Iterative UX Research in an Agile Design Process

The Best Of Customer & User Research

Held at the Hospital club in Covent Garden, central London, this 4th edition of the UserZoom UX Seminar Series was a resounding success, if the positive feedback of those who attended is anything to go by. These events are quarterly and are vital forums for the exchange of ideas during which a wide range of leading professionals come together to discuss the latest developments in UX research.

Whether they are involved in brand management, product marketing or consultancy, the participants have hands on knowledge and clear perspectives that can be of great value to their peers. The seminar fosters discussion about interesting things in an interesting way.

This time round, the theme was “Iterative User Experience Research In An Agile Design Process.” Essentially, this means information gathering of the highest order. The guiding principle of Agile is a detailed insight into the user’s response to a product that furthers the understanding of a dynamic, rapidly evolving market.

An ability to gauge the user experience, from the time it takes for a web page to load to the ease with which a site can be negotiated to the effectiveness of all on screen instructions, is a crucial asset for any contemporary business. The speakers at the seminar placed the onus on the accuracy of data collection methods and the need to constantly review the user experience.

As the name implies, Agile aims to provide as many options as possible for research. The goal is to understand what goes through the user’s mind from the moment a finger touches a mobile phone or tablet computer, and then follow the subsequent steps either towards or away from the product or service in question.

Following a short introduction from UserZoom’s Marketing Manager Carina Hoogeveen, the seminar got under way. The first speaker was Diarmaid Crean, Global Online Marketing Technologist at Investec, whose thought-provoking presentation drew on 17 years experience of international marketing, e-Commerce and New Media.

His theme was the research of ‘High Net Worths’, which refers to top earners who may be anything from medical practitioners to investment clients. The user that Crean puts under the microscope is typically a person in a position of responsibility who is very decisive. Hence the research has to be done in short time spans. “We’re tying to demonstrate and see if stuff works really quickly, changing it all the time, seeing what works and monitoring as a result,” he commented. “User Zoom is a tool that you can use for the purposes of seeing if the things that you’re releasing are working, so you can actually physically launch stuff and get users to experience it,” he continued. “And get feedback straightaway by them doing remote tests on that platform.”

Crean provided a wealth of practical knowledge. To understand the user experience he creates several personae – Aspirational Adam [doctor], Proactive Pam {lawyer], Confident Callum [CEO] – so that any information highlights more than statistics. Whether his target market is a smart phone user or a rugby fan in a VIP suite at Twickenham, his mantra remains the same. “Right content, right service, right time.” Equally engaging were Arthur Moan, the managing Director of UserZoom Limited, and Karen Windahl Finnigan, Head Of User Experience at Capgemini, who both focused more specifically on the Agile concept.

Moan explained the value of “Remote Unmoderated Prototype Testing’, which can provide extensive unbiased feedback on products by way of monitoring the first clicks of hundreds of users on a site. Both Moan and Finnigan argued that Agile, with a carefully planned use of Iterative Research, whereby user habits are consistently recorded, can be highly cost-effective. However, Moan said that there was an important proviso to bear in mind. “There is still a need for qualitative data as well as quantitative research,” he said. “That can entail in person interviews as well as a lot of remote testing.”

The seminar concluded with a Panel Discussion on Agile and User Experience, and to what extent the two approaches can create a possible synergy that will benefit any business. Crean was joined by David Hughes, Head Of User Experience at Expedia.com, David Holmes, Client Services Director of UserZoom and Greg Smith, Head of User Experience and Research at eBay.

All of the speakers had specific perspectives and points of view, yet they were also open-minded and spoke excitedly about the possibilities of these differing research methods being successfully combined. David Hughes was definitely enthusiastic about this prospect: “With Agile being user centred and with User Experience being absolutely user centred, yes, I think there will be more and more of them interacting with each other and working together.”

As for Greg Smith, he enjoyed the panel discussion and the whole seminar because it gave him a chance to interact with peers who, although from different fields, have common issues to grapple with when it comes to the all-important question of research. “The main thing I’ve learnt is that some of the challenges, in terms of connecting UX to Agile, are shared by lots of other people and who’ve got similar challenges. It’s clearly been useful exploring some of those challenges.”

They went on to tell many fascinating anecdotes about specific techniques that have been applied in order to understand anything from brand awareness to the social media strategy of products. The general consensus was that the Agile process is evolutionary.

Different people have different definitions of it. Agile is a dynamic rather than static concept. Indeed, numerous participants talked about the need to be flexible and to understand as much as they can about the user “at that moment, ” implying that there will be markedly different attitudes to a product or service as the user’s relationship with it unfolds over time.

In other words, there is a recognition that the user experience is in a near constant state of flux and that any brand needs to think carefully about the best way to get accurate ‘ongoing’ feedback on new products.

Seminar participants who mingled after the event agreed that Agile had prompted them to think more clearly about how to gain a greater understanding of the user experience. They were professionals from the high street to the online finance and travel sector (John Lewis, MORETH>N, Lastminute.com), and they were excited about the application of the ideas explored throughout the day.

Traditionally, business attaches great importance to the relationship between producer and consumer, but the increasingly interactive world in which we live redefines the consumer as the user. The difference is fundamental. The user ‘experiences’ a product or service and shapes its development more decisively. The fact that broadcast media is placing emphasis on ‘User generated content’ reflects the sea change.

Hence the User acts as well as reacts to a product or service, and the greater the understanding that a producer, service provider or brand has of the various elements of the User Experience, the better equipped they will be to hone and refine their websites, applications or other media platforms. Speed and precision in the research are of the essence, and Agile is really a step towards this greater optimisation.

Agile is an idea that has captured the zeitgeist. The day after the seminar the world’s leading maker of microprocessors ran a full-page advert in a national newspaper for a new product. The accompanying slogan used the following words in bold print: Resilient. Flexible. Agile.

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