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UX design methods: when do we use them, and why

A Picture of Alejandra Rodriguez
July 03, 2018 | Topic: UX  
UX design methods: when do we use them, and why

Welcome to the second blog of our series of articles about UX design. Here, we will examine how the UX methodology influences the software development process, how to choose a method based on the questions we want to solve, and how you can use different approaches to know which UX techniques will best fit your project.

UX design methods: when do we use them, and why

User experience (UX) methods or techniques are so varied that choosing the right ones requires a strategy. If you search for information and tools, you will probably find more than what you actually need. It’s not necessary to use all of them; what’s important is to evaluate which ones best fit your goals. When choosing a UX method, many variables come into play. It depends on the stage of product development you are in, what your business goals are, what kind of data you want to collect, and the specifics of the group of people you are addressing. That is why, before choosing a method it’s vital to ask ourselves what do we want to know and why. Once this is clear, the next step is to figure out how. Here is when the different UX methods come into play.

UX design methods: when do we use them, and why

UX methods in the product development process

There is not a formula or a specific set of techniques that will guarantee a successful product. Every project is different and the success of product development depends to a great extent on our understanding of each stage and how UX methods will provide the insights that designers need. That is why it’s important to review the overall structure of UX design.

The first stage, user research, is an exploration phase that intends to answer what are people already using, what is the business climate, and what are our assumptions about the user’s expectations and behaviour. To solve those questions, designers carry out benchmarking, meet with key stakeholders, conduct contextual and individual interviews, and use surveys. Observation is crucial in this phase as designers need to detect important details in the interviewees’ behaviour in order to find patterns and get deeper insights. To build the foundation for continuing with the next phase of the UX process, we have to understand and evaluate the mental model of potential users to gather data, while also overcoming our own assumptions.

After the UX research is completed, designers plan a UX Strategy to build, evaluate and validate. This phase aims to prioritize tasks, build information architecture, and define categories of the product or interface. Designers analyze quantitative and qualitative data to create user profiles or personas which are semi-fictional representations of real people with a set of values and expectations. Personas represent the most important groups of your users and build a clear picture of how they will interact with the product. In this phase, designers pose questions such as: Does the product meet the needs of the user? Is the product going in the right direction? Does the user understand how to use the product?

In the next phase, designers use wireframes, sitemaps and user flow diagrams, to create a prototype, which is a representation of the final product. They use low fidelity prototypes to conduct tests in order to detect interaction problems and measure how easy it is for users to complete tasks within an interface. After testing low fidelity prototypes, UI designers create the visual elements, and then test high fidelity prototypes. Once the final product is launched, designers keep on testing and improving.

What do people want, what do people need, and are they able to use it?

There are a variety of questions that need to be answered in order choose the right methods. However, they can be reduced to three main categories: What do people need? What do people want? Can people use it? Although direct conversations and interviews with the user play a key role in user design, observation can be much more effective. If you want to know what people need, instead of asking the user what are the products he or she is more likely to use, or what are the products they would like to interact with, it is often more enriching to observe them in their everyday life, evaluate their own methods, and how they solve the problems they face. In this case, contextual inquiries and daily studies provide the best tools. Regarding what people want, prototypes are crucial as designers are able to gather data and build metrics based on real interaction. Designers use rapid prototyping to repeatedly review and refine, following an iterative strategy. Also, A/B testing brings insights about users’ preferences regarding images, the amount of text, button placement, typography, among others. Again, we do not ask people what they want, but we observe them making their own decisions based on interaction. Finally, to find out whether people are able to use the interface, usability testing is conducted. Moderated testing, unmoderated testing and guerilla testing are the most common tools to evaluate usability.

Behavioural vs attitudinal, qualitative vs quantitative

Now that we have explored how the methods are used according to the overall structure of UX, it is important to explore behavioural vs attitudinal, and qualitative vs quantitative, frameworks. The attitudinal dimension is related to what people say and is used to detect people’s beliefs and preconceptions towards an interface or product. For instance, designers might ask the users if they see themselves using the product, if they would pay for it, and if it reminds them of any other. Surveys, interviews, focus groups and card sorting are useful methods of attitudinal research. On the other hand, behavioural research is related to what people do. Here, designers observe users interacting with the interface and learn from their behaviour. For example, A/B testing aims to identify user responses, depending on different versions of a webpage. Also, eye tracking detects where users concentrate their attention. Other methods like field studies combine both attitudinal and behavioural areas, as they are conducted in the user’s context. It offers a more exhaustive insight about customers as it includes direct observation, interviews and ethnographic research. Analyzing the same group of people under attitudinal and behavioural approaches offers in-depth understanding of users because designers can observe the different factors that influence changes in opinions, expectations and preferences.

Moving to the next areas of classification, the quantitative approach aims to gather numerical data to answer the questions related to how many and how much; for example, how many pages a user goes through before making a conversion, or how long does it take to the user to complete a task. Furthermore, the qualitative approaches answer why and how types of questions, such as how can we improve the product’s features, and why users are not paying attention to the call-to-action.

To get the most out of UX, explore the different UX methods

Finally, if you want to get the most out of UX techniques, make sure you establish what the questions are that you want to solve and the objectives you want to reach. Then, evaluate which of the methods are the most effective to give you answers and deliver a high-quality product. The appropriate UX methods will allow you to measure and evaluate your performance at every stage of product development and they will ensure you are addressing your user from a variety of angles to build the best user experience possible.

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