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Using Pilot Testing to Choose the Right User Research Method

User research is the study of people’s (users’) behaviour, motivations and needs in a particular context, which affects how people understand and use things in their daily lives. As well as understanding how these factors change over time, we can use user research to understand:

  • who our users are;
  • what our users’ needs are or what they’re trying to do;
  • how our users are currently trying to do things;
  • how our users would like to do these things.

Without user input, organizations risk spending huge amounts of money creating products and services that will simply fail.

When starting out your own user research programme, it can be a little daunting trying to choose the right methodology to meet your objective, and which will ensure that you gain the insight you need to make informed decisions based on your user evidence. There isn’t always one method for every scenario you find yourself in that requires user research and many scenarios that will call for using multiple methods. In my new book, User Research, I cover how to choose the right methodology and combining methods to get the insight you need.

It isn’t possible to consider every potential scenario and possible method that may be appropriate, but it is possible - with some low-risk trial and error - to figure it out for yourself by pilot testing your research before you then do it for real.

In User Research, I also highlight the importance of pilot testing when refining your chosen research methodology and technique, to ensure that you get the very best out of it. Pilot testing is also useful to help you decide which methodology is the best fit, particularly when you’re starting out in user research.

It’s not always entirely obvious which methodology will best meet your objectives. When I was a consultant, it wasn’t wholly uncommon for clients to request what they thought was the most appropriate methodology, however, when looking at what they wanted to learn, it was clear that something else is required.

Pilot testing allows you to try out different techniques with a small sample of people, to see what results you get and what would be most useful for your purposes. It might take a bit more time in your preparation, but the extra prep time will be wholly worthwhile to ensure your research is effective and to have confidence in your choices. In the same way that user research can superficially slow down the development process, ultimately, if you get the user research right, you will save time and money by build the right thing first time and then refine it during its lifetime to meet changing user needs - rather than having to start again from scratch; the benefits outweigh the costs.

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