In the first two blog posts, we talked about the importance of understanding the problem in the design process and how the time between research and development should be split 50-50. We also talked about how we measure design and rely on quantitative data. To give you more food for thought - in this post, we will discuss how Design and Research collaborate at Veriff and how we use qualitative data to support our product development process. In order to do so, I had a chat with our User Researcher Marilyn Koitnurm who shed light on doing research and the importance of it.
Heidi: To start, can you tell us, what is user research and what does a user researcher do?
Marilyn: In a nutshell, user research focuses on understanding users’ behaviour, problems and needs. The goal of user research is to replace in-house hypotheses and assumptions about what users think or do with actual facts and knowledge about user behaviour. Instead of blindly guessing what the users do and need, user research asks for people’s feedback, runs different tests and analyzes this information to guide meaningful product development.
User researchers use a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods, but I personally rely heavily on qualitative methods, such as interviews, usability tests, surveys, observing user interaction with the product, etc. My role in the company is to make sure that the user is being thought of and that we keep the “user first” mindset.
H: What’s the value of user research? What problem does it solve?
M: One of the secret formulas behind creating a successful product is knowing well who the people are who are using this particular product or service and catering to their needs. An important thing to keep in mind is that a software engineer or designer who creates the product is actually not the “average user”. And this is why we need to do research - to understand and bring in the user’s perspective. User research provides a direction about how to build a product and uncovers how well the design meets the user needs, based on feedback from real and potential users.
The value of user research is to uncover ideas that we couldn’t see from statistics or randomly assume from our desks - research goes “out there”, among people, in order to test ideas and collect data about “real” people. Researching users helps to answer important business questions, such as “who are our users” and “why do they need our product”. Also, doing proper research before the development phase saves a lot of time and costs for the company.
H: User research focuses on understanding users’ behaviour, similarly to product or user experience design. I often get asked why couldn't the designer do the research part, what’s the difference? Also, how can design and research successfully collaborate?
M: The way I see it is that the researcher’s or UX researcher’s role has very organically grown out from the UX designer’s - it used to be typical that the designers did some research themselves. However, it became clear that actually splitting the roles into two - a designer and a researcher - allows deep specialization which is very valuable because then both of the professions can focus on their respective areas, and when these perspectives are brought together in one team, the value created is a lot bigger. A researcher has been trained to employ a variety of methods and thanks to this diversity of skills, a researcher brings analyses and insights that a designer might have not achieved on their own.
Having a dedicated research function takes the burden off from the designer's shoulders, as the designer can fully dedicate to the design process, but at the same time be data-informed throughout the process thanks to being supported by relevant research.
Based on my own experience, I see that design and research can successfully collaborate when both acknowledge that they bring different perspectives to the table which complement each other. Also, it's very important that the underlying motivation for both a designer and a researcher’s work is the same - keep the users in mind and create the best possible product and experience for them.
But Heidi, as we’re talking about this, I’d love to hear your thoughts - what kind of research helps you as a designer the most?
H: Good question. Metrics help us to demonstrate the impact of design in a tangible way, and connect the dots between design and business growth. This idea was discussed in more depth in a previous blog post in the series. However, metrics such as conversion rates, page views etc do not always give us enough insights into the user's experience - what's their perspective, why people are using or not using certain products or features, why they drop-off. In short, quantitative data usually answers the what but not the why - we as designers need both to build user-friendly products. For me as a designer I often find interviews and observations of user interactions the most valuable when it comes to problem solving.
H: There is always a drop-off in a company's funnel (in most cases). In our case, we noticed that a number of people exit our verification flow by using the cancel button at the top of the screen. We knew what was happening but we didn’t know why. So we started asking why. When the user wanted to exit the flow, we asked a simple question: “Is there anything stopping you from finishing this verification process?”. It was optional, however, we received tons of feedback stating how their camera didn’t work, or their document wasn’t accepted, how they got confused, stuck, tired of the steps they had to pass to reach the flow in the first place. Understanding the why, creates a whole new narrative of what to keep in mind during day-to-day tasks.
To give another, perhaps more comprehensive, example - Design and Research collaborated on a project about NFC (near-field communication) in late 2020. NFC allows different electronics to communicate by bringing them close to each other. The very same technology allows us to make contactless payments with smartphones. Our goal with the NFC project was to offer a faster, safer, and more user-friendly way for users to scan ePassports and compatible IDs in order to verify themselves. However, a feature that was supposed to be more convenient, ended up with negative results in our funnel. The question was why, and we needed to figure it out.
We ran both moderated and unmoderated usability tests. The moderated usability test itself was very straightforward: the tester was asked to go through our flow, where they had to snap photos of themselves to verify their identity and also scan their NFC-compatible passport. While going through the flow, participants were encouraged to talk out loud and share their thoughts and feelings about the process. Based on the tests and collected data, we made a thorough analysis and put together a list of improvement ideas for the flow. For example, we realized that the usability tests brought out very important problems that we had to fix, such as unclear copy and design illustration improvements, but also a couple of critical technical bugs. Also, one of the things that the usability tests demonstrated was that users did not know what a “biometric passport” was nor what they could exactly use it for (in our case, for identity verification). This meant that in the second phase of the research, we ran unmoderated usability tests to understand what terminology do people tend to use when talking about ePassports.
In short, quantitative data gave us a great foundation for making certain business decisions, and qualitative data revealed users’ needs that helped to define problems and areas of improvement.
To sum up, the value of user research is to uncover ideas that we couldn’t see from statistics or randomly assume from our desks. User research focuses on understanding users’ behaviour, problems and needs. The outcome of the research can be applied in product design. Splitting the roles - a designer and a researcher - allows deep specialization where both of the professions can focus on their respective areas. However, it's important to keep in mind that UX design and UX research aren’t two entirely separate disciplines - they are expected to have a common ground and understanding. When these perspectives are brought together, you're able to achieve a deeper understanding of all aspects of your business.