Zippy User Research
When you don’t have the time and resources.
But research is important.

Zippy User Research

Your project manager walks in. He wants to release a version of the product that you have just started designing for. And he wants it released before the end of next month. Not a very surprising scenario. After all, yours is a lean (and mean) organisation. This can’t be all that bad, especially when you are getting feedback on actual usage from customers. Quickly. What can you do? You could call ‘Super Designer’ to the rescue. Or you could look deeper and analyze the situation further. You realize, for example, that the team is making a number of compromises. To crunch the time required to build the product, they have skipped certain bits of the process all together. User research for example. It has been the first on the chopping board.

But that need not be always the case. You can save research from the guillotine by employing some innovative techniques. By using ‘Zippy User Research’, for example. This will allow you to incorporate effective research into your lean development cycle. Unlike traditional research methods (or even lean research), ‘Zippy User Research’ is far easier to execute. And need not be resource intensive. If you have to do an attitudinal research, say a focus group or an online survey, there is a significant investment you would require. Firstly you will have to recruit right.  Followed by execution and finally data analysis. Same for usability tests or A/B analysis. These are valid investments as the returns you will get are significant. However, as a startup, these are not necessarily luxuries you can afford. After all, you want to capitalize on the first mover advantage (what ever that means). But that should not become an excuse to forsake user research. Usually, at this point, most organisations utilize lean or guerrilla research techniques. Most of these techniques talk about using tools like spreadsheets and SurveyMonkey forms to gather the same old information. In almost the same old fashion. However it is somewhat faster and cheaper. But not by much.

This of course, is better than nothing.

But what if the time you had been severely constrained? In crunch situations, dates and deadlines have already been chalked out by immovable circumstances. Like a conference, for example. Or a potential investor who is available only for a short period. Is there anything you can do in a situation like this? Something better than relying on your gut. That’s where ‘Zippy Research’ comes in. Unlike traditional research it removes the constraint of relying on actual users. Making the process a lot faster. And it works much better than simply relying on gut feel. Additionally it works great for brand new products.

Let’s take a look at what Zippy User Research entails. It is actually not a single technique but a combination of a number of techniques. They include:

  1. Reviewing reviews
  2. Role play
  3. Relating to the future
  4. Pattern based design and heuristics

Let’s look at these in detail.

Reviewing reviews: When you buy any product, you usually do a thorough review before you commit to buying it. This helps you form an opinion about the product. Tech review, iTunes Reviews and Play Store reviews help you form that opinion. These reviews give you insights into how other people are perceiving the product. Similarly you can gain a lot of insight into what the user is thinking when they post on the internet about your product. But if your product has not been around for a long time, making a presence on social media or review sites is difficult. This is where you might have to go innovative. Look for a competitor’s review on Play Store or iTunes Store. You can even search on Quora for what people have to say about similar products. Or on online forums about how many people are facing the pain points you are trying to address. You should end up with either a scenario or persona that you built using information you found online. However during the research, you need to be mindful about the task at hand. You will encounter a lot of useless information, but you need to decide soon if the source is worth your investment. Note down every bit of information that will help you define the unmet need more succinctly. Don’t get lost in the sea of information online.

Role Play: Here you could use empathy to imagine what a user would do a particular scenario. Assign yourself tasks that the user would most likely perform. Note down how you would go about doing it. For example, will you pick up a phone and call for a taxi. Or can the phone offer you a view of all the taxis around your area. Putting yourself into this role play will help you see the obvious advantage one option provide you over another. Sketching out of brainstorming over possible tasks and then actually doing a role play for each would add more authenticity to this technique. If you have some rough sketches, it allows you to empathize a bit more with the user and evaluate the task at hand better. You can use this technique but the caveat is that you should not to bias yourself based on the design solution you already have. To avoid bias, it would be better to use this in combination with a hallway research technique. Get someone else (who ideally is not part of your team) to get involved in the role play. Since the person you ask for opinion has no role in the design of the interface, chances of bias are lesser.

Relating to the future: Have you every written you own obituary. Written a press release for an unreleased product. Or interviewed your future self? This can be a life enhancing experience. Since this involves imagining how you would have responded to challenges and events to come out stronger. A similar exercise in product development would be to write out future press release for product launches or actually conduct a mock review with a tech writer or blogger that will bring out key challenges and approaches on how you might be able to address them. Ask questions about situations that require complex solutions. See how you have addressed these situations. This will clear your mind to bring out solutions you have not thought about.

Pattern based design and heuristics: Use existing design patterns like the ones enumerated here. Or something like Material Design Guideline . Or the Apple HIG. This is not a replacement for design but is a good way to kick-start the process that you get to a MVP. But essentially you should think whether an MVP works at all. You might actually start thinking about a Minimum Desirable Product.

I’m sure you have been using some these techniques in your design. Maybe have been calling it get feel. But using the technique consciously as design tool, will make you explain the reason you came up with a design with more accuracy. It will also help you release faster. And result in a  well designed product that not sacrifice user research in the process of using a lean development philosophy. However think of zippy research as ‘User Research on Steroids’, while it is fast, it is not necessarily healthy…

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