Better User Research at Less Time and Cost

Jan 22, 2013 | 8ninths | Mobile & Web

At 8ninths we have always put a strong emphasis on doing direct user research to verify our gut instincts, our thought-out design and our assumptions.

Most of the larger organizational clients we  work with also share this emphasis of going to the actual users for research, be it focus groups, usability research, ethnographic studies, or just running a survey.  However, the large organizations have been told and sold by their consultants that such studies are expensive, requiring a lot of effort, and have a long turn around time.  Just recently we heard of a research project that took three full months to talk to a handful of a website’s audience members.

Usability Study

Fully two-third of our projects, many of which are fairly complex, are conceptualized  designed, and developed with less time.  So spending the same amount of time to just talk to people is totally unacceptable in the majority of cases.

Which is why I’m glad to read an article on Fast Company titled “Secrets of Doing Gonzo User Research.”  It shares our spirit that ingenuity and resourcefulness, and not budget or time, should be the key driver of user research. This approach not only allows for less costly and less time consuming user research to be done, but it also allows the team to do more research, focusing on different topics or just doing more iteration to track progress as the product develops and morphs during its development.

One of the many user research tool that 8ninths use is a web service called AYTM.com, which is short for “Ask Your Target Market.”  Like everyone’s favorite survey site, Survey Monkey, only more powerful, AYTM allows you to target an panel of users based on demographic and experience, and present them with either a video or a short run-through of your product.  But the power of AYTM over Survey Monkey is its ability to record “in their own words” video reviews from the users, rather than relying on multiple choice answers that are often un-enlightening.  It turns what’s ostensibly a quantitative, structured research project into something more qualitative, allowing a more nuanced understanding of the positive and negative feedbacks.

AYTM is just one of many web user research services that we have used.  There are services which focus on eye-tracking for usability studies, all done via the web, so that you can have quick turnarounds without having to install your own one-way mirrored rooms and complex eye tracking hardware.  In addition, as the Fast Company article suggests, there are many other approaches that allow you to interact with users in real life that are fast and low-overhead.

We are constantly finding new innovative ways to get closer to the user at ever more accessible ways. Whether it’s using Skype or Google+ to perform a video conference focus group, to quickly enlisting people on Craigslist, we think fast, inexpensive, and iteration is the direction to which user research should evolve.

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