Thursday, June 26, 2008

Arguments against user research

Robert Hoekman, jr. continues the argument against user research ...

"User research is held up by many as the almighty method for uncovering user needs and the undeniable path to great user experiences.

This, of course, is a crock.

Here are a few of the justifications I’ve heard, and my responses.

1. It’s been argued that user research is not a cost—it’s an investment.

Let’s rephrase that.

Designing a high quality experience for a valuable product, regardless of how you achieve it, is an investment. User research by itself is a cost. If it’s a cost that contributes to the high quality user experience, then it might be worth doing, but it often doesn’t. In fact, it can have a negative affect on the user experience for people outside the researched audience (let’s call them “lost customers”), and even those within it.

2. It’s also been argued that user research leads directly to opportunities for differentiation within a market.

I agree with this, but there are other ways to achieve the same result. Focusing on the activity an application is meant to support (instead of a specific audience), for example, can lead to great insights about new ways to perform the activity, and these insights can provide plenty of market differentiation.

User research is one way to achieve market differentiation, not the only way.

3. It’s been argued that user research can expose features that users do not have an interest in, thereby weeding out the bad stuff and avoiding the fall of a market leader in the face of a clever start-up.

To this I ask: how is it that startups, who typically have no time or money for user research, are able to create products so great that they take over the lead market position in the first place?

4. Finally, it’s been argued that it’s “cheap and easy” to simply discard the past to move forward.

Of course, this argument also falls short.

“The past” is filled with far more examples of products, innovative thinking, and success stories based on activity-centered research, magic, genius, and just plain luck than User-Centered Design can claim even on its best day. UCD is only about 30 years old. “The past” is much, much older.

What’s cheap and easy is the idea that we can dissect a chef’s work and call it a recipe. That we can simply analyze genius and come out with a one-size-fits-all plan for success."    (Continued via rhjr.net)    [Usability Resources]

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