Posts about Research


Bringing Design Research Beyond the Transactional

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching Interaction Design Foundations, and Design Research, to sophomore students majoring in IxD at the California College of the Arts. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and one that I’ll continue in the next year.

While I’ve been teaching my students, they’ve also been teaching me. One of the reason I love teaching so much is because it keeps me fresh—it reminds me of where design comes from and what its core values are, it keeps me questioning the way we do things in the “working world,” and my students help me glimpse into where the future of design might lie. 

In this post, I’d like to share with you a good reminder they gave me related to design research.

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Tree Testing: The Top 5 Reasons You Need It

The science of classifying and labeling content is essential to creating a delightful digital experience. It's the intuitive organization of information that allows users to seamlessly navigate through a site without ever feeling uncertain about where to go next or trying to shake a nagging feeling that they're missing something relevant that's been placed in a different section of the site.

The practice of labeling and organizing information, Information Architecture (IA), is certainly a science. However, any time people's reactions and emotions are brought into the mix there's always room for error. To mitigate the risk of launching an information architecture that users don't understand, we use tree testing to measure how users respond to the proposed structure.

What is tree testing? Tree testing is an effective method of evaluating a website’s IA by asking potential users to complete “tasks” using the site’s IA. Tasks should be based on the services or content the site offers its users. For example, a financial services company could have a task asking users to locate information on loan interest rates while a hospital might want to know if users can find the address of their cardiology clinic. Tree testing software allows us to track and analyze what percentage of participants successfully completed each task. It also gives information on task completion times, paths that participants take through the tree, and rates of direct success vs. indirect success.

 

Top 5 Reasons for Doing a Tree Test

 

1. Inform future research and design.

One of the best things about tree testing is that it always provides actionable results. Users’ overall ability or failure to complete tasks provides you with useful information about whether the site’s IA makes sense to real users. For example, a low task completion rate tells you that your site may need a complete overhaul of its IA and/or labeling conventions.

On the other hand, even high task completion rates can signal the need for more research and redesign if other metrics confirm that your site isn’t performing well. Verifying that users don’t have trouble navigating your IA means that problems may exist elsewhere. For example, a strong IA on a site with low conversion rates means that there are likely usability issues elsewhere in the flow. Tree testing can help you get to the root of users’ problems and uncover navigation issues that may go unnoticed with other types of research.

2. Get solid research for an affordable price.

Tree testing is very affordable when you have a limited budget. On average, participants spend 10 minutes completing the tree testing tasks, so compensation and recruiting costs are minimal compared to other types of research.

3. Easily compare alternate versions of an IA.

Tree testing allows you to test more than one IA to see which one performs best with users. This is worthwhile to do anytime you have more than one idea about how the IA should work. Whether you want to test several IAs prior to launching a site or you want to compare a new IA to the existing one, it’s a worthwhile investment to prevent user frustrations from happening in the first place.

4. Ask the experts.

Are you a designer or information architect working on a site full of esoteric or complicated topics? No one expects you to fully understand the material, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask the people who do. Put your IA in the hands of those who will actually be using it, whether they be biochemists, stock brokers, or any other group with specialized knowledge. When you’re dealing with a site that is tailored to a specific group of people, you want to make sure they are able to find what they need. Cooper uses detailed recruiting screeners in tree tests to ensure you are only getting results from people who are representative of your target audience.

5. Get clear results, fast.

Tree tests are great when time is of the essence. Compared to more qualitative research techniques, tree testing requires very little time for recruiting, programming, and execution. Graphical representations of the data let you see what problem areas exist at a glance. This means less time spent on interpreting results and more time implementing changes on your site.

When you partner with Cooper to conduct a tree test, you get the benefit of having a trained team of professionals who provide expertise in the areas of recruitment, test design, analysis of results, and recommendations. To find out more about tree testing and how it can best serve your needs, send us a message.

The practice of labeling and organizing information, Information Architecture (IA), is certainly a science. However, any time people's reactions and emotions are brought into the mix there's always room for error. To mitigate the risk of launching an information architecture that users don't understand, we use tree testing to measure how users respond to the proposed structure.

Six (6!) new ways to push your practice

You asked. We answered. Bringing you SIX new workshops and courses in customer experience, brand strategy, leadership, product definition and design, research, ideation, personas and more—each chock full of skills for taking your professional game to the next level (and maybe even the level above that). Stay current, get smarter, make an impact, effect the bottom line, and teach your team a thing or two (or ten) about your new-found knowledge. We've saved you a seat.

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User Research Beyond Usability Testing

Each week at Cooper we get numerous inquiries about usability testing services. We love this! It is incredibly satisfying to help our clients uncover usability concerns with real users and, better yet, help them strategize about how to improve their digital products.

But, our user research services go far beyond basic usability testing. In this post, we'll share some new and interesting user research services that may help you overcome a hurdle in your product's design.

 

Q: How do I learn who is coming to my site?

To understand the basics of who is visiting your site, we suggest a site intercept survey. We place a snippet of Javascript on your site that will show a pop-up to each visitor. These visitors are invited to answer a few questions about who they are, why they’re visiting and what their experience is like, usually in exchange for a chance to win a prize.

Benefits of this type of user research:
  • Quick and easy. These kinds of surveys are easy to roll out. All they require from you are a discussion with us about what you'd like to learn most about your users, and the placement of some code on your site.
  • Provides insight about your site's users and their expectations. These surveys can provide valuable information about your site's audience, including their demographics, psychographics and technographics. The surveys also allow your visitors to provide feedback about any parts of your site they find difficult to use.
  • Useful as recruitment for other user research. Are you considering in-depth user research techniques in your project? Site intercept surveys can be a fantastic way to reach participants for later user research activities.

 

Q: How do I make a website user experience that's already working fairly well even better?

If you have an existing website and just want to fine-tune, consider using site intercept interviews. In this process we put a tiny snippet of code on your site that prompts site visitors with an invitation to participate in live research.

That's right, participants are essentially asked, "Can we call you in the next 5 minutes and watch you use this website?" We call participants, ask them to share their screens with us, and follow them as they perform the tasks they originally came to the site for. And, if you’re skeptically asking yourself, “Do people actually agree to this?”, they sure do. We’ve watched people do a variety of things, from shopping for clothes to finding a doctor.

Benefits of this type of user research:

  • Real tasks. Unlike lab-based usability testing, this kind of research has no imposed script or pre-determined tasks for users to do. Whatever users came to your site to do, that's what we watch them do. Thus, we see users performing a lot of different tasks on the site, several of which we might never have dreamed up for a lab-based study. This allows us to explore nooks and crannies of a site that are having a big impact on the site's user experience, unbeknownst to anyone.
  • Real-life environments. Unlike in an artificial lab environment, this kind of research allows us to connect with users in their natural environments, complete with real web browsers and real distractions. The other day we got to speak to a mother using Internet Explorer 8 who was watching over her baby at the same time as using the site. Talk about real life!

 

Q: How does my online experience compare to my brick-and-mortar store experience?

A client of ours recently came to us with this question; we recommended a large variety of user research activities to get the true answer, with one of the most interesting being store shadowing. With store shadowing, we've been visiting our client's brick-and-mortar stores and asking shoppers if we can observe them while they shop, make purchases and returns. This allows us to identify qualities of the offline shopping experience that could be translated online, as well as better understand customer shopping behaviors across channels.

Benefits of this type of user research:

  • Going to the source. We can use a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques to hone an online experience, but if brick-and-mortar stores are out-selling a website or app, the best way to learn why is to go straight to the source: the stores themselves!

 

Q: Which design option works better? 

If you're trying to narrow down design options, consider using a remote unmoderated usability study. In these studies we still evaluate the success of designs with real users, but we do it without a moderator (as opposed to a regular usability test, which includes the use of a moderator).

Participants are given tasks to complete online, and we ask them survey questions after each task to assess their success and comprehension of what they just did.  We can also glean useful information for each task like the average time spent, where people are clicking on each page (using heatmaps), and the various paths people are taking through the website.

Using this technique, we can economically scale up the number of participants who see a design, and be completely confident in the results. Instead of 12 participants seeing your design, we can get hundreds if we want to! We can even have participants video themselves while evaluating a site, meaning we can see where people are having difficulties as well as understand why.

But I can just do an A/B test, you say! This is true, but building out versions of pages can be laborious and expensive. A/B testing also fails to provide information on why one design is fairing better than another.

Benefits of this type of user research:

  • Power in numbers. We can tell you which design is superior to the rest, based on any number of criteria, with statistical significance.
  • The best of quantitative and qualitative. When combined with video of participants, this technique can provide the best of both worlds.

As the inquiries come in, the new research methods keep rolling in with them. One of the most exciting parts of being a consultant is getting to work with a variety of companies on a whole host of problems to be solved. We get to take something we learned with one client during a meeting in the morning and completely rethink how it might be applied to a project that we’re discussing later that afternoon.

If you have a research issue that’s been on your mind, or you have a question that you don't know how to answer about your digital product, give us a call. We can’t promise that we’ll be able to address every concern that you have, but we do promise straightforward answers on what we can do and innovative techniques to get you the most valuable feedback.

User research services go far beyond basic usability testing. In this post, we'll share some new and interesting user research services that may help you overcome a hurdle in your product's design.

Inside the Empathy Trap

It's not uncommon to find yourself closely identifying with the users you are designing for, especially if you work in consumer products. You may even find yourself exposed to the exact experiences you’re tasked with designing, as I recently discovered when I went from researching hematologist-oncologists (HemOncs) and their clinics to receiving care from a HemOnc physician in his clinic. (Thankfully, all is now well with my health.)

This led to some revealing insights. Suddenly I was approaching my experience not just as a personal life event, but as both the designing observer, taking note of every detail, and the subject, or user, receiving the care. Instead of passively observing, I focused on engaging in a walk-a-mile exercise, literally walking in my own shoes, as my own user.

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It's not uncommon to find yourself closely identifying with the users you are designing for, especially if you work in consumer products. You may even find yourself exposed to the exact experiences you’re tasked with designing, as I recently discovered when I went from researching hematologist-oncologists (HemOncs) and their clinics to receiving care from a HemOnc physician in his clinic. [...]

Inside Goal-Directed Design: A Conversation With Alan Cooper (Part 2)

We continue our conversation with Alan Cooper at Sue and Alan’s warm and welcoming ranch in Petaluma, CA, which, in addition to themselves, is home to sheep and chickens, a cat named Monkey, and a farmer who works the land.

Part 2 brings us up to present-day, and discussions around the applications and fundamentals of Goal-Directed Design that support its success at Cooper and beyond.

From Theory to Practice­­

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We continue our conversation with Alan Cooper at Sue and Alan’s warm and welcoming ranch in Petaluma, CA, which, in addition to themselves, is home to sheep and chickens, a cat named Monkey, and a farmer who works the land. Part 2 brings us up to present-day, and discussions around the applications and fundamentals of Goal-Directed Design that support its [...]

Designer's Toolkit: A Primer On Using Video In Research

In our last post, we explored a variety of methods for capturing user research. Yet a question lingered—how can you effectively use video in your research without influencing the participants?

Here are some tips and tricks to minimize the impact of using video in research engagements. Keep in mind, these tips are focused on conducting research in North America—the rules of engagement will vary based on where you are around the world.

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In our last post, we explored a variety of methods for capturing user research. Yet a question lingered—how can you effectively use video in your research without influencing the participants?Here are some tips and tricks to minimize the impact of using video in research engagements. Keep in mind, these tips are focused on conducting research in North America—the rules of [...]

Designer's Toolkit: A Primer On Capturing Research

You’ve been preparing for your research—recruiting, screening participants, devising schedules, testing discussion guides—and now you are deciding the best way to capture your research. But how? If you’re busy scribbling down notes, you might miss a sound byte. If you film the interview, you might unknowingly influence the conversation. These are all serious considerations. Properly capturing and documenting each research encounter prevents spending time and money on data that sits solely in the memory of the researcher.

How you choose to conduct and capture your research will greatly impact your outcomes, and ultimately your client outcomes. I’m going to highlight a variety of research capturing tools, and then we’ll have a future post about how to effectively videotape research. Both the type of research you’re conducting and its purpose will help you decide which capture method is best.

Before we begin, I wouldn’t recommend going into research alone—you will struggle to document while maintaining a conversation. A good structure is to have a moderator and a note taker, that way one practitioner can focus on conversing with the participant, while the other focuses on capturing what is occurring.

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You’ve been preparing for your research—recruiting, screening participants, devising schedules, testing discussion guides—and now you are deciding the best way to capture your research. But how? If you’re busy scribbling down notes, you might miss a sound byte. If you film the interview, you might unknowingly influence the conversation. These are all serious considerations. Properly capturing and documenting each research [...]

Do’s and Don’ts of Field Research

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In a Lean UX process, the time available to conduct user research—planning, recruiting, conducting sessions, and synthesizing findings—is often limited (in comparison with a standard research timeline). That’s why we at Cooper consider one methodology in particular to be a Lean research secret weapon: field testing.

Field testing is a great technique for gathering immediate impressions and reactions to designs in process. We bring a team to a café, conference, or a shopping mall–anywhere we’d expect to find a good concentration of the target audience. Our team hand-recruits a selection of people in real time for brief (15 – 20 minute) interviews. Here are some do’s and don’ts we have learned from experience:

 

1. Do: Set realistic goals and expectations

You never know what’s going to happen in the field. Some days you might speak with 12 users, and other days you might strike out and attract only a few.

It’s good to aim high—we typically shoot for 10 participants in a day; however, there are times when we wind up with a smaller number of participants, usually somewhere between five and eight.

Be prepared to be flexible with your recruiting criteria. In general, the looser your recruiting criteria, the easier it will be to reach your targets. Field testing isn’t the time to try to find the experienced iPad user who is a college graduate, has downloaded the most recent version of Spotify to listen to jazz, and uses it three times a day.

Think more along the lines of finding someone who owns an iPad and is between the ages of 18 and 60, and you’ve got a much more manageable target audience to work with.

Don’t assume anyone has time to talk to you longer than 20 minutes—even if they do, it will be tough to keep their attention focused for that long in a typical field setting.

 

2. Do: Establish a home base

Prior to testing, identify locations where you expect to find your audience at a particular time during the day. Scope out places beforehand, paying attention to contextual behaviors, such as how long someone might spend at a certain location, the demographics of the people who visit said location, and a location’s busiest time periods.

Make sure it’s a place where the research team can hang around for a while without being disturbed. If you want to ensure a stable spot at a business, such as a restaurant or cafe, getting approval from a manager to camp out during the day (which you should definitely do) is typically easier than you might expect—especially if you’re recruiting people from outside the business and bringing them in. It can help secure your spot if you offer incentives (i.e. gift cards or coupons) that are spendable in the testing location.

 

3. Do: Recruit creatively

If you simply approach a potential participant and say, “Excuse me, but would you be interested…,” you’ve probably already lost them. People need hooks to get them talking to you—once the initial jump into conversation is made, there’s a much better chance they’ll participate. Below are some hooks that have worked for us in the past.

  • Holding or standing next to a sign bearing a concise message. For example: “Are you a college student? You might want to talk to us.”
  • Making direct eye contact with a potential recruit. People are more likely to talk to you when you speak directly to them—this establishes a personal connection.  
  • Starting with a surprising (but appropriate) question. For example, recently we asked people, “Do you have health insurance?” It sounds crazy, but if you catch people off-guard with a random question, their curiosity will get the best of them and they’ll want to know why you’re asking.

 

4. Don’t: Have more than four people present (including the user/participant)

One benefit of field research is that it allows researchers and designers to see users in a natural context; therefore, crowding the participant with lots of observers is counterproductive. An ideal field team consists of an interviewer, a notetaker, and an active recruiter; however, a team member can alternate between being a notetaker and a recruiter if resources are scarce.

 

5. Don’t: Rely on testing in an outdoor space

Testing people at an outside location, such as a park, can negatively affect how many participants you are able to recruit for your research activity. This “don’t” is based on psychological observations we’ve made over and over again with field testing:

  • People who are outside are usually in transit and are outside only temporarily. They may be preoccupied and unwilling or unable to give thoughtful feedback.
  • Indoor locations are protected from the elements like weather or danger. An outside testing environment could cause people to feel too anxious or uncomfortable to participate in an effective way.
  • People are used to being approached by strangers for all sorts of things while outside (especially in New York City, our home turf). In fact, many are so used to being bombarded with random requests on the sidewalk that they mentally train themselves to avoid anything or anyone they encounter—that’s why the aforementioned hook is so important.

The best way to signify to potential participants that your research recruiter is different from the people who are handing out party fliers, signing people up on non-profit email lists, asking for charity donations, etc., is to bring them inside to conduct the study.

 

6. Don’t: Openly advertise your incentive

While it’s tempting to yell out that participants will receive a $20 gift card if they just spend a little time answering some questions, resist this urge. People whose ears perk up for this kind of hook are often likely to want to finish as quickly as possible and probably won’t give you the kind of thoughtful feedback you’re seeking.

For example, we tested a participant in the field once, who after the session spread the word that we were giving out gift cards and were looking for more participants. Before we knew it, we had a mob of people waiting to speak with us—the majority of whom didn’t fit the recruiting criteria and were just looking for a gift card. We had to turn them away, and as you can expect, it wasn’t easy saying “no” to a mob of people.

These are only a few of many do’s and don’ts of field research. But, the biggest don’t is: Don’t do field research if it’s not the right research methodology for your situation. Field research can be a great tool, but only if it’s applied in the right circumstances.

As research experts, we can help you figure out if your project is a good fit for this methodology—drop us a line, and let’s talk!

In a Lean UX process, the time available to conduct user research—planning, recruiting, conducting sessions, and synthesizing findings—is often limited (in comparison with a standard research timeline). That’s why we at Cooper consider one methodology in particular to be a Lean research secret weapon: field testing.

Designer’s Toolkit: Road Testing Prototype Tools

For fresh content, more tools, and updated reviews check out the Prototyping Tools page.

We’ve all been there: you’ve got a few days to throw together a prototype. For expedience sake, you go to one of your large, well known tools to get the job done. The files quickly become bloated and crash—hours of hard work lost. There’s got to be a way to create prototypes at a similar level of fidelity with a lighter weight tool.

After test driving some alternative prototyping tools I discovered that there are indeed other good options. Here is an overview of what I found, followed by assessments of each tool, with hopes it will help fellow designers in the prototyping trenches.

Choosing the tools

After researching existing prototyping tools, I narrowed a long list of about 40 to a small set of 10 that looked the most interesting. Some factors that influenced which tools I selected include: 

  • Hearing about the tool from fellow Cooperistas or other colleagues.
  • The popularity of the tool based on what I read in other blogs. 
  • Whether it looked cool or exciting from  my first impression of the design and features. 

This is not a comprehensive set of tools, but includes the ones that I was interested in checking out. 

 

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For fresh content, more tools, and updated reviews check out the Prototyping Tools page. We’ve all been there: you’ve got a few days to throw together a prototype. For expedience sake, you go to one of your large, well known tools to get the job done. The files quickly become bloated and crash—hours of hard work lost. There’s got to [...]

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