The Importance of User Research in Product Development and Product Lifecycle

August 7, 2019

The Importance of User Research in Product Development and Product Lifecycle

The Importance of User Research in Product Development and Product Lifecycle

Employing user research to gain insight into how people understand and use products in their lives can be invaluable in both new product development as well as evaluation of a product's lifecycle. This article takes a look at what user research is and why it is effective.

Understanding User Research

Not entirely disparate, market research and user research embody some unique characteristics. Market research focuses more generally on what consumers want in a product or service. The information gathered identifies gaps in the market into which a business can insert itself.

User research, on the other hand, usually puts a product in the user's hand and asks them how and why they would - or would not - use it. This insight is invaluable to improving adoption or turning a poorly-performing product into a success story.

User Research is a resource that has the potential to deliver value across the entire lifespan of a product. The process and techniques employed vary by the five stages of a product's lifecycle:

  1. Concept
  2. Prototype
  3. Launch
  4. Evolution
  5. Termination

At the concept stage, this can involve identifying pain points inherent in existing products where users resort to hacks or workarounds when products don't meet all their needs. Hands-on prototypes are the first real-world test and usually reveal design flaws or shortcomings designers did not anticipate.

It is only after the launch that large user datasets become available. This information is incorporated into the evolution stage of the product to plug gaps where it fails to meet expectations. The end of a product line usually marks the start of another and is just as ripe an opportunity to gain consumer insight as any other.

Undertaking User Research

For any research to produce good answers, the right questions have to be asked. Formulating these questions, their phrasing and the context in which they are asked is critical. This stage requires input from every department involved with the product. Consensus is important for the user research to have real value.

The next stage is the selection of participants. It can be a challenge to balance the number of participants (where a larger sample size generates more reliable data) with the time and cost involved. A mix of existing customers and potential customers is important.

The latter category can include users of rival products, your own customers who use similar products and demographics that you want to target. Ensure a uniform distribution of respondents at each stage of the user research.

Strategies

Here is a typical user research process flow:

  • Guerilla research - Quick, ad hoc surveys that give you a reasonable overarching idea of user response
  • In-house response - The results from guerilla research are presented to your teams so they can address the shortcomings and expectations expressed
  • Prototype testing - The first in-the-wild products for users to touch and feel, and an assessment of the response from guerilla research.
  • Modification - Response to the prototype testing is followed by further analysis before tweaks are made prior to product launch.

User research is a fine tool but it cannot anticipate every issue. Consumers can be fickle and their responses may sometimes vary wildly. Always be responsive to end-user feedback after the launch and apply improvements speedily but not hastily.

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