The Value of User Research in the Digital Age | NTT DATA

Fri, 06 March 2020

The Value of User Research in the Digital Age

It is a well-known fact that a great deal of companies claim to design efficient and sustainable digital products and/or services which are simple to use for their customers. Furthermore, they strive to increase the practical value of these products by disseminating them through written or visual messages.

The most formidable challenge I see here is that many of these products are not genuinely built on real users’ needs and expectations. This is the main reason why we see a serious discrepancy between what companies think to be “simple and usable” and what real users actually experience.In this brief article, I will explore why user research, to be grounded on scientific methods, should be of significance for companies’ digital products.

User research is an essential and fundamental part of experience design, which refers to manipulating user behaviours to build usable, useful and valuable products. It’s scientific and methodical because, carefully built on a clear purpose, user research gains systematic knowledge of end users through data collection and investigation.

Through user research, which is intertwined with each phase of experience design, we are able to form an established border between fact and fiction. This is because of its systematic method of gaining knowledge, which offers a solid research framework based on logical relationships and not just beliefs. In this way, we describe methods used to gather data (qualitative and/or quantitative), argue why the results achieved are meaningful and rationalise any margins that are connected with them.

By employing a wide range of research techniques and practices, we define facts, develop a deep understanding of problems and get accurate behavioural insights to build sustainable and efficient digital products/services, which are simple but enjoyable to use. Simply put, data collected and interpreted systematically from users is the main contributor to making design decisions.

User research comes first in the experience design process. It includes experimental and observational phases implemented in the product development lifecycle to improve the usability of a digital product. It provides specific information of target users needed to design a better user experience. Without conducting user research, our product design may be meaningful, but will be grounded upon assumptions and experiences that aren’t validated with real behavioural data. Therefore, good user research is key to designing a great user experience.

In user research, unlike market research, researchers should focus on how users think and behave instead of questioning what they want and think. If we can acknowledge users’ needs, expectations and any situations affecting them, then we can develop digital products designed to better fulfil their needs.

An interpretation of the facts above indicates that user research unquestionably reduces fundamental uncertainty for companies with regard to users’ pain points and expectations. In this manner, particularly in times of high level and rapidly changing user needs, companies would know how to evaluate design opportunities, analyse risks, then how to develop business models to assist them to realise their business goals and have sustainable and competitive advantages. Another benefit is that user research brings a lot of value to ROI, ranging from eliminating redesign costs to increasing user satisfaction. However, a number of companies are still unaware of the fact that preventing usability problems at an early stage will be less costly than handling them later.

We cannot ignore the fact that digital life is all about people and that user research equipped with scientific methods is key to understanding them. The digital disruption has been reshaping industries all over the world and companies increasingly need to redesign their business models and product development process in order to eliminate these challenges and obtain sustainable and competitive advantages.

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