How do I break the perception that UX research is 'slow'?

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"Dear UX Agony Aunt

How do you break the perception that UX design, and research in particular, can be 'slow'?"

— Theodore

Dear Theodore

That’s a tough one. There’s nothing worse than being told to jump straight into solution mode because, for whatever reason, someone believes there’s no time to actually talk to the poor, unfortunate soul who has to use your product (and yes, that would be the user). I'm pretty sure that the culprit in these situations isn't always the individual at all, but the big one: culture.

Now, cultural change takes time, and it doesn't happen in one big bang: your best bet is to chip away at that beast bit by bit. You could start by turning an eye on the culture, and figuring out why the perception that UX research is slow is so ingrained. Then show them how it's possible to get valuable user insights fast.

Turn your analytical eye on the culture itself

You and I know the payoff from investing time and money into serious UX research. Chances are, the person or organization that perceives UX work as slow and thus resists it, just doesn't. Start by analyzing the situation the same way you would any other UX project. Only this time, the people involved are your users, and it's your job to understand them. Ask yourself: Why does this perception exist? What's influencing their thinking? What would convince them otherwise?

An individual, for example, might:

  • be simply unsure about the value UX brings
  • have had a bad experience on a project and it makes them uneasy
  • be getting pressure from managers to speed things up
  • think UX is a buzzword and won't be around for much longer.

The more you can find out about why they think UX research is slow, the better you can convince them otherwise.

Show them what fast UX research looks like

It's true: UX research can take a substantial amount of time. Rigorous, high-quality work usually does. But it doesn't always have to.

Use free versions of remote research and testing tools

They don’t cost a thing, they’re quick to set up, they give you genuine, actionable data, and they have that truly awesome fire and forget factor which means you can multitask! You can do your other work while your survey hums along quietly in the background gathering valuable feedback and insights. There's Optimal Workshop (of course) for remote tree testing, card sorting, and first-click testing — you can run as many small studies as you want for free. There's Peek, by UserTesting.com, that gives you a free 5-minute video user test of your website. There's Crazyegg for tracking user behavior on your website, and they offer a free 30-day trial. And that barely scratches the surface of what you could try.

You never know: once people see that you can gather serious user research data within hours instead of weeks and months, you might start getting more buy-in for the things that take longer. Cracks will start appearing in their previous perceptions at least.

Try the Rapid Iterative Testing & Evaluation (RITE) method

I discovered the RITE method in this fantastic book. As the name suggests, it’s a super-quick testing method that allows you to talk to humans, weed out problems early, and get to a usable solution faster.

Low fidelity prototypes are used for this type of testing, and the aim of the game is to have five consecutive successful user tests. Each time a test fails, the counter resets to five regardless of how many tests came before it. An example of the process:

Use the RITE method for user testing

The fail criteria is anything that fails to meet a goal of the design or blocks a user from completing a task. Changes to the design are made in between testing sessions and no usability reports are written. The iterated design is considered to be sufficient documentation. Check out this RITE method case study article by UX Magazine.

Invite them into the room (even for just 10 minutes)

Open the doors to your war room and invite them in! User research in action is a pretty powerful thing for a clients or managers to observe. You'll enable them to connect in new ways with the concept once they understand there's an actual human being on the other end of the project. And they don't need to give up a lot of time. You and I know that observing a user interacting with a product for only 10 minutes can offer a bunch of insights.

I'd predict that once they've seen the value of even tiny pockets of research, they'll start recognizing that time invested in UX research directly influences company success.

That UX research ≠ slow. Instead, that UX research = indispensable.

Hopefully you find these tips useful Theodore. And if anyone reading this has more to add, go ahead and share below!

Published on May 29, 2015
Ashlea McKay
  • Ashlea McKay
  • Ashlea McKay is a UX researcher, writer and keynote speaker with an industrial design background. She has more than 8 years of experience spanning both the public and private sectors in Australia and internationally in the SaaS space. Ashlea co-founded UX advice column UX Agony Aunt with Optimal Workshop in 2015 and is heavily involved in the global UX community through industry publications, mentoring and conference speaking engagements. Ashlea is also a proud autistic person who was diagnosed later in life. After spending 30 years not knowing she was missing a key piece of her identity, finding out she’s on the spectrum was the best thing that ever happened to her. Ashlea is currently writing her first book on life as an autistic UXer and is based in Canberra, Australia.

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