User Research

The Carbon Five Guide to User Research: Wrapping It All Up

Nicole Thayer ·

If you’ve been following along with the Carbon Five Guide to User Research, we’ve worked on developing and confirming a business hypothesis by talking to users and synthesizing the results, then generating a feature set and prototypes, higher resolution design, development, and usability testing. Hopefully you’ve already run a user test and learned something valuable in the process. (If you haven’t, get thee to a User Research Sprint!)

If you have completed your first round of user interviews, good news: you’ve already done the hardest part of setting up an infrastructure that lets you continue learning from your users. Here’s how to keep the insights coming as your product matures.

What We’ve Already Done

The process of going from an idea for a product into a product that matches the needs of a real market involves listening to the people who would pay money for the product and letting them add nuance and contradiction to what you’d already inferred.

Think of your previous mental model of your user (your proto-persona) as the ideal user. User research helps you move from a brittle product that only works when your users fit a narrow idea of how they’re supposed to use the product into a more expansive and flexible product that takes real people’s lived experience into account.

Hopefully their experiences matched your introductory understanding in broad strokes, but gave you a few more hooks to hang your product on.

Create a Culture of Research

Every new feature or iteration will bring with it a new need to confirm your mental model of your users – either with existing information or by interviewing additional users. Our goal is to create a culture of research that keeps the work you’ve already done at front of mind and adds to it to confirm new hypotheses as they develop.

As you continue down the road of making your product real, you’ll be surprised how much you’ve got left to learn about your users. Once you’ve successfully identified and created a product that meets the needs of your users, you’ll be researching for delight and brand loyalty—it’s a whole new world.

Get the Team into it

This is where having documented your work comes in handy. Take a little time after the project to formalize your findings into a presentation so new designers and developers ramping up onto the project will be able to quickly see your prior work and have a shared reference point for what you’re building, why, and who it’s for.

Going through the research you’ve already done once you’ve started the development process can also yield some surprising insights about features you deprioritized earlier in the process – just because they didn’t make the cut for the first one doesn’t mean your users didn’t have something to say about them that might inform your work moving forward.

Research to Confirm

Now that you’ve locked down the basic assumptions about who your users are and what they need to accomplish, you can start to ask more focused questions, either in the form of usability testing, which asks users about work in progress to make sure it’s clear and easy to follow, or in the form of targeted user interviews asking users to weigh in on specific solutions to a problem they’re facing.

We like doing five every Friday when we can; it’s useful to get into the habit of identifying questions to ask users directly and assumptions we’re making as part of design reviews before our own weird ideas about what users are like get baked into code.

Keep Users and User Leads on Retainer

Make a note of users who seem engaged in the interview and passionate what what you’re building, especially when they share well-phrased feedback and experiences. These repeat interviews can form a sort of “user board” to test implementations.

Finding new subjects should also be easier now, too – hopefully you’ve been asking your users to recommend other users to talk to, and you’ve hit a hornet’s nest of engaged users who want your solution to their problems.

For example, a team I was on did a set of user interviews on version control for game development – which was not easy to recruit for off the street. The first round of finding users was arduous, but after that, we were able to find the Meetup groups and game design forums where users were opinionated about existing tools and eager to help us create something new.

What’s next?

User research isn’t a one time thing, it’s an ongoing process that nets you a closer relationship with the people responsible for making your product a success. If you’re responsible about setting up the recurring processes that give your users a say in product development, you’ll be able to make more specific and effective choices and build a better product.

We hope you’ve found this guide to user research useful in your own practice. If you want to nerd out about this, talk to us at @carbonfive or sign up for a User Research Sprint to put these ideas into practice for yourself.