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Adam Swain

User Experience Research

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Research Philosophy

I believe user experience research is at its most productive when applied early in the design process.  


Insights gleaned from the UX research methods described below may be quickly and inexpensively brought to bear when applied during concept development or iterative prototype testing.  As an idea, design or workflow matures, change often becomes more difficult.

I believe close collaboration with the design team is a must.  

User experience research exists to support the task of user interface design.  It is the responsibility of the researcher to integrate into existing design teams, demonstrate the value of a UX research practice and aid design colleagues in the pursuit of their goals. 

I believe outcomes are everything.

Even the best research is worthless if the findings never make it beyond the PowerPoint presentation.  Effective UX research is goal oriented and takes into account the constraints present in any real-world business environment.

Research Practice

The practice of user experience research can take many forms.  Much depends on the size and organization of the product team in question.  
In smaller organizations, it is common for one person to wear many hats, often combining roles described discretely later in this document, such as UX Researcher and Designer, or Product Manager and Data Analyst.  
Although this document generally describes how a UX research practice might fit into a relatively large and neatly delineated product team, the methods themselves are highly adaptable and UX research has its place even in the smallest, leanest product teams.    

Research Methods 

Effective research begins with a thorough understanding of business objectives and the establishment of concrete success metrics.  This preliminary step can take many forms, but often includes:

Stakeholder Interviews

One-on-one discussion with Product Managers, department leaders and other interested parties, designed to clarify the business goals behind each design initiative.

Design Team Debrief

Group discussion of project history, existing workflows, what works well and what we hope to change.

Analytics Investigation

Coordination with the analytics team to determine what analytics are currently being tracked, how is success being measured?

Having defined goals for the design effort, next we study the current user experience of our target work flow.  It is impossible to proceed efficiently forward unless you fully understand your starting place.  Tools employed at this step of the investigation include:

User Interviews

One-on-one discussion with current users and/or customers.  Nobody is better positioned to illuminate the strengths and weakness of a given product than the real-world individuals who use it.

Journey Mapping

Development of a document that follows one or more user types through their experience interacting with a brand, product or workflow.  Journey Maps often integrate aspects of the Kano Model, such as "Delighters", "Satisfiers" and "Reverse Attributes".

Persona Development

Data from user interviews and survey results is combined with existing institutional knowledge to develop a set of fictionalized individuals representative of key user segments.  Personas provide a meaningful shorthand method for understanding and discussing the existing user base.  


Online surveying offers design team stakeholders rapid and inexpensive access to large data sets.  Although survey design is fraught with many potential pitfalls, a well designed and executed survey can offer insightful and potentially statistically significant results.

With an understanding of the existing user base and the current user experience, the design team is well positioned to begin an iterative design process.  In some cases, the design team may immediately begin developing wireframes or other lightweight prototypes.  In other cases, prototyping may be preceded by studies focused on information architecture.

Card Sort

Information organization exercise in which each participant sorts relevant content into the most immediately intuitive set of groups.  Analysis of participant groupings can yield insights relevant to information architecture and content strategy.

Formative Usability Test

Small sample-size usability tests generate qualitative data that  can help identify successful design patterns and avoid wasting further time on confusing ones.

Summative Usability Test

Highly structured, large sample- size usability tests can generate quantitative data useful in validating design prototypes against pre-determined success metrics.

The cycle of prototype development, testing and refinement will repeat several times as the design team works toward a production ready design.  Often the prototype will gradually increase in fidelity, transitioning from a basic wireframe to a model nearly indistinguishable from the current production product.  
Once a given design is ready for production, it is important to revisit earlier discussions with the analytics team to ensure the product or feature will generate appropriate performance tracking data when launched in the production environment.  Production analytics provide the most objective feedback available on the success or failure of the design effort.  
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