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Low Budget User Research

Sometimes (in our case, it's pretty standard), you don't have much time or budget for proper user research. A client simply doesn't have that much money and they want to take a risk developing a product and skipping a research part.

I do not like it, I do not recommend it, but we usually can't do much about it. That's why we had to rethink the way we want to do the user research here at Ackee.

You've probably heard that "Any research is better than no research", right? I don't think that's true. I think doing "any" research is crap. You can't talk to any people on a street or you can't let just anyone ask the research questions. Research like this would be misleading.

I'd like to correct the statement from above to "Well-prepared quick research is better than no research". How to do a well-prepared quick research, you ask? I'll tell you how we do it at Ackee.

Where do we save time?

There are multiple steps in our design process. From the first meeting with the client to the final design. I will only describe those affected by the low budget approach.

Client meetings

Our usual workflow is that we start the project by talking to a client. We have meetings and do workshops to find out the most information we can. Since we need this information we can not skip any of this, so we have no savings here.

User interviews

User interviews take a lot of time. A thorough screening process is critical, don't try to be cheap here, you need to pick the right respondents. There are other places where we can save the client's budget.

To conduct user interviews we need a scenario. In this case, we are not going too deep and we focus on a few, but the most important hypotheses. It also means the interviews are shorter than usual.

But where do we save the most time and money? It's a synthesis and report. What we do right after each interview is that we debrief the most important findings, write them down and that's it. We make an audio record of the interviews, but we do not analyze that, it's just in case we want to get back to something. Eventually, we create much simpler quick summaries, which are still a powerful source of information to make the right decisions.

Usability testing

This part is similar to the user interviews. The screening process is very important and the testing scenario focuses on the most important parts and makes everything quicker.

While it's good to have two people doing the interview, one for asking the questions and the second for taking notes, having one person conducting the usability testing is enough. Similarly to the interview, it's necessary to write down all the main findings after the session and record them. After the usability testing, we take our quick notes and fix the problems in our designs. Again, there is no report for the client, we deliver designs based on user research without any documentation.

How to (tips)

Doing quick research this way can save up to two-thirds of the budget that's necessary for full-scale user research. Of course, there are drawbacks, but that's the price we are willing to pay. Usually, it's either this or no research at all. There are a few things we have to be cautious about when doing quick research.

Firstly we need to explain to our client what the drawbacks and advantages are. We ensure they understand we will only get some of the answers, only the most important ones. They are not getting any reports or documentation and all the outcomes are part of the design. On the other hand, they save money and get the results much faster. User research is not only expensive but also time-consuming and usually takes months.

Since we do not provide any documentation, we need the client to trust us. As an established company being able to showcase our work and references, it is a matter of presenting yourself and discussions with them.

On our side, there are three key factors we keep in mind. We verify the main hypotheses and test primary functionalities. We stay focused on those and even if the client thinks everything is important, we have to prioritize and choose what's right. Another factor is that we quickly summarize our findings and implement them right away without any extensive analysis. This leads me to our last key thing and that's an experienced designer. To be able to work this way we need a designer that is capable of catching insights and designing the best solutions for a customer.

Final words

Doing a quick research makes a lot of sense when you don't have much time and budget and you know you don't need to explore an area you've never heard of. It's always rewarding to create a product that comes from user data and provides a great experience. It makes customers, clients, and us happy, which is a win-win (win) situation.

Michal Mikolaj
Michal Mikolaj
UX DesignerMišo deals with wireframes, usable research, testing, user flows and information architecture design. He likes ltalian and American cuisine. Yum. 🤗

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