How to integrate user research early in product development

by Christopher Ratcliff

Posted on 11-24-2020

The value of user research is in its ability to test your designs and products with actual users, who will give honest and actionable feedback that you can use to improve your digital experiences.

But often this happens too late in the product development process, or only after the product has been launched.

Design teams should be doing user research and testing at every stage – including after launch – to measure UX improvements and how they relate to your overall business goals and KPIs.

However, if you include user research from the very beginning of product development, particularly at the prototyping stage, you can save time, resources, and money.

Benefits of including user research early in product development

Involving research as early as possible is integral to the success of a product. It allows user insight to guide the process before any heavy investment is made into the development of products or features, therefore avoiding any costly mistakes.

The earlier you get actual users and customers involved, the more confidence you will have that you are making something that solves their needs, and it is something they will buy and use.

And this “de-risking” of product decisions has never been more vital.

Companies spend millions developing digital products, yet product failure rate runs at 40 percent and this can increase during times of financial instability. But this can be mitigated by involving users from the very beginning. Identifying the need for a product should be your first step.

User research can be used to determine your digital strategy. By gathering data through research, companies can gain insight into what their target customer needs, so new product ideas can start from a more user-focused, data-driven, and risk-free foundation.

How to include user research early in product development

So how can you develop a product that is risk-free, and something your customers will use? Here are some tips…

Get the right tool for the job

Use a collaborative prototyping tool that you can trust and start using it as early as you can in the design process. Within the Adobe XD ecosystem, we have launched a UserZoom GO plugin that streamlines the process of building and launching a usability test.

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You can build your prototype, rapidly deliver answers to design questions, and collaborate with stakeholders, all within the same workflow.

Get buy-in from relevant executives and stakeholders

If you want research included at the earliest stage of product development, you need to show your executives and stakeholders the true value of user research, and how it aligns with their own business goals.

Talk to your executives and listen to what they care about. Their KPIs will likely be around increasing revenue, increasing retention, and saving costs. Try to understand what the executive is measured on, as well as what the broader business objectives are, then work to define the UX metrics that can deliver actionable improvements to these KPIs.

When you begin by understanding what is important to the executive, and then figure out how UX ties into it, you end up with a compelling business case for investing in research before development begins.

Share your research with the rest of the organization

Research may be part of the design team’s responsibilities, but so many of your colleagues rely on your discoveries. One way to begin sharing research is by communicating with colleagues early on regarding what you are planning to explore.

Join product team standups and talk about what part of a product you are going to be researching and why. Then you are not only letting the stakeholders know what you are working on, you are also opening the space for others to suggest questions that their own team would like answered and builds their own investment in what you are doing.

Involve teams in research

As researchers and designers, we tend to learn more and build greater empathy in the moments we share with users. We also know that nothing motivates making changes than seeing someone struggle through a usability test.

But the most impact comes from being there in that moment with that person. Inviting others to share that invaluable user time increases the emotional impact of research. With UserZoom, you can invite as many observers you like to watch remote usability tests, and you do not have to worry about them distracting the test participant, as they can all be hidden “behind the glass.”

The more you share user research and education with your colleagues, the more value they will see from it and the more they will strive to help you integrate user research as early as possible, as early insights lead to more successful colleagues.

Minimize risk

It is not about making a product you think is good and hoping that the market is ready for it. The involvement of user insight from the early stages of product development helps to minimize risk in the entire process and avoid commercial flops.

But you cannot do this without the proper tools, support from your stakeholders and buy-in from your executives. They need to see that by employing user research early in projects, even before concepts enter development, unnecessary products can be weeded out and design flaws can be identified, with the result a better final product that meets real customer needs.

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