A few days ago, I came across an article that said, “the core of UX, in a vacuum, is user research.” It sounds right and is accurate to a degree, but UX does not work in a vacuum. UX works in firms with feasibility and practicality issues. And not everyone has the access and availability to conduct a primary user research for all the projects. There are budget constraints, geographical barriers, or time issues that need to be considered when understanding UX functionality in a real world as opposed to a vacuum. However, just because primary user research or interviews aren’t possible doesn’t mean you should forgo user research completely. There are other ways in which you can create user personas without interacting with your users directly. These methods are not fail-proof but they are way better than forgoing user research and assuming user personas.
1. Competitor Reviews
Listening to the customers of your competitors can be very insightful. These reviews are brimming with the answers to your user interviews. You can glean what works, what doesn’t and exactly what the users need through these reviews. It is a well-known strategy for user research that can sometimes get you valuable insights that users may not be able to convey in direct interviews either.
2. App Reviews
If you have a product with a mobile app component, the app store reviews can be a great resource for user research. The app reviews in terms of rating can be ambiguous. You can tell the general likeability of the app but cannot undertake user research through ratings. The reviews, on the other hand, are full of details. Don’t see that a user has given a 5-star rating, instead read the review to understand exactly what component of the app has appealed to the user. Similarly, in case of a low rating, it is important to understand whether a feature is just unworkable or if the user needs a tweak to the existing feature. You can do this with a competitor app too in order to gather additional insights.
3. Facebook groups
Using Facebook groups is a fairly unorthodox method for user research but if done right, can get you a lot of user insights. This may not be applicable to everyone, but if you can find facebook groups specific to your product (and if the group rules allow), you can post a poll, or survey on the group to gather insights.
4. Customer service logs
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5. App engagement
You can track your users’ app engagement by tracking their usage pattern on the application. This will give you an idea of which features are working, where the users are facing difficulties, and what are the deterrents to the process completion. The information is invaluable as it comes straight from the source without bothering your users at all.
6. User Proxy
If your users are unavailable for any reason and you are unable to interview them, you can always interview their proxy i.e. the people who deal with the users first hand. For example, in the case of an eUX application, you can interview the customer support executives. These user proxies are in constant close contact with the users and interact with them regarding their grievances. They also observe user patterns very well. Therefore, user proxy interviews can be very close to primary user interviews.
7. Industry forums
There are countless forums on the internet. Public forums like Quora and Reddit carry all sorts of industry related discussions. And there are independent online forums as which are full of users discussing their experiences. These experiences are raw data for creating user personas without having to take interviews.
At the end of the day, nothing compares to user interviews and analysis on a primary level. But I hope that these alternative research methods may be of help when primary interviews are not possible. Do comment if you know of any other alternative user research methods.