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Customer Experience and Design

How Much “User” Should Be in Your User Experience Research?

To put it in a Google Analytics perspective, what should your sample size be? How much should end-users be involved in the user experience research process? To understand what is going on with your home page, would you only analyze user data from a Monday on a holiday weekend from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm? Does a small mom-and-pop lunch truck need to test their new sandwich with 17,000 users/customers before deciding to put it on the menu? Can the lunch truck afford to wait that long? Can your large or mid-size company afford to only wait for 150 page views before you make a decision? How much user experience feedback is sufficient?
User experience (UX) is a broad discipline which does not solely rely on direct user feedback. Expert reviews, stakeholder interviews, and competitor reviews do not require direct user involvement. Usability testing, contextual interviews, and card sorts have, at their core, direct user involvement.
Embracing the “intent” of user experience means giving users a voice or seat at the table, using them to temper your ideas by seeing things through their eyes. Taking what you learn from them to guide your user experience design. You intend to value their input and find appropriate ways to include them in your decision-making process.
Without direct user involvement and feedback, you are guessing what will be successful. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and let the waiter/waitress decide what you will eat? If you are consuming the meal, wouldn’t you want a role in that decision? Users who consume your products also want a role in deciding what they get when it comes to your brand.
A lot of user experience research is qualitative in nature, you are seeking to understand patterns of behavior and you are looking to understand the “why” behind those patterns. Before you give users a role in your business decisions, you must understand what they don’t know. They probably can’t recite your mission statement or what decisions generate enough profit to keep your doors open. They don’t understand your legacy constraints or your phased deployment of resources. The list is long of what users don’t know, much less understand. While what they don’t know won’t kill them, what you don’t know could seriously kill your bottom line. You don’t have the same luxury of not knowing as your users.
Involving the user is not as simple as just remembering what people have told you at a conference or what you’ve overheard at the local Starbucks. UX is a soft science that measures what people think, and therefore do, today. Its unique value is that it’s temporal and focused on what is important to your users at this moment.  What was important to Henry Ford’s customers in 1903 was different from what they wanted in 1945. They likely wanted a faster horse with an AM radio in 1945, and by 1953, it had to be an FM radio. Usability testing is great for understanding the short term; you can think of it as immediate gratification. Find out now, from a small group of users, what they are willing to purchase from you today. Find out now, what would turn them into long-term customers.
UX research involves repeatable processes that attempt to control for variables for a specific context of your users’ goals and needs. What you want to find out should have an impact on how much user should be in your UX research process. The context and your vulnerability to not knowing things about your users should drive questions such as:

  • How many users do you need input from?
  • How many users are not enough? (You want confidence in the patterns you see to ensure that the patterns are representative of all your users.)
  • How many users are too many (so you are not gaining any additional value)?

It’s not enough to know what end-users are doing. The real value is in understanding why.
Your UX researcher can help you understand if what you want to know is possible, given your resources of time, money, and personnel. They can guide you into how much user you need in your user experience.
User testing can have reasonably fast turnaround times. We use small representative groups of users to infer the goals and needs of all of our users. TV commercials abound with claims that 30% of people tested found a particular item beneficial. An experienced researcher can help you find the right users to get feedback from. 30% means nothing if they are not your users. If you’re looking for patterns in behavior about just a few things, then possibly five to seven users are enough. If you want to understand how strongly users think or feel about something, 10-15 users would typically be enough. The generally held thinking for usability testing is that you can find 80% of your biggest problems or successes with three to five users. If you use three to six additional users, you can better understand who the outliers are and how strong or weak the patterns are that you observed.
Working with your Perficient Digital UX researcher ensures that your users have a voice in the process. With their voice you can guide your actions based on what you know will be successful. Want to get out in front of your competitors? Listen to your users better than your competitors.

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