How to Approach User Research & Cost Analysis in UX Design

Editor’s Note: In this series from the creatives at BKWLD, they’ll answer common questions from clients about experience and and digital design work. 


When budgets are tight and deadlines are looming, carving out time for user research can be costly. As a result, research is often the first thing to end up on chopping block. So how can companies find the time to insert user research into tight project timelines?

Cost Analysis: Doing It vs. Not Doing It

There are two common misperceptions related to “cost.” The first, which is more philosophical, is addressed by flipping the paradigm from asking what’s the cost of user research to asking what’s the cost of not doing user research. How wrong can we afford to be? The easier misperception to address is that user research has to be expensive, both in terms of time and hard costs. Sure, extensive research and testing is great, but old-fashioned scrappiness will usually glean a lot of helpful insights.

Jakob Neilson, one of the most universally respected authorities on user research, said that “the best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.” In many cases, 8-10 is the ideal number of people needed for qualitative research or testing. Common, critical patterns are usually clear with the first three subjects and the remainders are helpful for validation and secondary insights.

The COPA Example

Last year COPA America Centenario wanted to build a new site for the 100th edition of one of the world’s most prestigious soccer tournaments which was held in the United States for the first time. One of the, greatest challenges they faced was finding a way to present tournament statistics in a way that would both capture the attention of U.S. fans that were just being introduced to the sport while at the same time catering to die-hard South American soccer fans.

In an ideal scenario, a user research team would have flown to Brazil, Argentina, and Columbia to learn about soccer culture in the Southern Hemisphere. But with a tight deadline, that simply was not possible. Instead, the web design team appealed to personal contacts to ultimately connect with a handful of soccer fans who all fit the target audience. Insight and input gleaned from simple email exchanges was used to quickly acquire insight into what soccer fans expect and hope for in a tournament website, all of which heavily informed the design strategy.

All together, the research process took only a few hours spread across a couple of day. It had a nominal impact on the project budget and didn’t slow down the process at all. The site was a success and hit all of COPA’s targets for fan engagement and repeat visits, which is a direct result of knowing and prioritizing the content that people cared about.

[Related: Ask the Agency: Archetypes in UX Design | What Waiting Tables Taught Me About UX Design]

Don’t Be Freaked by Terminology

Ultimately, the term “user research” can sound intimidating and costly, but it really just means checking your assumptions against neutral third parties who match your target audience. The best method is the method that works for you and your project. Anything that gets the team out of their bubble and into contact with the people for whom they are designing will ultimately benefit everyone and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money.

Settling Home Page Land Grabs

When a large organization engages in a website redesign, invariably each team wants a prominent place of their own on the homepage, presenting a challenge for design teams to ensure content is prioritized appropriately.

This is an all-too-common dilemma for anyone who is trying to take multiple internal teams through a website redesign. While the political wrangling of each organization is different, the best overall approach is to use analytics and research to stay as objective as possible. Let the user be your tie-breaker.

In reality, the most user-centric approach to information architecture is often one that bypasses the homepage altogether. In this era of the web, most traffic is driven from search or deep links from other channels. On most of the sites we work on, 50-60 percent of traffic lands somewhere other than the homepage.

A few years ago, a manufacturer of nutrition bars engaged in a major website overhaul and found that 60% of users were landing on either a blog post or a product page before dropping off without looking at anything else. By simply cross-promoting other relevant content and designing for a more natural flow between these deeper pages of the site, the company and design team were able to increase page flow by 10% and time on the site by 40%. This allowed the brand to tell a more complete story to site visitors and introduce users to other products they may not have known about.

Ultimately people don’t look for web pages, they look for content. So planning user flows in terms of storytelling across pathways and channels, instead of simply designing web pages, is usually more effective for everyone.

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