5 min.
User research: top preparation for fiery insights
1L’art de la gestion de projet2Un projet à succès commence par une bonne gouvernance3Cascade, agilité, demandes de changement?

User research: top preparation for fiery insights

Content & SEO Client experience & UX

It's admitted, the user experience, we talk about it (a lot), and we want to do it (obviously). If you have read  my colleague Pierre-Olivier 's article  , you also know that “Google's algorithm is increasingly able to discern whether the user is satisfied or not”. And for that you have to know them, these users, talk to them, get into their heads in short...

So let's roll up our little sleeves and do some research!


Moreover, it is not the methods that are lacking. From the scientific test in the lab with sensors everywhere, combining  eye-tracking , measuring emotions and the reaction of the digestive system (I'm kidding on the last one, but we're getting close to it), to the weeks of immersion in ethnographic safari mode for observe users in their natural environment… in short, there is enough to occupy entire teams of UX researchers for a long time.

But precisely, let's be realistic, because very quickly, the latter, motivated and dedicated body and soul to their cause, come up against the full force of the reality of resources and time, which are often limited. Fortunately, the UX researcher will also impress you with his flexibility and pragmatism, because after all, better a  short and sweet test  with your mother than nothing at all.

And it's true, at least in part. Not everyone has the luxury of months and months of intensive research before they start producing. A quick test well done is sometimes the best solution.

But let's come back for a moment to the "with your mother" mentioned above, because today, I propose to  put aside the question of the process a little to focus, for the time of an article, on the preparation of your research and the users who will be the subject of it.  After all, if I plan to open a  steak house  and decide to interview my esteemed colleague Matthieu, who has just participated in his third Vegan Festival, it could well be a waste of time for him and for me…

Before continuing, if you are a very busy person, I invite you to  scroll  directly to the conclusion which summarizes the main points of this article. If you like what you read, you'll always have time to read (and re-read) the detail later!



In general, note that the Mr or Mrs Right of user research will combine the following characteristics:

Comfortable enough to give you information

This is particularly important in the context of qualitative research such as interviews or open-ended exploration questionnaires. Better a participant who talks too much, even if it means channeling it if necessary, than a person who will answer 3 words to each of your questions. A simple technique for this is to assess the participant's level of openness by asking a slightly personal test question (Erika Hall suggests, for example, in  Just Enough Research  , "Can you tell me how you usually decide what you are going to do on your day off?”).

The tone and level of detail of the response will quickly give you an indication of the participant's ability to engage.


Concerned without being engaged

Ideally, the search will be for people who might use the product or service you're working on (thanks,  Cap'tain Obvious! ), but it's also not uncommon to see a project based purely on internal interviews with the sales team, or a prototype tested by colleagues.

You will tell me, we do with the means at hand! Yes, but if we want to give ourselves a little the means to do well, we will still take the time to avoid people who are too involved, to turn to those whose judgment and priorities will be as close as possible to a user. real. Let's not forget that the latter does not care about the names, the processes, or the political issues that you experience internally, what matters to him are his issues, his context, and his personal needs.


Representative of a target group

Most of the time, your target can be divided into subgroups. Please note, we are not talking about demographic groups, but about groups distinguished by specific behaviors, needs, contexts and issues, which you will need to address.

User research may reveal new features that you hadn't anticipated, but if you anticipate your target's expectations to a minimum, you should be able, intuitively, to establish a first segmentation.

OK, now that we have an idea of ​​what the rare pearl looks like, let's see how to make a nice necklace of  reliable and useful insights for your project.

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That's it, your project starts! You've probably already decided to do interviews, or user testing, because after all, the point is to talk to people, right? In addition, now you know the profile of the ideal participant…well, almost, because the characteristics I mentioned above apply to any research project, but you must also know which participants are the most relevant for YOUR project.

Yes, because as with everything, you have little chance of arriving at your destination if you don't know where you want to go. In the same way, to optimize the search time and the quality of the results, it is not a question of recruiting blindly and hoping to have useful information by crossing your fingers.

Like  reverse planning  in project management, I therefore suggest that you wait 5 minutes before launching headlong into your tests and observations, and start by clearly specifying why you are doing this research.


Define the expected benefit of your research to know its objectives.

The first thing to define is therefore  the expected benefits  of your user research: you have not decided to do research for the sake of doing research, it is part of a context and meets a need. quite precise. Maybe you have decided to aim for a new target that you do not know, maybe you want to assess the quality of your current product or site, or maybe you want to know how you are positioning yourself in relation to your competitors?

It seems obvious like that, but we quickly cut corners. So sit down for a while, with a coffee or a chamomile, and ask yourself “what is this research for?” What do we expect from the result? Who will use it internally and how? ".

These are the questions that help define a clear objective for the research project.


Define your research questions

The objectives are clear and it's already a small victory in itself, but let's not stop there, because the best way to know exactly what answers you expect is to ask questions. The research questions reflect your objectives and even better, they specify them.

Let's say you're creating a recipe site, and you've defined the following:

"As part of our project to optimize the recipes section of our cooking site (context), we want to obtain more information on the way our target searches for, consults, and uses recipes online (objective) to make sure to define recipe sheets, search filters and calls to action that are as relevant as possible (expected benefits for the project). »

Your research questions could, for example, be the following:

  • In what situations does the intended target seek and use recipes online? (Location, device used, context, level of attention, etc.)
  • How does she look for these recipes, according to what criteria?
  • How are the recipes selected in the proposed results?
  • What information is required in a recipe card?
  • Once the ideal recipe has been found, what are the actions desired by the user? (Ex. reading, recording, sharing, categorization, printing…)

Like what, sometimes, finding the right answer is as simple as defining the right questions!


Select research methods

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the methods, there are many, but you will not be able to do everything. Think of them as a toolbox you can draw from as needed. I also recommend this  “tool book” which has become one of my references .

The research questions give you (the most important) part of what you need to know to determine the most suitable research method(s) for your project. The rest will be defined by your reality in terms of budget, resources and time.

Be careful, however, not to find too many excuses! Spending a little more time in research can save you time in design and development, especially since solid observations are a formidable weapon in settling endless internal debates. Take the time to review your schedule if you think it's worth it.

Another tip: whenever possible, combine at least 2 research methods that meet the same objectives:  a quantitative method that will give you information on the behavior of your users, and a qualitative method that will allow you to explain these behaviors . This is the best way to have complete information on which your decisions can be based.

That's it, we have our objectives, our questions, we know how we're going to conduct this research (and it may have taken you less time than reading this article). Nothing stops you anymore… except maybe 2 questions:  how many participants should you recruit, and also, how to find them?

Mystery room



This is a question that will quickly arise. And this is where we are happy to have defined our objectives, our target groups and the research methods planned, because this is among other things what will determine the size of your user sample.

Thus, the amount of recruited users will depend above all on the method you use. For quantitative methods, for example an eye-tracking study, a scaled questionnaire, or a  tree test , you will need more participants than are required by qualitative methods such as a semi-interview. -directed, a  logbook  or an open-ended survey.

For example, and from a general point of view, the minimum required for a questionnaire is 30 participants, while an eye tracking study requires at least 40 to 50 potential users.

However, the size of your sample will ideally depend on the estimated size of your target population, which you will take care to divide by prioritized target groups in order to study the specificities of each. This will allow you, if your budget does not allow you to cover them all, to focus your efforts on your primary personas.

Finally, note that most online testing and research tools offer a calculator to define the minimum sample size and the number of returns necessary to ensure the reliability of the results.


And finally, where can you find reliable users to conduct your research?

Finally, here are some possible alternatives for recruiting users who will provide you with this valuable information:

  • Recruit users directly from your website  : certain tools allow you to display a pop-up when a visitor arrives on your site, asking them to take part in a study. Ethnio  is an example and also allows you to manage appointment times for in-person user interviews.
  • Use the recruitment tool integrated into your online search tools . Optimal Workshop, for example, offers to recruit testers for you who meet your recruitment criteria for conducting card sorting, treejacks and qualitative research.
  • Use your internal database of customers and leads , provided, of course, that you ensure that the consent requirements are met.
  • Go to a place your potential users frequent, and recruit them there.  This solution seems more conducive to qualitative studies that require few participants.
  • Hire a company that specializes  in recruiting study participants.
    Work session



If you were in a hurry and  scrolled  straight here, congratulations, that's a great shortcut!

To sum up,  remember above all that the key to a successful search is to clearly identify what you expect from it . If you know exactly where you are going, you will only have to compare the routes compatible with your constraints. Taking an hour to think about it and define your research questions,  it changes your life, avoids disappointment, and you can show that you know where you are going!

If not, is recruiting his mother for testing still a solution? Not necessarily,  because even if she will always be there to rob Ikea when you move house, or move your furniture because “it's better that way, isn't it? », it does not necessarily have the profile of your typical user. If in addition she is directly involved in the project, I advise to drop the idea.

Finally, if you are asked who is responsible for the quality of the research,  I would say as much the researcher himself, who ensures the choice and respect of the right methodology, as the stakeholders (marketing, technical, graphic, financial managers , or any other person with expectations regarding the research project) that will help them clearly identify the objectives of the research and what is expected of it.

Because in the end, what matters is that your project is progressing, preferably in the right direction!