You can’t build a product people will fall in love with if you don’t know your audience. To maximize your chances of success, it’s vital to conduct insightful research before making any significant product decisions. User research is a process of understanding user needs, wants, and behaviors using different observation and feedback collection methods. Research is a fundamental part of the UX designer’s job and a core part of the overall design process.
The field of user experience has a wide range of research techniques available, and quite often it’s not obvious which one you should choose for a given project. While there are a lot of books dedicated to UX design, very few of them are focused on user research. The list below aggregates the most relevant books in that area, covering the most common research techniques and metrics.
Observing the User Experience presents a set of research techniques that help UX practitioners see the world through the eyes of their users. The book is written mostly as a reference guide — it contains a lot of practical information in the context of real-world product development (authors are familiar with typical constraints such as tight budgets or short schedules). The comprehensive overview of research methodologies (the book contains 13 UX research techniques) and clear instructions on how to use each method make this book a perfect guide both for novices who want to understand the foundational principles behind user research and seasoned professionals looking for new ideas.
Many product designers view design as a series of qualitative activities, which don’t require attention to formulas and numbers. However, that’s not how things work. As a designer, you need to explain why your solution is good for people who will use your product. In other words, you should be focused on measuring the impact of each important design decision. By incorporating real data into the design process and quantifying the benefits of each change, you’ll be able to understand exactly what effect changes have on your users’ behavior.
Quantifying the User Experience provides instructions on the practical aspects of quantitative analysis in user research. It will run you through the most important statistical knowledge and tools necessary to measure user experience. After reading this book, you’ll know how to compute margins of error or how to determine appropriate sample sizes for research. The authors draw many practical examples from usability studies and tie statistical theory together with practice.
Interviewing is a foundational user research tool. It’s possible to gain a lot of valuable insights from direct dialog. Many people assume that they already possess this tool; everyone can ask questions and collect feedback, right? Wrong! An interview is a complex activity and there are many things that should be taken into account — starting from the way you prepare for the session (preparing a list of questions) to the way you do it (e.g. how to come up with the right questions, how to synthesize findings).
Interviewing Users is a practical guide to interviewing that provides various techniques and methods for capturing valuable insights. The author uses stories and examples from his practical experience to show how interviewing can be incorporated into the design process. This book will be a valuable source of information for anyone who conducts interviews or moderates usability testing.
‘How do I know whether my idea is valuable for users?’ is a fundamental question many product designers ask themselves. Product designers usually have tons of ideas. What they don’t have is a way to prove that people actually want those ideas. It’s possible to validate hypotheses with user research.
Validating Product Ideas explains how to use research to build the best possible product. It gives readers a clear methodology which helps them answer the most critical questions about their users.
Even though you as a UX practitioner understand the value of user research it might be not that easy to persuade others to think the same way. Stakeholders are often skeptical about user research—they might ignore the results of research or even reject the entire idea (especially when a researcher pushes them to act upon research). Thus, it’s essential to not only conduct proper research but also sell it.
It’s Our Research discusses strategies and techniques for working with stakeholders in a way that ensures their buy-in. Here are some of the strategies discussed in the book:
- Planning UX research with stakeholders (identify research opportunities together with stakeholders).
- Teaming up with stakeholders (involving stakeholders in performing research activities).
- Improving the communication of research results to stakeholders (reporting findings in a way stakeholders can understand and empathize).
- Evaluating the value of user research at your organization.
This book provides dozens of case studies and visuals from international research practitioners. In addition to the text, it includes 30 video interviews with world-renowned experts, conducted specifically for this book.
Measuring the User Experience is another book focused on quantifying the user experience. Authors organized dozens of metrics into one book. Metrics range from traditional metrics (such as various types of performance metrics) to innovative ones (such as emotional engagement, keystroke analysis, and net promoter score). The book explores each metric and provides best practices for collecting, analyzing, and presenting the data. This information will enable product developers to efficiently measure the usability of any product.
Great user experiences are essential for products today — users demand well-designed and easy-to-use products. To build products people love it’s essential to make UX a natural part of the design process. But usually, that’s easier said than done.
UX for Lean Startups provides proven tips and tools for researching, identifying, and designing an easy-to-use product. The book consolidates the key principles of Lean and delivers them to readers in an easy to understand way. Here are some practical skills the book explores:
- Determining whether a product will be successful in the market before building it.
- Gathering feedback from your customers throughout the product’s lifecycle.
- Discerning the difference between necessary and nice-to-have features.
The book will give you many ideas on how to test your new designs to see if they are truly better for your users and result in more engagement.
Just Enough Research is a brief cookbook of research methods. The information in this book will be extremely helpful for organizations where research is not yet a solid part of the design process.
Taking into account that it’s a relatively short book (a massive amount of information is packed into a tiny package of 154 pages), it can be a great starting point for learning how to integrate various types of UX research into your process.
Usability is a cornerstone of user experience. No matter what product you design, your customers expect it to be easy to use. Handbook of Usability Testing is the ideal introductory read to the subject of usability testing. After reading this book, you’ll be able to:
- Recognize factors that limit usability.
- Decide where testing should occur.
- Set up a test plan to assess goals for your product’s usability.
- Decide on the best way to collect and review data.
- Report the results and make recommendations.
Universal Methods of Design is a valuable collection of research methods that can be used as a reference for any designer solving complex design challenges. The book covers 100 tools that aid in almost any design process.
Good user research is key to designing a great user experience. I hope that after reading these books you’ll be able to learn from your users (or customers) and turn that information into products that people love.