When the topic of user research comes up with regard to website design, most of us start thinking about usability testing. This isn’t a bad thing, after all usability testing is crucial in the design process. However, it’s only one piece of the user-centered puzzle. There are plenty of other insights that can be gained from user research, many of which can help create designs that are not only enjoyable to use, but also relevant to your target audience.
User research is a set of methods used to better understand the needs of your target customers. User research takes the people that visit your website and places them in the very center of the design process. We learn details about who they are, why they’re here and how each design element has an affect on their user experience. When done correctly, businesses can leverage user research to influence web design and gain insights to customer solutions.
The users should be at the heart of web design and it’s impossible to put them there without understanding their perspective. Let’s talk a little more about how user research is an important part of the web design process.
User Research is the Core of UX Design
Maybe we should begin by talking about the origins of UX design. We could go on until we’re blue in the face about the value of the user experience. But, let’s be honest here. UX design is the child of competition.
During the past decade or so, technology has exploded. The first generation of the iPhone was announced in early 2007, and with it’s arrival came a change in how the average person uses technology. Expectations started to change, and as a result, businesses needed to adapt to remain competitive. Soon, it became a battle of who could provide the best experience on a digital platform.
When you’re the one behind website design, you become intimately acquainted with how it works. You know every function and you could probably navigate it with your eyes closed. If you’ve designed the site with UX in mind, then you’re probably pretty confident. After all, you know it inside and out.
Except that you know it so well, that you’ve probably lost perspective on how someone visiting the site for the first time feels. UX design alone isn’t enough. For those first-time visitors to really feel comfortable with your site, you’ll need to know how to make them feel at home. Let’s say you invited your new boss over for dinner. You make an amazing meat dish. It’s a dish that you’ve made many times before and you know it’s fabulous. Except, when your boss arrives you find out she’s a vegetarian.
Sure, your meal was great, but not at all suited for your guest. Maybe, you should have done a little research first.
The web design process is very similar. Your website needs to be tailored to the users that land there. You need to understand their preferences, which may or may not be different from the average user. Research will tell you everything about a customer that can influence the way they interact with your site design.
Let’s Talk About Relevance
The word relevant can be defined as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand” or “having social relevance.” In web design, we take this to mean that the site must offer something of value to the user and be in tune with their needs.
For example, let’s say there’s two Chicago companies that sell shoes. One specializes in high end, dress shoes for work and special occasions. Their target market is male, aged 30-45. The other one specializes in athletic shoes. Their target market is also male, but 18-25.
There are plenty of assumptions we could make on how standard UX design would benefit both websites. But, the base client is very different. For example, the athletic shoe company might do better with video content of athletes while the professional shoe company will get the most benefit from a podcast or blog about men’s professional grooming.
There would also likely be differences in the customer journey. The professional shoe company might have to nurture the relationship a little more with their site design, while the athletic shoe company would be tailored to a customer that’s more likely to make an impulse purchase. It’s absolutely crucial to get in there, and really understand who your customer is and what fuels their actions when they’re visiting your site. Stacy Sherman talks about finding these WOW moments in the customer experience journey.
User Research and ROI
We know that user research doesn’t come without a price. There’s time and a monetary investment that’s required to conduct thorough research. Then, there’s the expense of rebuilding your site based on the results.
It’s projected that by 2020, the customer experience will overtake price and product as key brand differentiators, and just a 10% improvement in a brand’s customer service score can have a revenue impact of more than $1 billion.
That’s some serious impact on ROI. It really isn’t worth cutting corners and skipping user testing when the results are so huge.
The Bottom Line
User research goes beyond typical usability testing and reaches the core of the user experience. You’ve probably spent some time tailoring your marketing strategy to reach a targeted audience, so why waste all that effort on a website design that isn’t as equally focused on your target customer?
User research is important to the web design process because it guarantees that you’re creating an experience that’s relevant to your targeted group. It’s also an investment in long term ROI, as it becomes more crucial to understand consumers and their behaviors to drive growth.
Abdul has helped over 40 Fortune 500 companies make informed user-centered design decisions through evidence-based user research and UX best practices. As an Adjunct Professor, Abdul has taught in DePaul University’s graduate UX programs and for nine other universities.