Guerrilla Research Tactics and Tools

I was recently in a project meeting in which several stakeholders were drawn into an argument over a homepage design. As the UX professional in the room, I pointed out that we aren’t our users, and suggested we invest a few weeks into research to learn what users are really doing. The project lead rejected the idea, deeming that we didn’t have time for research. Instead we’d just have to rely on assumptions, debate and ‘best practice’. Many UX practitioners can relate to this scenario. The need to stay competitive forces agencies, freelancers and internal teams to reduce budgets however they can. Much to the chagrin of designers, research time is often the first cut. The problem is that cutting research often results in usability disasters. With no data or insight, people fall back on assumptions—the enemy of good design. Stakeholders will preface statements with ‘As a user…’, forgetting that we aren’t our users. Without research we inadvertently make decisions for ourselves instead of our target audience. In times like these we need guerrilla research. To be ‘guerrilla’ is to practice faster, cheaper and often less formal research alternatives; alternatives that don’t necessarily need to be sponsored, budgeted or signed-off on. Much like the warfare from which it takes its name, guerrilla research is unconventional yet effective, in that it allows the designer to gather meaningful data at low cost. The concept of guerrilla research isn’t new. Experience designer David Peter Simon discussed the basics of guerrilla usability testing here at UX Booth last July. Now I’m going to expand on his premise by reviewing other tools to add...

The Ethics of UX Research

As a UX researcher for a social media operation, Ute considers different interface designs that might allow users to make more social contacts. Ute gets a radical idea to test her hunches: What if we manipulated some of our current users’ profile pictures and measured the impact of those changes on their friends list? If successful, her research would provide valuable insight into the social media design elements most likely to result in sociability online. Of course, a successful study would also diminish the experiences of thousands already using her company’s service. In Ute’s mind, this is a simple A/B test, yet in the wake of recent controversy surrounding social media research, she’s starting to wonder if she should be concerned about the ethics of her work. As a research scientist and professor at two different universities, I work to better understand the social and psychological impact of technology on human communication. Our experiments have tested the limits of accepted research design practice, with designs ranging from the manipulation of romantic jealousy using social networks to studying the impact of induced stress and boredom on video game experiences, and a host of other experiments and observations. Yet, these studies all share a common element: they were all subject to intensive internal and external ethical review practices to ensure that participants in these studies were both informed (either before or after the study concluded) and unharmed. On these two points, recent debates surrounding the recent Facebook “emotional contagion” study have centered on notions of informed consent (Did Facebook users know they were in a study?) and minimizing harm (Were any...

The Science of Happy Design

So much of the news about technology tells us that websites, mobile apps, and social media are bad for us. Supposedly, technology makes us anxious, our smartphones take us out of the present moment, and social media ensnares us in a dopamine loop. A Google search of “happiness and technology” pulls up hundreds of articles about how technology is making us miserable. Can that be true? What if instead, the design of a favorite website or a trusted mobile app might make us happy—and influence our long-term actions? Happy, But Not an Accident As someone who attempts to make experiences with technology better, it makes me sad to think that my work might be making people unhappy. There has been some research to show that rising tech correlates to happiness, but most studies are designed to reinforce the idea that technology seems to erode happiness. If you look at what makes people happy rarely is an app or a website in the mix. Happiness, it seems, is not a screen. Yet, I’ve seen first-hand that a website can provide moments of joy. I’ve observed people smiling at their smartphones. I’ve listened to stories about how an app changed someone’s life in a positive way. While there has been wise discussion about how design makes us happy or how good design demonstrates some of the principles of positive psychology, there is not a lot of data about it available. With this in mind, two years ago I began tracking happiness and design in an online study, hoping to understand what makes people happy online. My company created a purpose-built app...

Discovering the Table Stakes and Delighters

Henry Ford is famously misquoted as having said “If I’d have asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse.’” Yet the sentiment is true: users tend to limit their imaginations to their own paradigm. They have a natural tendency to think of features that provide incremental benefits, such as more storage space, faster speed, or more configuration options. But focusing exclusively on those features will result in only moderate improvement, and never reach awe inspiring heights. Designers can mitigate this risk by using a combination of Kano Model and outcome driven interviews to probe for features that will truly delight customers. A big part of user research is discovering users’ requirements. After conducting many discovery interviews, I began to notice that my subjects didn’t see all product features equally – and yet the less discussed features were not the least important. Some features were taken for granted and never mentioned because people would be shocked if they were not there. Others were not mentioned because they were not expected, but people would still be delighted by their presence. I began to look for explanations of this phenomena and ways of coaxing the necessary information out of interviewees – to ensure the product we created would both meet expectations, and delight. My search took me out of the UX world and into the world of business analysts and economists. I discovered the Kano model of customer satisfaction, and outcome driven interviews by Anthony Ulwick. The Kano model provided an explanation for what I was observing, and outcome driven interviews provided a foundation for getting the data...

The Hidden Benefits of Remote Research

Last year I found myself in a rather unenviable situation: with only one week left to run usability tests for an online poetry magazine, I was experiencing incredible difficulty locating test participants who would be willing to spend as little as 30 minutes with me. The holidays were fast approaching. And although I wasn’t a fan of remote testing at the time, it became obvious I had to bite the bullet. Little did I know what a compelling option it would turn out to be. In-person usability testing is the most frequently used method of product research today, hailed as “essential” since as early as 1993. Back then Jakob Neilsen explained that “testing with real users is the most fundamental usability method …it is in some sense irreplaceable, since it provides direct information about how people use computers and what their exact problems are with the interface being tested.” Yet it’s precisely due to in-person usability testing’s prevalence that many people overlook the possibility of conducting their research remotely, in what are arguably more realistic usage contexts. In my situation, testing an online poetry journal with readers located in Australia, the US and the UK, it proved essential to include remote research. Not only was it impossible for me to travel to each location and recruit participants, it was also important to learn about — and see — each user’s behavior in their natural environment. For researchers learning about location-specific use, many will find, as I did, that remote research can prove more insightful (and therefore more effective) than its in-person counterpart. What even is…? Remote research is any...