When you’re designing a website or an app, you can’t assume that you know best. Sure you probably have some good assumptions about what you think will work. But to truly set yourself up for success, you must intimately understand the people who use or will use your product.

In another article, I suggested that great teams make great products. But we often don’t include end users on that team. Not literally of course. But, far too often teams skip the step of talking to potential users and existing users to understand their greatest pain points and how our product could help ease that pain.

Skipping the step of user research is a huge mistake. How can you know what product to build if you don’t know what problem you’re solving?

One of the key reasons most products fail is because they did not set out to solve a problem. They started with a feature or an idea, but they didn’t invest time to really dig deep into understanding the pain-points of the people who have the problem.

Here’s why user research is crucial when you’re building a product.

Why You Must Do User Research

There are many important and strategic reasons to do user research, including:

  • Identifying early adopters
  • Validating your hypothesis
  • Exploring underserved customers
  • Discover the workarounds people have made
  • Learning about competitor products and how people use them

Take identifying early adopters for example. You’ll learn more about the type of person whose needs you’re actually solving. You can cater to them. You’ll understand what language they use, what their approximate budget is, and how open they are to an actual solution (versus living with their current workaround). The benefit to identifying early adopters is that you’ll find yourself with a base of consistent and retained users who can actually pay you.

It’s also important that you determine which customers are underserved. They’re people who desperately care about a solution and have probably tried to solve it on their own. Make sure you truly understand their pain points. You never know, this may help you see a whole new segment that you never considered pursuing, but who has an overwhelming need you could solve.

Learning about what your competitors are doing can also help you determine what problems they’re solving and how they’re solving them. Some design features will be more successful than others. You may view the problem from another point of view and be inspired by it. And, through what their customers are saying on reviews and social media, you’ll be able to get the pulse of competitor reception.

Don’t Just Rely on Data

Yes, data is important. But, it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. You need to supplement data with qualitative information.

It’s crucial that you talk to your users so you understand their motivations and subsequent behavior. People are more complex than the numbers that describe them — make sure you understand their personalities and desires.Why matters just as much as what.

If you want to get consistent feedback from customers while they are in the midst of engaging with your product, try incorporating micro-feedback into your process. Micro-feedback is little bits of information collected from users. You can collect it in a way that’s not annoying for the customer, increasing the amount and quality of info. Data is important, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. You must actively supplement it with qualitative research.

If you want to dive deeper into the context of how and why people do the things they do, then you will need to conduct one-on-one interviews. Specifically, ethnographic research is a great way to learn why people do the things they do.

Ethnographic research involves observing and listening to people in their normal and natural environments — in other words, not in a lab. This allows us to step into their world and get a more holistic view of what makes them who they are.

It’s not enough to ask people how they would use a product because often times there is a gap between what people say they do and what they actually do. This is why ethnographic research and the subsequent observations and insights that result from it are crucial.

When Should You Research?

Many teams do research before entering product development. After that initial burst, they dive into building.

When you’re building a product, you have to remember who you’re building the project for. What are your users needs? How can you solve a problem that they have? And how are you meeting them?

Your understanding of the problem will change as you develop a solution to it. You’ll have different questions that need to be answered. Plus, you’ll want feedback on what you’ve already built. Don’t fall into the trap of putting research to the side after your product’s first version is complete.

Iteration without research is a recipe for lots of features and launches that are over budget and delivered late.


Research Uncovers the “Why”

User research lets you figure out who you are building your product for. It allows you to grasp why your users are actually using the product. If you’re really good at research, you’ll know your users better than they know themselves.

First, user research enables you to establish a consistent lens through which your team can examine and analyze your project. This will help you to align your ideas, meet deadlines, match budgets, and create a product people love.

Second, it anchors your design process on the problem you’re solving. Often, teams focus on the solution without identifying the problem. If you don’t know what you’re trying to solve, how can you be sure you’re creating a product that people will want to use?

Finally, it frames your thought process. This means that no matter what you’re designing, you’re focusing on the user stories rather than the functionality of the feature. It doesn’t matter how well what you’re building works or how good it looks if the user can’t use it.

User research will help you make a better product for your users, so why do so many teams skip this step? If you invest time and energy into research, you will be rewarded with a product that your users actually need.

Are you trying to get a better handle on user research, but don’t know where to start?

Click here to get my free guide: 35 Questions For User Research Interviews

Want to learn exactly how to do your own user research? 
Check out my UX Masterclass: The 5-Step User Research Forumla.