimately design is a business decision aimed at increasing company profits.

Gaining Insights from Context

The benefits of gathering real world data include contextual understanding. In what environment is your product being used? Are users often in a hurry or do they use it more leisurely? What devices are they using it on most commonly? Answering questions like this help to discover how users interact with your product in a real-world environment, and the results could have a big impact on your design. For example, at StoneShot we learnt that our users value precision over speed when creating new email campaigns and the vast majority are using desktop devices in an office environment.

Understanding this context helped us tailor the user experience, by contrast our Events app for iOS has a completely different context so we spent time focusing on different priorities.

Combining Methods

Moderated testing sessions provide the highest quality data as the users’ behaviour is observed in real time, so even the smallest actions are recorded – plus it allows for two-way communication so observations can be expanded on.

The benefit of this is seeing how users interact with something, which can often be different from what they say… however there is still value in quantitative data such as surveys and questionnaires.

Data accumulated at a greater scale can be used to spot trends and confirm your design decisions, for example the feedback gathered by hundreds of users during beta testing can be a great tool for measuring satisfaction rates. The key to effective user testing relies on using a combination of testing methods (both qualitative and quantitative), to gain a complete picture of effectiveness.

It’s important to remember that users are real people. Which means they evolve over time and so do their needs, expectations and frustrations. So, it’s important to keep on learning about users to continually provide the best possible experience.

In a competitive market, slacking behind can be disastrous – users have an abundancy of choice for apps and digital services, so if they can’t immediately see the value in your business, or if you provide a clunky user experience, consider them gone.

To stay competitive you need to have a relationship with your users – understand their needs and how your product helps them.

By continually talking to users and evaluating your target markets, you can build a product based on real user behaviour that not only provides exceptional user experiences but meets all your business objectives.