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User Research in a Product Life Cycle

To start with let’s answer a basic question,

Why is user research critical?

Any product or service is successful when it meets the users needs and is user-friendly. The product should align with their current behaviors, habits and mental models. It should aid the users achieve their goals and in turn elevate their quality of lives.

To achieve this, appropriate ‘Research Methodologies’ can be used across various stages of a product life cycle. Based on my experience, I’ve attempted to list a few that I have used and would recommend.

Feel free to add more in the comments and we can discuss about it

Phase 1:

Concept and Plan

You are toying with an idea or a concept and are not sure about the need for such a product or service and the user requirements. At this stage, appropriate research methods will help you:

  1. Evaluate your problem statement, idea or concept

  2. Understand user motivations and aspirations

  3. Learn user lifestyle and mental models

Research Methods that can be used in this phase:

  1. Surveys- online and offline

  2. Secondary Research

  3. Contextual Inquiry

  4. Stakeholder Interviews

  5. In-depth Interviews

These methods gives you the access to the real user world and their needs, which helps you understand the gap between their motivations, aspirations, needs and your concept. Thus helps you to define your problem statement /idea or concept which aligns with the user and market needs.

Phase 2:

Conduct Research

Once you have met your sample of users and done with research to confirm on the future directions, it’s time to deep dive into the real users world, as it is important to ‘know’ the real users of the product /service. Understand their lifestyle, work, day to day irritations and aspirations.

To achieve this, one can employ a combination of User Research Methods.

Research Methods that can be used:

  1. In-depth interviews

  2. Job shadow

  3. Diaries

  4. Camera journal

  5. Show and tell

  6. Day in a life of

  7. Home visits

  8. Body Storming

  9. Contextual Inquiry

In these research methods, researchers meet real users and have complete access to them. They find out their hidden needs and motivations.

Phase 3:

Design Prototype

After the user requirements are collected and analyzed, it’s time to make early prototypes to enable quick evaluations. It is important to avoid investing much time and efforts on it’s look and feel and the functionality.

Prototypes help to evaluate and iterate in quick cycles. In most cases, this stage is either ignored or a casual discussion with friends, family and team is considered to confirm the idea. Such discussions do not lead to desired solutions as the group you’ve tested with is not ‘the real user’ of the product.

Let’s discuss the appropriate research methods used to validate and iterate your early design solutions with your target users.

  1. In-depth Interviews

  2. Scenario Validation

  3. Low-fidelity Prototype Validation - simple wireframes or wax models

  4. Expert Reviews

  5. Comparative Benchmarking

  6. Participatory Design

Evaluating the design prototypes with the end users early can help you learn about user expectations and needs and check if all the requirements gathered from earlier stage are accommodated while designing the system.

Phase 4:

User Experience

Great! Now that you have tested the early prototype, it’s time to test the usability of the product before it is packaged and launched in the market.

After you validate the early prototype, expect the system to go through a series of iterations and then proceed for development, which is as good as the final product but may not have a robust backend.

It is ready for real user experience with interactions in place.

Now is the time to test the product with real interactions and look and feel.

Again , in most cases, due to time constraints this is either ignored or tested within close network. Testing the system at this phase with ‘real users’ always gives you a feel of how users will use the system and spot errors and irritations well in time to iterate and launch a better product.

Let’s look at the research methods that can be used in this phase.

Research Methods:

  1. Usability test, sometimes eye tracking tools are also used

  2. Comparative testing with other competitor products/services

Evaluating the product with real users helps you to understand their ease of using the system, check if it matches their expectations and mental models. This will give you a good scope to iterate the design before it heads for development.

Phase 5:

Product Development and Launch

The product is ready for the development after the previous round of testing and iteration. Once done, it’s ready for launch and it’s a good idea to run a usability test to make sure that the product performs as designed and if any last minute changes are required before the final launch. Test at this stage, will help marketing department get a direction and focus of marketing and promoting the product with appropriate strategies to sell the product well.

Research Methods:

  1. Usability test, sometimes eye tracker is also used

A usability test helps validate the system and ‘see’ the users in action.

If you have any other methods that are suitable in any specific phase, let’s discuss. Feel free to comment.

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