toolbox2 Theory

Six Sets Of Tools For User Research

We use a lot of good tools for everything UX related—be it capturing ideas, making mockups, doing research or tracking behavior. Avoiding a dreaded ‘just a list of tools’ kind of post, we want to show you what we use in what phase of our workflow. Fully accepting the risk of taking the whole metaphor a bit to far, we will show you the compartments in our toolbox, as it were.

1: Brainstorming

We like quick get-togethers where we stock up on coffee and snacks, and brainstorm until our brains give off clouds of smoke. We brainstorm about what we want, what problems we want to solve, what features we want to create, what our main objective is, and also what the many little goals are that come with it. We like to work with mind maps that we can look at later in time to check back on all our initial ideas.

For most people, pen and paper works best for mind mapping. But there are some really good apps available, too, like MindNode, NovaMind, MindManager pro, and our favorite of the bunch, MindMeister. The latter is a web app and very flexible.

MindMeister in action
Mindmeister in action

We also make collaborative mind maps on flip boards that we hang on the walls, so that the whole team can see them.

2: User research

We focus on our users to make sure we design in their interest. First of all, we define our users. Who is it whom we design for? What do they do? What do they like? Then, we find out what our users want. What do they use our product for? How do they use it? What do they do with it? Which features do they want? How do they use these features?

This is an ongoing business: we try to keep in touch with our users and find out how they use our tool, what they like and dislike. We do a combination of face to face interviews and remote surveys and tests. For the remote part we use online surveys like SurveyGizmo and Wufoo as well as apps that help with techniques like card sorting, such as Websort.


Wufoo has excellent forms

3: Mocking up

Ideas and talk are just ideas and talk. To make things concrete, we create mockups (a lot of mockups). Again, pencil and paper come to mind as great tools for this purpose. However, we also love Balsamiq, a mockup tool with a pen and paper feel. It allows you to make mockups very fast.


How we love Balsamiq

We also hear positive things about tools for more high-fidelity mockups, like OmniGraffle and Axure. Our designers live and breathe photoshop, so they create mockups with it just as easily as lesser souls do with Balsamiq though. C’est la vie.

No matter how they were created, almost every mockup gets a place on a wall or window somewhere. It makes discussions that would be abstract more tangible. It’s funny to see a group of colleagues discussing something about the UX of our tool drifting slowly to the wall with mockups.

4: Remote user testing

Of course, we use our own tool for a lot of the research that goes on here. We use it in every instance where it is useful to remotely gather context sensitive feedback. Some examples: we test mockups in the early stages of a design process; we add a quantitative component to an earlier qualitative face-to-face session; and we test trust, call-to-action buttons or other elements on live sites.

5: Tracking behavior on a live site

Testing attitudes and behavior at a small scale is important but in many cases only effective if you can couple it with large scale statistics on behavior. The grandaddy is Google Analytics, obviously, but we also like tools that record other aspects of user behavior like CrazyEgg, UserFly and ClickTale.


CrazyEgg helps with visualizing your web statistics

6: Listening to you

Customer care is also user research for us. We get a lot of high quality feedback by helping people out. By keeping the barrier to reach out as low as possible and by proactively seeking for conversation ourselves, we try to keep in constant touch with our users. We do this by email (using Assistly), live chat inside our application (with Olark), and the rapidly-developing-but-already-quite-good messaging app Intercom. We like the last two options a lot, because it allows us to talk to you in the context of our application.

We take time to meet with customers and other interesting people that cross our path. These chats are not only meant as a way to directly improve our product, but also a way to add context: we want to know what a normal workday looks like for a lot of different people that use our product. No tool exists in a vacuum, and we want to know how we fit in. That’s why we also host events and go out for drinks. Direct contact inspires and enables us to learn things from each other that is not possible by reading blogs or books.

This list is by no means meant as extensive, or even a best-off list. These are the tools we love to use for user research at the moment, but suggestions are of course always welcome.

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