#5 User research - DIY or outsource
Updated: Apr 19
OK, here is a question worth answering. In human-centred organisations, understanding your audience is key to any development. You would not start if there wasn’t a problem to solve, you would not bring anything to market if it did not enhance the life of your users.
Hence there is user research to be done, and lots of it.
Traditionally, big studies were done at key moments, like an elaborate discovery research piece, one or two big rounds of concept testing and a thorough evaluation after being live. Research managers would outsource the work to competent research agencies. All good.
Being agile: testing iterations more frequently
With Agile becoming the norm, the approach to concept testing has morphed into user testing, with user testing being done more frequently. User testing is done early and frequently to test ideas, assumptions and iterations throughout a design process. And with user testing becoming an integral part of the design process it is often done by design teams, so that they remain immersed in the users’ perspective. A welcome development, as long as teams have the know-how to do it well.
So when should you outsource research or do it yourself?
In a nutshell, my advice would be as follows from a qualitative research perspective:
Discovery research: Outsource if you don’t have an expert researcher on your books.
User testing: Train your teams up to do it themselves if frequently needed. Outsource if you only need testing occasionally. Get someone on board who can work closely with your teams.
Evaluation research: Outsource if you don’t have an expert researcher on your books.
Deep understanding is a specialist’s job
In my view, you need to engage a research expert with high emotional intelligence whenever you require a deeper understanding of your audience around their day-to-day behaviour, their needs, their struggles, their opinions. The stuff that requires a solid research approach and an expert observer and listener. Someone who can put him/herself in the shoes of someone else and listen independently.
Using an external supplier in this case makes sense. Engage a researcher who quickly learns to understand your organisation, your problems and who gets to know your teams well. Invest in a relationship so that the research design and output fits well within your organisation.
If you have lots of research projects to do, you may consider hiring an expert to do this work in-house. To save cost on external suppliers and to make sure that the researcher is closely involved in advising the design teams.
When to train your design teams:
When user testing is an integral part of testing various iterations of your solutions, get your teams' research skills in order. Make sure they learn how to set-up a study, recruit the right people, get aligned on the role that research plays in the design process, feel competent in observing and asking unbiased questions, and become effective in reporting. It pays dividend to learn how to do this well and embed research deeply into your design trajectory.
Contact us if you need support with user research. We also offer bespoke user testing trainings.
In the next post, I'll share some tips for creating a good research brief to help you get the most out of your research suppliers.