As technology evolves, so does UX research. The future as a freelance UX researcher holds endless potential to elevate user experiences and drive business value to new heights.
Hi there! My name is Hayate Ait Bouzid, I am a Freelance UX Researcher with a background in Anthropology and Digital Transformation. As a UX researcher, my main goal is to uncover hidden user insights that can't be found with just surveys, heatmaps, and competitor analysis. I've witnessed firsthand the power of UX research and today I'm excited to share the things that make it all happen.
A company is designing a product or service that is according to them a game-changer. But here's the catch – it's not about what the company thinks; it's about what the users think! UX research starts with understanding the users – their needs, preferences, pain points, and motivations.
Empathy is what brings good UX research to the level of amazing UX research. Research that will leave your client saying, “WOW, it was really worth investing our time and money into this.” As UX researchers, we need to get into the shoes of the users. Personally, I feel that especially as a freelancer, I can do this better than any other person in a company because my observations are not defined by my previous interactions with the product nor certain perceptions of ‘how things should be’ within the company.* We can be truly empathic and objective up to the point that qualitative research allows us to be. This empathetic approach helps us recommend experiences that resonate deeply with users and will create trust, loyalty, and advocacy for the brand later on.
I always start with a stakeholder workshop. In this workshop, I ask the following questions: Why are we doing this research? When will this project be a success? What are things we want to avoid accomplishing/solving? What existing ideas and solutions do we like? What are the answers we would like to know to bridge the gap in our knowledge?
Once this is collected and analyzed, I can craft a research plan and select the right methods based on the scope and the research objective.
In UX research we have quantitative and qualitative research methods. Quantitative and qualitative data are two sides of the same coin. The former gives us the "what" and "how many," and the latter focuses on the "why" and "how."
So let’s take an example. Our goal is to improve a mobile app. Quantitative data tells you which screens users visit most frequently, which buttons they tap the most, and how long they spend on each screen. Gathering this information will allow you to optimize the layout and flow of the app to streamline the user journey.
On the other hand, qualitative data helps us understand the confusion and struggles but also the delights of the users around specific features. By listening to their feedback through in-depth interviews and usability tests, you gain valuable insights into their mental models and expectations.
Quantitative and qualitative data complement each other in research, however for me the real gold lies within the qualitative research methods. They reveal a whole layer of invaluable insights. In-depth interviews, focus groups, and usability tests help us understand the emotions, attitudes, and perceptions of users in a way that quantitative data cannot capture. You can only get this if you are in direct contact with the user and when testing a product or service with them.
Take the example of my last project where I was asked to increase the app retention of a mindfulness app through gamification, personalization, and customization. I started with a competitor analysis to understand what other mindfulness apps are doing in the scene. It turned out that one way these apps personalized the experience of their users is through onboarding questionnaires. A quick conclusion one could take is, these well-established apps are using onboarding questionnaires, so the use of these is a must to improve the experience. However, when I had participants test a few mindfulness apps with different types of questionnaires, yes at first they were pleasantly surprised, but sooner or later they would feel that the questionnaires were too long. They just wanted to get started with the mindfulness tools. While the app that I was working for didn’t have a questionnaire, this actually resulted in the users considering it a lot more straightforward compared to the other apps. So you can understand that if I didn’t immerse myself in the usability testing of the main app and other comparative apps, I wouldn't have been able to uncover this super important finding around questionnaires.
Understanding why users prefer one feature over another or what barriers they face in adopting a new product empowers us to craft solutions that exceed their expectations and that of the client. That being said, using both the quantitative and qualitative approaches together, forms an even more powerful duo within UX research.
Companies need to understand that value comes with repetitive UX research. The world is constantly changing, and so are user needs and expectations. UX research should involve ongoing monitoring and iterative design. This allows a company to adapt quickly and to always maintain a competitive edge.
Let me break down for you how this ongoing research benefits businesses in the long run!
Luckily in today's world, the methods I discussed and the added value described are no longer only accessible to companies like Microsoft and Heinz. It has become for everyone! This is also why I am so glad to see more and more research platforms like Betafi, allowing smaller companies and especially freelance UX researchers to do research that fits their budgets and needs. Especially for start-ups, embracing user research early on helps them to build user-centric products and services from the beginning. UX research shouldn't be an afterthought; it should be there from the very first cycle of product development.
In conclusion, I would say the future of freelance UX research is filled with exciting possibilities. As products and services continue to advance, so does our ability as UX researchers to do our part in improving the user experience and increasing business value. This is done with a dedicated focus on empathy, a well-crafted research plan, and a balanced approach between quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Remember, UX research is not a one-time thing but an ongoing journey of adaptation and improvement. And the best part is that nowadays UX research is no longer only for Fortune 500 companies: it’s for everyone! As I reflect on my journey as a UX researcher, I can't wait to continue creating experiences that truly matter and make businesses flourish!