User research. What does actually mean?

Before I start with examples and descriptions I would like to clarify the topic.

In recent years we hear more and more about User Research, both for the definitive advent of Interaction Design and for the endowment of the User Centered Approach.

New terms crowd the job offers and recruitment platforms, often with requests for absurd experiences and professional figures with mysterious names.

With this and the next articles on the theme of UX Design, User Experience Design, I have set myself the goal of clarifying the most used terms in this field, without pretensions or too many turns of phrase, so that I can unravel this skein of terms that we find more and more frequently.

User Research. What does actually mean?

Let’s start with the most common of the answers we might receive to this question:

“User research is about asking people what they want.”

Unfortunately, like many of the more common answers, this description is wrong and certainly incomplete.

Using this words from Henry Ford we can easily understand why.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford

The real reason why User Research is so important is to deeply understand what people need.

If we just ask people what they want, they don’t know what they want. From here we discover the true purpose of User Research.

Going back to Henry Ford’s words and the answer he would have got to his question “I want a faster horse” we can spot the real need behind those words; the need to reach point B from point A faster.

“I want a faster horse.” means “I need a way to reach my destination faster.”

But what is User Research?

User research is the methodic study of target users, including their needs and pain points, so designers have the sharpest possible insights to work with to make the best designs.

User researchers use various methods to expose problems and design opportunities, and find crucial information to use in their design process.

User Research can help us to achieve different goals:

Detect opportunities by identifying patterns of user behaviour and detect their current unaddressed needs.

Understanding problems, what do users do and why they are doing it and what are the needs behind it; this can also tell us which are the problems they are encountering with the current solutions.

We can validate new solutions. Once we have thought of a solution that we believe can improve the user experience, we can use user research to see if our solution will actually improve the experience the way we thought.

User research is also a powerful tool to develop empathy with users, what motivates them, what their reality is and in general who are the users we’re designing for.

In conclusion, User research is not just about building what people ask for, it’s about understanding user needs and pain points in order to craft a solution to get to that deep need.

In the next articles we will find out what are the different types of approach to this type of research, and how to gather data from your users through a structured approach.