Kaitlin Pike

If your startup doesn’t know how to talk to users (and get the most out of those discussions), you could miss out on exactly what your customers want you to know.

laura-kleinWeb 2.0 Expo speaker Laura Klein (Users Know) regularly consults with lean startups and other small companies on usability research, and shows them how they can use this valuable information to improve their business.

In her upcoming session Who Do I Talk To Now? User Research for Every Phase of Your Product, Laura will discuss the most common types of usability research, what types of conversations to have with different sets of customers, how this changes as your product matures, and tips on how to avoid some of the common mistakes startups stumble on. We recently talked with Laura about her session and user research.

Read on for the full interview:

Kaitlin: The basic problem your session goes after is how can a startup (which by nature has very limited resources) better “talk” to their customers, specifically with usability research. Without letting the cat out of the bag too much, can you list a few of the types of usability research your session covers and why they’re important?

Laura: Over the past couple of years, dozens of new products have been released that claim to help make user research faster and easier. The problem is that most people don’t know which ones to use or how to get the most out of them.

A large part of what I cover in my session is how to use things like remote usability, unmoderated testing, and micro usability tests to make gathering qualitative feedback much faster. I’ll also talk about which methods give you the best results for the different stages of your product.

Kaitlin: Do you have any sort of rules or guidelines on using qualitative vs. quantitative research? Can a business rely on one or the other?

Laura: I have a very simple rule. Quantitative research tells you what your problem is. Qualitative research tells you why you have that problem.

Let’s say that your metrics are telling you that that nobody is using your new feature. That’s great information to have, but you still don’t know why they’re not using it. Have they not noticed the new feature? Are they confused by it? Do they hate it? Does it not solve the problem they wanted it to solve?

The answers to these questions determine what you should be doing to fix the problems with the new feature. The only way you can get those questions answered is by listening to and observing users, and that requires some form of qualitative feedback.

Kaitlin: Who at the startup should be leading these efforts? Is this a developer issue or something the CEO takes on?

Laura: Whoever owns the product should own the research. Sometimes that’s the CEO. Sometimes it’s a CTO or a product manager. It’s whoever is in charge of deciding what to build next.

However, anybody who makes customer facing product decisions (and almost all product decisions are customer facing in one way or another), should be involved in research, at least as an observer.

Kaitlin: What’s the danger of not talking to the customer early in the development of a product?

Laura: The farther along you are in development when you catch a problem, the more it’s going to cost you to fix it. Sketches and prototypes are significantly cheaper to fix in terms of time and resources than production quality code.

Kaitlin: And as a follow up to that question, what’s the danger of not continuing testing at different phases of a product?

Laura: You find different types of problems at different phases of a product. For example, you can find really fundamental problems if you’re just testing sketches or early prototypes, but you find entirely different problems when something is actually in use by real customers.

The trick is to find each problem as early as possible, so that you can fix it as cheaply as possible.

Kaitlin: What do you tell startups who say they don’t have time or budget to do the testing you suggest? Are there “quick and dirty” usability tests they can use as a temporary measure, or is this foolhardy?

Laura: Not testing is a false economy. You are losing money and time by not testing. It may not happen on every feature, but at some point you are going to cause a problem that could have been easily found with some user testing, and it is going to cost you time, money, and customers.

I’m going to be talking about a lot of quick and dirty methods for testing products. It’s ok to cut some corners, but you need to know which corners are safe to cut and when to cut them.

Kaitlin: Can you give me a good example of usability testing and how it improved a product? Or if it’s more fun, can you give me an example of a product gone bad because of lack of testing?

Laura: I was observing a user test for a product that I didn’t design. The product hadn’t been tested early in the design process, and was, in fact, about to be launched. A study participant became so frustrated and confused that she actually broke down crying while trying to perform a task. The rest of the sessions did not go much better.

I obviously can’t tell you the name of the company, but the product did NOT launch. The sad thing was, they’d spent a huge amount of time and money getting to that point, only to have to go back to square one.

On the other hand, when I was working with Food on the Table, our fast usability testing turned up a usability bug that was killing one branch of a new experiment.

Their metrics were telling them that a new design they were testing was failing, but once we found and fixed a very small problem, it completely changed the outcome of the experiment. If they had only relied on their quantitative data, they might have scrapped a successful feature.


Kaitlin Pike is the Web 2.0 Expo community manager. She can be reached @w2e or @kcpike. To see Laura speak, register for Web 2.0 Expo SF now with  discount code websf11bl20 to save 20%.

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3 Responses to “Talk to Your Customers: Laura Klein on User Research”

  1. Hot Topics, Sharp Questionson 28 Feb 2011 at 12:54 pm

    [...] Talk to Your Customers: Laura Klein on User Research (interview with one of the sharpest user experience consultants in the biz). “Their metrics [...]

  2. [...] Talk to Your Customers: Laura Klein on User Research (interview with one of the sharpest user experience consultants in the biz). “Their metrics were [...]

  3. Twitted by INeitzkeon 26 Aug 2011 at 12:49 pm

    [...] This post was Twitted by INeitzke [...]

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