How to Find Out What Users Really Want: Part Two

by George Elkhabbaz, December 14, 2011

In order to delve into understanding what your users really want, I encourage you to imagine being a bigshot documentary director from another planet, observing little earthlings using their computers…

That may sound dramatic, but that’s essentially what you do when you try to understand what your users really want in a website. In my previous post, I started out with some research techniques. Here I’ll discuss with the remaining three research methods: card sorting, focus groups and usability testing.

Card Sorting:

What: Users are asked to "group" items under categories that make sense to them.

When: This is done when you want to categorize items/menus.

How: Short answer: give the users content or elements of the page and ask them to categorize the items.

There are two primary methods of doing so:

Open: Give users a set of cards with the items written on them and ask the users to group the cards. After they do so, ask them to name and describe each group.

Closed: Give the users a set of cards with the items written on them but you ask them to group them under categories that you already defined.

One final note on this: you can also do card sorting “remotely” over the Internet; there is no need to use physical cards. However, I personally prefer the good old card index to the user to categorize items using a keyboard and a mouse. It’s more work for you, but it’s my personal preference.

Focus groups:

What: You guide users through questions related to your project in a group discussion.

When: This comes in handy when you think that the users have some direct influence over your product. For example, you had a web app that they didn't use or dropped at some stage and you want to know why.

How: First thing you need to do is prepare your questions that will seed the discussion. Always start with the "less heavy" questions such as asking about the last time they used the app or a similar app, and then build from there.

Also remember that it's easy for a group to get distracted and get off track. You are a there to moderate and keep it on track, so you should follow these few steps:

  1. Always be clear about why they were chosen to be a part of the group.
  2. Let them know how the information discussed will be used in the future.
  3. You are there as a moderator, not a referee, so you want them to share with you honestly.
  4. Any given topic could stretch into a longer discussion, but it is essential to cut off the discussion at some point to cover all of the slated topics.

Also, in a focus group, you should pay attention to body language and how the participants are acting. This is a subtle art that many books have been written about; it can’t be discussed thoroughly in a small post.

And, last but not least:

Usability Testing:

What: Users are asked to accomplish a few tasks or goals while you as an observer take note of what's happening and in some cases ask questions.

When: Use this technique when you are improving a new product, or going head-to-head with a competitive product that is already out there.

How: This can be done remotely or in a lab setting. You are recording the "events" that occur as the user tries to accomplish certain tasks that you assigned.

This may sound pretty straightforward, but it's one of the methods that I will dedicate an entire future post to, as it’s helpful to discuss the nuances in more detail.

So once you've finished your research, it’s time to get back the drawing board to reassess whatever information you had before. Now you can refine everything and work on something that reflects the results of your hard work. As always, until the next post, keep on searching and reading! 

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Ever since George first worked for an online directory back in 1998, he caught the digital bug and has since been immersed in 1 and 0s. He is an interactive manager for an international mobile brand (no free ads here) and a user experience consultant. He holds a degree in advertising and marketing and focuses on usability and user experience design. In his spare time he writes on his own blog (featured in a regional magazine) and contributes to a local tech blog, likes to share his opinion, and prefers not to write about himself in the third person. :) You can find him on twitter at @UxSoup.

 
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