User research, not user testing

I’ve now been at the Co-op for a couple of months. In that time I’ve met lots of people, seen lots of work going on and talked about what I do with many, many people. I’ve even written my first CoopDigital blog post about user research at the Co-op.

One thing that I know we still need to work on is sharing wider what user research really is and how it should be used to influence what we do and how we do it. This is fine, it’s part of our jobs as experienced agile people and experienced researchers. It’s one of the reasons we’re hiring so many good people.

In my previous place of work, if someone called what we do ‘user testing’ there would almost always be someone who’d jump up and say ‘User Research NOT User Testing!’. I was always fairly relaxed about it, I knew what they meant, the person uttering it knew what they meant and it always felt like a bit of an over-reaction to me, personally, I’d just smile and let it go.

Moving to somewhere where it is a less familiar concept I’m beginning to realise why people did it.

I’m finding that, for some people, ‘user testing’ is something you do near the end, you’re fairly convinced you’ve got it right, you’re fairly convinced it’s going to work and it’s going to go down well. What you might get is some feedback or minor tweaks to make it even better. I think the issue is the word ‘testing’, where testing is generally done just before you go live to spot bugs and defects.

That’s not what user research and agile development is, what it’s for and what it’s brilliant at.

A picture of one of the CoopDigital product teams

User research is invaluable to us to help decide if we should build/release something at all, what that something should be and how it should work. It shows us how the thing we make will fit into users lives. It gives us insight into the language people use and how they view the world. It also helps us understand the problems in their lives they’re trying to solve, the tasks they’re trying to achieve and how what we build can help solve that problem or complete that task.

There is also the issue of what we’re testing when we do research: we’re testing our designs, we aren’t testing our users. The user doesn’t pass or fail, the design does.

Simon Hurst
User researcher

One thought on “User research, not user testing

  1. BARBARA September 20, 2016 / 10:17 am

    Hi Alex – my hotmail has just been migrated to ‘outlook’ and I am finding it difficult to believe Microsoft did any of the above . I certainly haven’t seen any positive user reviews on google when I research how I can put my email account back so’s I can use it! Good luck with getting this way of thinking embedded with us – I enjoyed being part of some ‘user research’ a couple of months ago and seeing the results go live the other week.

    Like

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