Have you ever made the decision to tighten your security and privacy settings on Facebook, only to get lost in a jungle of menus and options? You’re not alone. Not only is this a commonly felt pain point for users (and a widely recognized phenomenon by researchers), it's also an excellent example of a blind spot in user research.
A blind spot is an area that's not well understood or operationalized by your team. You might technically be aware of it, but you can't see or interact with it.
This is a particularly dangerous place to be when it comes to user research, because you're making decisions based on assumptions rather than data.
Left undiscovered, these blind spots can lead to big problems. Beyond the frustration of Facebook's menu design, there are some UX failures that have had far worse outcomes; exclusion based on physical ability, for example, or discrimination against minority groups.
User research blind spots: what are they, and why do they happen?
User research blind spots can be caused by a number of factors. One common reason is when teams rely too heavily on audience assumptions and don't test their assumptions with users in a lab environment. This can lead to designers overgeneralizing from the small number of users they've spoken to, and making assumptions about what all users want or need.
A lack of user testing can also lead to blind spots in research around how users actually interact with your product. For example, you may have a great idea for a new feature, but if you don't test it with users you won't know whether they'll be able to find it, understand how to use it, or even want to use it.
How you can uncover blind spots in your user research
“UX design processes should be heavily driven not by designers, but by users.” – Sarah Lee, Galvanize
Before you can hope to design an effective and engaging user experience, you need to know who your users are and what they want. This involves understanding their needs, wants, and pain points. And part of this is building awareness of potential blind spots in your user research – areas that may have been overlooked by ideation teams or anyone else involved in the process.
There are two main ways that companies achieve this: user interviews and UX testing. Though some debate exists over which method is best, in reality, they each focus on different aspects of user experience and thus generate slightly different results.
User interviews vs UX testing
User interviews are a great way to get insights from users about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. By talking to users one-on-one, you can gain an understanding of how they interact with your product or service, what they like and don’t like, and where they experience pain points.
UX testing (or usability testing), on the other hand, is a strategy that uses prototypes to help you understand how users interact with your product. This can be done through user observation, think-aloud tests, or heuristic evaluations.
Where UX testing reveals more about aesthetic design and technical pain points, user interviews are going to give you a more holistic view of blind spots that need addressing. It's the more time-consuming option, definitely – but there are certain things that you can only learn from talking to users directly.
Conducting effective user interviews
When you are interviewing users, what questions should you be asking? Here are some key considerations:
- "What do you expect to gain from/complete on our website/app?" By making an effort to understand the goals and intentions of your users, you can better understand the steps they take to complete their goals.
- "What problems have you encountered whilst using our website/app?" This question opens up the possibility for users to share feedback and suggestions on how your product could be improved.
- "How do you usually go about completing the task/goal that you're trying to achieve on our website/app?" This question will help you to understand how users interact with your product, what works well and what doesn't.
- "What do you think of our design?" Asking for feedback on your design can give you valuable insight into how users see your product.
As mentioned, these user interviews can be a time-consuming process; however, there are tools available, like Respondent, that can connect you with the right users and help you ask the right questions.
Conducting effective UX testing
As mentioned, UX testing is more statistically-derived than user interviews. That said, you can still use it to offer strong insights in the way of qualitative user experience - how they’re feeling, what they think about your product, and more. The best approach is usually to combine the more dry, statistical side of UX testing with pointed hypotheses from your user interviews.
Here are some ways to improve the quality of your UX testing, and to help reduce the chances of having any hidden or unknown areas in your product:
- Map out your user’s journey. The first step is always understanding the user’s journey. Before you begin conducting UX tests, map out your ideal user flow; what they’re expecting, and what you suspect their pain points are. During the testing process, how do they interact with your product, from the moment they land on your page to the second they complete your desired goal?
- Mapping out the user’s journey helps you to understand their deep needs - the ones that they may or may not be capable of vocalizing in an interview - as well as the biases in how they interact with your product. You can then combine this with the essential information in your user interviews to place more focus on those deep-rooted blind spots that are important to them.
- Use analytics to your advantage. User research is about understanding why users interact with your product. While understanding what they do is also incredibly important, the why is where business-actionable insights are derived from. Unfortunately, UX testing offers more in the way of the what than the why - but there are a few things you can do to minimize this using analytics.
- Analytics can help you build a cohesive narrative about user behaviour and fill in the gaps if an interview comes up short. It can also give you a good indication of areas that need improvement and validation from users. How long someone spends on a page, for example, can be a good proxy of how interested they are in the content or the task at hand - you can then take this back to the interview room and see if your users can explain why.
- Use user interviews and UX tests in tandem to infer meaning behind statistical results. UX testing and user interviews don't both exist in vacuums - they can and should be used in tandem. Utilize what you've learned from in-depth user interviews to infer the meanings behind various UX testing results. This can help validate whether or not the needs of your users are being met, or if there’s a blind spot you may have missed.
- For example, if you find that users are abandoning your checkout process in large numbers, that may be for a number of reasons; bad design, a poor offer, or even just a long process. Combining the knowledge that people are disproportionately abandoning checkout with pointed user interviews can help you to understand why this is happening, and allow you to shorten the test loop with regards to specific UX hypotheses.
By being methodical in your approach to user research, you can systematically uncover a ton of blind spots in your product. This will allow you to make data-driven decisions that improve the user experience iteratively (rather than relying on pre-existing assumptions of, say, the product manager).
Gain a deep understanding of your target audience with Respondent
One of the biggest problems with performing effective user research is getting the right users in the first place. Unfortunately, the wrong users are often easy enough to find, but the right ones - the compatible users who truly represent your target audience - can be incredibly difficult to identify.
That's where Respondent comes in. We’re a platform that allows you to quickly and easily connect with the highest quality respondents in the world for your research.
With Respondent, you can:
- Perform exploratory research with user interviews on new markets and product ideas
- Get feedback on existing products and services
- Test prototypes or new features with target users
- Recruit participants for persona building, B2B research, or user interviews
Once you've built a solid user research platform, it's important to get the most out of it. The best way to do that is by dialling in on the right user base, and using industry-vetted software like Respondent to help economize the user research process.
If you're looking for a deeper understanding of your target audience, or want to quickly gather feedback from lots of people, Respondent is the perfect tool for you. Find users, identify your blind spots, and iteratively improve your product today!