Most of us think we know our users, but do our perceptions match reality? How do we know?
One of the biggest pressures we face as UX designers is speed. Agile methods combined with business pressures have forced us to increase the pace at which we work. Most of our projects focus solely on the artifacts that deal specifically with creative outputs for websites and apps. By outputs, I mean task flows, wireframes and clickable prototypes with designed screens. These design artifacts are indispensable and absolutely necessary. But I am also interested in the strategic activities that create outcomes. An output is a product that you create; an outcome is a problem that you solve with that product. But without user research, we design based on unproven assumptions about the user, we never really truly know if the product we are creating will be relevant, valuable or useful to the person using it. We are only designing for outputs.
When we work based on assumptions or just our own experiences, we often fail to notice what the user experience could be like for other people; specifically our users. You never really know how correct your assumptions are until you verify. I believe user research is the only way to gain empathy and achieve an understanding of the people who are going to use your designs.
Strategic UX activities (empathy-based user research) help us do a couple of things
- Find out how people do things and why they do them in particular ways, before proposing something new.
- Better understand people’s needs and discover opportunities for addressing them.
- Obtain data for journey maps, personas, use cases, and user stories.
- Test systems under realistic conditions.
At its core, UX is driven by empathy for people. Understanding what users are thinking, feeling, doing, seeing, and hearing as they engage with your product leads to greater insight, the potential for innovation and will guide you to design strategically for their real needs.