User research is critical part of user-centered design practice. UX designers should be designing products and services for users, not for themselves. There’s no question about it.
Then, what do I mean by limitations of user research?
Just because you did user research does not guarantee you a success of your product. It’s definitely better than not doing any user research at all. But you really should not be doing user research just for the sake of it.
First of all, in order for a user research to happen, you need to come up with a research plan, you need to design a user research itself.
- What do you want to test?
- What are key questions that you would like to probe with participants?
- What is the stimuli that you would like to use?
- Is it a prototype?
- Or is it a bunch of static screenshots, or wireframes?
- Is it a card sorting exercise?
- Or is it just bunch of questions?
- What would you like to observe/take note of while participants interact with your designs?
- When do you want to conduct the research?
- Do you want to conduct 1 on 1 interviews, or focus groups?
- How long per session?
- What would be the sample size (participants, sessions)?
- Who do you want to test with?
- What would be the geographical spread? (region, country…)
- How do you recruit participants?
The list goes on.
The point here is that user research itself has to be designed by UX researchers and UX designers in the first place. You should also get a consensus from a Product Manager.
This means that the quality of user research is dictated by how well the research is designed and executed. Which is pretty much dictated by UX researcher and UX designers’ abilities and experiences who are handling the work.
If you are testing a UX design concept, the outcome of user research is limited by the quality / clarity of the design itself too.
If the UX design concept that is going to be used for the research is poorly done, you won’t get a quality result. This does not mean that the design always has to be high fidelity. But it needs to be clear enough to communicate the idea/concept/flow that you would like to test, even if it’s a low-fidelity wireframe prototype.
If the research is poorly designed, you won’t get a quality result. If the research is poorly executed, you won’t get a quality result.
Because of an emphasis on process-oriented approach in UX practice, people seem to misunderstand that just following the right process will get them an excellent outcome automatically.
But it doesn’t.
User-centered design practice is not a pure science. But it’s not a pure art either. It’s a combination of art and science with so many variables that affect the result.
Don’t get me wrong.
User research is important. Process is important. Process-oriented approach is good. But you shouldn’t get caught up too much in the process itself rigidly either. Process is just a framework. It’s just a starting point.
Because every single project is different, things may need to be tweaked and adjusted to specific needs and conditions of each project. There are so many variables that can be adjusted after all. What goes in there is the actual substance, which requires a quality of its own.
You need experience to become good at designing a right user research at a right time.
Only by going through trials and errors, you’ll learn lessons and get better.
Which is why, getting out there and start accumulating your experience is better than trying to learn everything on paper before trying things out.
After all, user research is something that you can only learn by doing.