Know Your Users

Understanding your users (or the users you want to reach) is easier said than done. Making assumptions about your target groups is one of the most pervasive mistakes that development teams make. Here are some basic user research tips that can help any team build products and features that serve your audience's needs.

1. Conduct user Interviews.

Whether you are theorizing about the populations that need your product or you already have a user base, it’s important to find people who use (or would use) your product and talk to them. Conducting user interviews is not a quantitative method of research, your questions should be open-ended and the interviewee should do most of the talking. Every interview will probably yeild different results. The goal is to understand the user's needs and to identify trends/segments from their anecdotes that you can use to shape your customer development.

2. Create empathy maps.

Once you have determined who your users are as a result of preliminary research, consider creating an empathy map for each persona or group you have identified. It sounds corny but the best way to truly understand your users and build products they value, is to walk a mile in their shoes. Creating an empathy map forces you to identify what your users think, feel, say, see, do and hear. The point is not to guess but to use your former research in the responses to these questions. If you don’t know the answer, well it’s back to tip #1. Check out Stanford University’s d.school’s guide to creating an empathy map: https://dschool.stanford.edu/wp-content/themes/dschool/method-cards/empathy-map.pdf

3. Test your assumptions.

Start by asking yourself “Who needs this and why?” then create an experiment to test your hypothesis. Depending on the circumstances such experiments could range from sending your existing users a questionnaire to building a prototype and measuring how potential users interact with it. If your assumption is that a working feature needs enhancement be sure to verify that claim based on metrics and/or substantial user feedback.

Many development teams may think that user research is a luxury only big companies have and your team is just too small to incorporate these “fluffy” methodologies into your mile high task lists. The truth is that having a lean team is all the more reason to invest some time on user research so you can save yourself a lot of headaches, heartaches and dollars by building products that people actually need. Can you afford to build something that nobody wants?