6 UX Research Mistakes You Should Avoid at All Costs (And 4 Ways to Improve Your Research)

Solid research is the foundation to successful software design and development projects. Too often, people fail to maximize their research value. Over time, this has led to negative perceptions of research. Consequently, research is often the first to be cut from project scope.

We want to change that. We want people to see the value of research in crafting digital solutions that delight users and increase conversion.

These 6 Things are Undermining Your Research Results

When research fails, 99% of the time we can attribute it to (at least) one of the following reasons:

1. Waiting until it’s too late

You can perform research at any point in a project. However, research can be conducted too late. There are many types of research. Be sure to choose the research best suited to the project’s current state.

If you are looking to map your course, you need to do that up-front. This is exploratory research. You don’t have a definite solution yet; you are looking for the right one to pursue.

Too often, researchers engage in exploratory research when a solution has already solidified. If this late-stage research concludes that your team has gone down the wrong path, it will take time and money to right the ship. It’s best to chart the correct path up front to keep your projects on time and on budget.

2. Blaming the user

After we’ve explored multiple solutions and selected one, we now need to test the execution of our strategy. This is evaluative research. We’ll often use services like UserTesting.com for this type of endeavor. This is where you want to see actual users interacting with your product to make sure you got it right. Often—and I’m always a bit shocked by it— those reviewing the results are quick to blame the user. They will blame the user for missing a call-to-action, ignoring on screen instructions, or failing to evaluate the entire navigation before selecting a link.

Don’t do this. If a user is unable to complete their goal efficiently, this is a sign of the failure of design, not the incompetence of a user. Disagreeing with the data will only distract you and your team from achieving the optimal product. Data will drive the conclusion of the research. Period. Let the data determine next steps for improving the product, not your ego.

3. Viewing research through a biased lens

Research requires good listening skills and the ability to accept that you are wrong. Ego is the enemy of good research.

When we use research only to validate our assumptions—to stroke our ego and tell us that we were right—we aren’t really doing research. Yet, this happens all the time. Companies will look at the data, pick out only what validates their ideas, and ignore any signals that contradict their initial vision. This is how things like the Segway happen.

4. Doing too much

Doing research doesn’t have to mean an extensive, multi-year study. It doesn’t have to be a resource-intensive undertaking. In almost all cases, a sample size of just five users can confirm that you are on the right path. We have found that users are eager to take part in research when informed of the impact their feedback will have on the final product.

We always strive to only do exactly enough research. Too much or too little and we have failed to reap the maximum benefits of research. Rarely, we will have contradicting results after five users. In this case, we will add more users to the study. Acknowledge when more intensive research is required to reach a conclusion. Alternatively, acknowledge when the resulting data gives a clear direction and move forward accordingly.

5. Being rigid

Too often, we want to see value in the hard work that we’ve already put in. As a result, people can be resistant to change even when research tells us that we could see greater returns on our product.

Websites and mobile applications are meant to evolve. We need to be adaptable if we really want to see the benefits of research and attain the results we crave.

6. Asking customers what they want

Up to this point, we’ve talked about listening to customers and having an open mind. So, why shouldn’t you ask customers what they want?

Because that’s not their job.

There is great value to be found in observing an interaction. Observe a user as she struggles with your design or delights at a quirky animation. This type of research should lead you to the ideas that solve their challenges and increase conversion.

So…What Should You Do?

We’ve talked a lot about the things that you shouldn’t do when conducting research. It’s slightly more difficult to tell you exactly what you should do in those situations.

While each project will have its own unique research requirements, here are some basic guidelines for quality research:

  1. Know the difference between exploratory and evaluative research, and when to deploy each.
  2. Use research to guide decisions, not to validate preconceived notions.
  3. Allow yourself to be wrong if that’s what the data is telling you.
  4. Learn from your customers’ experiences. By eliminating the hurdles your customers encounter, you can improve their experience and increase conversion.