Expert-Based User Research

What to do without user data

Laura Heine
Expert-Based Audience Design

The best way to get to know your target audience is to talk to them—really talk to the real users of your product. At b13 we are User Experience (UX) experts, trained in conducting user research. But we understand that this can be a time-consuming and expensive process, and it’s not always possible to fit this into every budget. From our experience, we’d like to share some methods you can employ to optimize your design when you don’t have access to real user data.

The audience, or user, drives the design. In the beginning of any design process, we always want to find out who the target audience of the product is and what needs they have. If we know that, we can make sure we meet user needs or even better, exceed their expectations. The aim is to delight. A delighted user is more likely to close a transaction, come back again and even recommend a product to their friends. 

If you do have the budget to conduct some real user research, it is money well spent. Real user data will get you the best results, and we’d love to lend you our expertise. But, if you have to make do without conducting user research, we can make that work, too. 

Let us help you get to know your customers.

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What is User Research and why is it important?

As UX Designers, we aim to create products that users want and need, and to make them easy to use and understand. This in turn helps our clients achieve their business goals. Good UX enhances loyalty, helps to increase conversion rates and makes users more likely to recommend the product. 

But in order to create a valuable product for the user, we need to know and understand them. User research is all about discovering user behaviour, analysing pain points and recognizing opportunities. There are a variety of different methods to do this, such as user interviews, surveys and observing the user while they are actively using the product. Each of these methods takes time to plan, facilitate and analyze the results—and we know that’s not always in the budget. So when time and money are scarce, how can we make sure we still include the user’s perspective in our design process? 

Stakeholders – The next best thing

When you don't have access to users, include as many stakeholders as possible in the early discovery phase of a project. Including a diverse range of stakeholders means that the evaluation of the product will include a lot of different perspectives. 

Stakeholders who work closely with the end user, such as those in sales or who deal with customer complaints, will know them better and can provide valuable input. Stakeholders and colleagues are generally more readily available than end users. And there’s the added benefit of making everyone feel included, and having them on board early on will help with acceptance of the new product.

Stakeholders can be useful but always remember that stakeholders are not a substitute for your end users.

Proto-Personas – Empathy is key

To get closer to our users' needs, we need to let go of our (biased) assumptions and really immerse ourselves in the world of the end user. If a UX designer has ever made you do role plays in meetings, this is why. But don’t worry, there are other ways to empathize with your users. (Though role plays can work really well and even be fun)

A great tool to approach your users' needs and empathize with them (without actually talking to them) are Proto-Personas. They are based on the assumptions we have about the user from talking to stakeholders who work closely with them. Because they are only based on assumptions, we have to add the “proto”. 

Armed with proto-personas, we can assign everyone in the team a persona and watch as they immerse themselves in the product and click their way through a set task. This is absolutely not the same as observing a real user, but it will help you get a feeling for potential pain points from the user and reveal any issues in the design. 

Proto-personas are useful to empathize with end-users, but they are not a real source of user’s needs.

Heuristics - Listen to experts

We as UX experts are trained to do user research. But we’re also trained to analyse and evaluate user interfaces, recognize usability issues and resolve accessibility problems. 

Without user data, it is possible to evaluate design based on metrics that have been developed over many years in the user experience industry. For example, these 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design from the Nielsen Norman Group cover some general usability guidelines. In addition, accessibility guidelines are officially defined in the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Usability heuristics don’t cover the emotional journey of your users, but they can uncover major problems in your design.

Patterns - Someone has (almost) always done it before

Chances are, you're not developing a completely new idea. For most user experience problems, and target audiences, there have already been studies, best practices and other statistics. Users like it when a website works as they expect it. They trust learned patterns such as the logo in the navigation linking back to the home page, green means success, red is failure. 

If you want to test how well you’d do on a website that does not follow any common design patterns, try getting through the User Inyerface website that the team at Bagaar developed. 

Apart from design patterns there are also loads of reports for different UX problems, some of them for free, others for a small fee. 

Lean on existing design patterns to keep things familiar - but user testing is always preferred. 

Get to know your users

Observing and talking to your end users is always the best way to get insights about their needs and goals. But if that’s not within reach for you, these alternative methods will help you understand your users a bit better, and get an idea of what they really want and need from your product. This in turn will help us design and develop a product that’s easy to use and understand—whatever your budget.

Work with b13’s seasoned UX team to maximize the benefits for your customers and your business.

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