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.

The Editors

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