Book Review: Just Enough Research

Erika Hall says her new book Just Enough Research is for people who “may have a vague idea that research is a good thing, but the benefits are fuzzy while the costs are all too clear.” She co-founded the successful design strategy studio Mule Design, so her promise to make basic research concepts and techniques more accessible in under 150 pages is a tantalizing one. She delivers on it.

Just enough of what research? Research about the people who use your products, and how they use your products.

Erika cautions, “when you make assumptions about your users, you run the risk of being wrong.” The basic purpose of talking to people who use your products is to reduce that risk of being wrong. Otherwise, “when you embed wrong assumptions in the design of your product or service, you alienate people—possibly before they even have a chance to hear what you have to offer.” Yikes, come back!

Research is for you even if research is not a core part of your job. “Whatever your day job is, adding research skills will make you better at it,” Erika writes.

At Puppet Labs, it’s not just researchers who talk to users. Engineers, product owners, UX designers and other departments are also invited to participate in research. Ideally, research is a transparent process that everyone can contribute to and come away with shared insights.

In this book, you’ll find sound reasoning for research, plus useful checklists and pithy rules. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The first rule of user research: never ask anyone what they want. Instead, observe or ask about their behaviors. Look for insights so you can design the solution they haven’t thought to ask for.

  • Focus groups are the antithesis of ethnography. If we already know not to ask one person what they want, how can we expect better results from asking a group of them together? Focus groups prevent us from learning about true individual behavior by coercing group opinions.

  • All it takes to turn potential hindsight into happy foresight is keeping your eyes open and asking the right questions. Failing isn’t the only way to learn. Don’t wait until your product ships to find out where to improve. Start by understanding your user’s problem better than they know it so when you fail it will be early, fast, and not catastrophic.

To start applying these rules, check out Erika’s book, or jump into one of these other books on user experience and research:

  • The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman:  The original book on design thinking, given to all new Puppet employees

  • Rocket Surgery Made Easy, by Steve Krug: A step-by-step guide to get started with usability testing today, for analytical types who like steps

  • Observing the User Experience, by Mike Kuniavsky: A dense 576-page textbook for the future researcher with details on research methods beyond usability testing

At Puppet Labs, many folks are in contact with users on IRC, the mailing lists, at Puppet Camps, user groups and conferences around the world. The Puppet Test Pilots program is the path directly to UX research and the product design process and we’re always looking for more users to talk with! You can help make Puppet better by joining the Puppet Test Pilots at puppetlabs.com/ptp.

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