Here at Jet Cooper, when we kick off a new project we spend at least 1-2 weeks of doing pure research and strategy centered around the user. This is not just the product manager’s job, or the creative director’s duty, it's the responsibility of the entire project team (made up of a product manager, lead designer, and lead developer), which helps ensure we all begin on the same page.

We have a firm belief that because of the many decisions being made during the production process, it’s imperative that everyone understands the “why” behind those decisions. Going one step further, the real aim of researching users is to help us empathize with them, and understand what users love or hate both inside and outside the application.

This means not just visualizing who the user is, but to really get a grasp on understanding their traits, how they’ll use the application, and what they envision the application to be. We use a variety of methods to gain that knowledge and though some are effective all of the time (I’m looking at you, user personas), some are used on a product to product basis. To name just a few, they are:

  • User Interviews
  • User Personas
  • User Flows
  • Usability Testing
  • User Strategy Canvas

Now you’re probably asking yourself why getting user feedback and input is so necessary, here are four key reasons for why “getting out the building” is insanely important for a project’s success:

  1. Testing Assumptions: We make countless design decisions during a project, all of which could make or break an experience for a user. We obsess over every pixel and every word we put into the browser, and it’s important that we test these assumptions with virtual and real users.
  2. Visualizing Users: Users tend to be mythical beings with Google Image search pictures until we actually find and get real users into the studio. They have unique qualities that paint backstories to them. We can evolve what we currently understand and can have their faces in our memories as we create experiences for them and for the hundreds if not millions of users they represent.
  3. Testing Original Experiences: Usually when we are brought on to a product, there is some sort of improvement that founders/stakeholders want us to solve. What we like to do at the beginning of the project is to test the original experience. Its our benchmark for what we need to improve and gives us a guiding light into what directions to start exploring.
  4. Testing New Experiences: In terms of new ideas, we test them constantly throughout the project. Early stage tests involve sketches and concepts. However, as the projects move on, we go through testing mockup designs using tools like InVision and even HTML templates. These tools not only help us make more validated design decisions, but they are extremely useful in testing our assumptions and the experiences we are creating.

The Holy Grail

All of the points mentioned above and more ultimately help you discover and create features based on ACTUAL insights from users. Products ship and fail because they assume what customers want instead of going out and asking them. The Mad Men days where you determine what customers want are over. Today, you need to create something (or fall into something) that customers truly have a need for, and user insights are one of the best ways to discover just that.

You also only have so much time in a project and the product has to ship eventually. User research helps us determine and define a roadmap or scope of the project. If features and scope negatively impact each other and you can’t get more time, you need to determine what features are critical for a first release and what can be pushed back.

Finally (I mean, let’s face it) user research and testing just ends up creating better user experiences. Which in truth really is the Holy Grail we search for in our work; making amazing digital experiences for people. It’s also something that we strive towards collectively as a team and are not satisfied with until we get it right.

If you have any other thoughts, reasons or tools that you use to do user research feel free to comment below or tweet me at @jordansaxe!