When creating or redesigning digital products, you cannot do without UX research. It helps you dive deeper into your customers’ pain points, explore how they perceive your product, and take the user experience to the next level. Which, in turn, may raise your conversion rates by up to 400%. In other words, your design will perform much better if you talk to your users and study their actual needs.
But wait a minute. What if there are no users you could talk to? No interviews, no usability tests, no focus groups… Wouldn’t it be worthless, then?
You might think there’s no point in conducting UX research if users don’t participate in it. But it’s not quite true. In fact, with the right approach, alternative UX research methodologies can be no less beneficial for your business. While designing SaaS products, we at Eleken often turn to studying the product audience without involving target users. In this article, we are going to share with you the most helpful tips for conducting UX research without users.
But before getting closer to the point, let’s start with a UX research definition and reveal the main reasons for conducting it.
What is UX research and why do you need one?
UX research is a comprehensive study of target users, their core needs, and the challenges they face when interacting with a digital product. Most often, it relies on collecting and analyzing information about users, including qualitative and quantitative data. UX research can be conducted at any design stage. Moreover, it is worth repeating it regularly throughout the design process. With the help of research, you will be able to track changes in your users’ requirements and improve your design.
Here are the most significant benefits of conducting UX research:
- Your design improvements are based on data and users’ feedback, not on your assumptions.
- You can validate your ideas regarding the necessary design improvements.
- Exploring your customers’ needs leads to better product value.
- Improved user experience leads to higher conversions.
To get these benefits, design teams turn to various methods of user research. Some of the most common ones are field studies, user interviews, design reviews, usability testing, and more. And all those methods make sense if your target users are active research participants.
So the fair question pops up:
Is it possible to conduct UX research without users?
Nielsen Norman Group clearly states that UX without user research is not UX. And let’s admit it, research is much more effective if you get feedback directly from your target customers. However, many companies are still looking for a way out.
On popular forums like Reddit and Quora you can find questions like: “How to conduct audience research without users?” or “Can UX without user interviews still be called UX?” But why would a business want to avoid talking to users? The most common reasons are:
- Lack of time or budget (or both). UX research process may take up to three months and require significant investments. Not every startup can afford it.
- Protection of confidential data. Strict NDAs and security-focused projects often face certain limitations when interviewing users.
- No clear idea about the target audience. At the earliest startup stages, you may still not understand who your target audience is. So it can be challenging to find the right people for the feedback.
Whatever the reason, testing your product directly on users is not the only possible approach.
Yes, from our experience, it’s totally fine to analyze the current product and user journey without users’ direct feedback. We at Eleken regularly help our clients evaluate features and information architecture to enhance consistency and remove UX flaws.
And here’s how our design team conducts UX research without users.
Methods of UX research without direct access to your users
Let’s take a closer look at the most effective methods of exploring your audience if traditional approaches can’t be applied.
1. Study the available feedback
When we can’t ask questions directly, it’s time to get more flexible and look for alternative communication channels. And, most likely, there are plenty of those on the web. In particular, it’s a good idea to turn to the existing social media feedback, App Store reviews, YouTube videos, and so on.
Besides, if the product has been on the market for a while, you can explore the feedback already left by your customers.
For instance, in our recent project, the Eleken team conducted user research when redesigning a SEO product. We did not involve product users directly. Instead, our study was based on the existing user feedback on the previous version of the product.
We also read all available online feedback about competitor products and found out that the most significant challenge users faced was the lack of customization.
Thanks to the results of UX research, we came up with the idea to build a customizable dashboard that can be adjusted to individual users’ requirements. We also let users add new sections with the Configure widgets button and allowed them to choose between a default and a custom view.
2. Analyze key industry trends
The Internet is full of various data reports about key industry trends, market specifics, and user needs. Keep in mind that you may need to pay for many of the latest quality reports on respected platforms like Statista, Forrester Research, Gartner, and eMarketer.
Still, such information complements other available insights and helps the design team understand the niche better and make the right decisions.
3. Explore forums and communities
Forums and online communities are full of valuable insights, too. There, skilled UX specialists can gather the required feedback without conducting user interviews. Pay attention to the question-and-answer platforms and discussion websites like Quora and Reddit. They are a goldmine for user research.
When joining specific communities on Reddit, you can walk into your users’ shoes. You will see which problems they often face and what they expect from products like yours.
With the help of Quora, you can discover which questions your target audience asks most often. Check the profiles of people answering those questions. This will allow you to investigate more potential user issues they’ve responded to. And, if your product serves the goals of certain specialists, you can ask questions yourself and make conclusions based on their answers.
4. Use analytical tools
Most likely, you already use Google Analytics, Smartlook, or Mixpanel to track your product’s performance and user engagement. Or, at least, your marketing team does. But did you know that such a tool can also serve great for UX research? We always ask our clients to share analitycs if possible. It helps us monitor how users interact with the product, which pages or sections are the most popular, what people are often looking for, and so on. With the right questions, user-product interactions tracked by a tool like Google Analytics will get you covered.
5. Read niche books and publications
Where data reports can’t help, a good book may come to the rescue. Reading materials and publications related to a certain niche is a good idea for designers that need to find user insights without asking users directly.
Books help you better understand the most common UX challenges your target users cope with, as well as their behaviors and average needs. That is why our team never neglects the opportunity to read a couple of subject-related books or articles when conducting user research.
6. Ask your support team for help
While working on digital solutions, companies often forget to get internal insights from customer support teams. But they definitely should. Support workers are in close touch with your users and understand their needs better than anyone. Ask customer support about the challenges your customers often deal with and the feedback they give about your product. This information will add some missing details to your investigation.
Benefits of UX research without end-users’ feedback
As you can see, UX research without users is absolutely possible. Moreover, it has some advantages. With indirect feedback methods, you can achieve:
- A deeper insight into the market. With the help of UX research without users, young startups can explore their audience and market specifics at the earliest design stages. In particular, a competitor analysis delivers many helpful insights into the niche and discovers users’ needs.
- Collect valuable data. Quantitative data gathered during UX research is no less important than qualitative surveys, tests, and interviews. Our team often analyzes the existing reports and UX statistics to better understnd the target audience.
- Prepare your team for primary research. ”Secondary research” takes less time and is based on the available data. It can help your team and stakeholders be on the same page. This is also an excellent way to prepare for more detailed surveys in the future.
To sum up
From the product design point of view, the value of user research is obvious. But depending on your goals and resources, the research methods vary. And one of the most helpful UX research tips is to stay flexible and prioritize approaches relevant to your individual case.
A UX research without direct user feedback can bear fruit for your business if the right methodology is applied. We at Eleken practice direct and indirect UX research depending on our clients’ objectives and project specifics.
If you’re looking for a reliable design partner to conduct audience research based on your individual goals, get in touch with us. Eleken is ready to dive into your product’s niche and find the right approach to exploring your target users.
And if you want to dive deeper into the UX research topic, you should deifnitely read about fourteen crucial UX research methods.