You can't build good products if you don't know what your customers want. It's not as easy as just asking them. We have a number of techniques for understanding customer needs and determining if our solutions meet those needs.
- Usability studies. We watch people using products or prorotypes. This can be in person or remote, automated or interactive, in your office or at a testing lab. We always learn something important to put in a usability report.
- Customer visits. Less structured than usability studies, this includes visits to customers (or potential customers). People can't always say what causes them problems or what they want, but watching them in their own environments helps us understand those problems and needs. We can watch them work, or just talk. The result is knowledge about how they use your products now, and insights into what they need in the future.
- Focus groups. These provide general information from a large group of people. Focus groups are often a good way to start a project. But one person with a dominant personality can hijack a discussion, shutting others out.
- Surveys. After refining our questions through other research methods, we can send out a survey to a large number of people to get more data. Read Five Questions to Ask About Your Survey Questions.
Sometimes it's good to combine techniques. Surveys give a lot of data, but without the chance to interact or ask follow-up questions. We work with fewer people in usability studies and customer visits, but the resulting information is deeper.
Let's talk about the right set of activities to start your next project.