Conducting user research entails gathering and documenting the user requirements for your project. This is typically performed in the very early stages of a project's development cycle. You need to get a deep insight into your product's end users and understand their perspectives in order to design something that fits their needs. The objective of performing any kind of user research is to define your audience and their goals.
The following are some methods and tools we implement for conducting user research:
User experience interviews are key to conducting real user research. Interviewing current and prospective users can give you insight into how your product is actually being used and whether or not it fits their needs. This method can provide anecdotal information that user testing alone can not deliver. A user test can tell you how well a task can be performed, but it can't tell you whether or not that task is typically even performed by the user. For this reason, it's imperative to conduct interviews before developing a user testing plan.
A well designed surveys can help you find out who your users are and what they think of your product. Conducting surveys entails asking a large group of people a set of predefined questions. The key is to make sure you ask the right people the right questions. When this is done correctly you gain a wealth of data that can be used to examine and better understand your audience.
A contextual inquiry involves spending time with your users and watching how they live and work. The idea is to study and observe people in their own environment in order to better understand how your product can fit into their routine and help them. It entails leaving the office and entering the homes and workplaces of your users to uncover their needs.
Task analysis is a much more focused observation of how your users are currently solving the problems that your product is meant to solve. It is a detailed study and break down on how your users complete their desired tasks. The purpose of conducting task analysis is to better understand the problem in order to come up with improved alternative solutions.
Personas are hypothetical archetypes, or "stand-ins" for actual users. They inform the interface design team on the backgrounds and goals of each target user group. The purpose of a persona is to help keep the users at the forefront of design decisions. Names and personal details are fabricated in order to make them more realistic, but personas are not just made up; they are created as a by-product of the user research process (surveys, interviews, research and data analysis). When used appropriately, a persona's needs and goals will be taken into account in the interface that is designed.