Most product developers have long realized how important it is to involve the actual user in the design process of digital media. This holds true for adult users – but increasingly so for younger user groups. That’s good news. Not only does it justify our existence as UX researcher, it also assures a much higher quality in digital products out there.
Now, while the awareness of the value of UX research is present – time and budget for it are still scarce. In order to keep costs low, companies try more and more often to conduct their own, internal research. Which is good news – in most cases.
In his book “Rocket Surgery Made Easy”, Steve Krug encourages companies to conduct their own research. He even argues that non-experts should take over most of the formative testing involved in the User-Centered Design process. Professionals on the other hand should focus on more challenging projects like quantitative tests, comparative tests, and tests of new technology.
Looking at the average user, I probably could not agree more. The more testing is done, the more likely a product will be easy to use – something every company should aim for. Of course, there are still advantages to hiring external professionals, but any research is better than no research.
When we look at kids as users, I don’t agree with Steve so much. Kids form their own and very diverse user group – with abilities, needs, and expectations that are very different from adult users.
Conducting UX research with children comes with many challenges. These challenges require a more advanced skill set, which most companies don’t have in house. Doing your own research with kids – without any expertise or experience – can not only be very frustrating, it can also get you into trouble.
Just to name a few examples, there are (1) legal issues you need to take into account when testing with minors, (2) you need to structure your research differently to keep kids engaged, and (3) you need to consider any difficulties kids might have with the question-answer process. If you don’t consider these aspects, your research results might not be very helpful – or worse, not reliable.
Here are five reasons why you should hire an external UX researcher
1. Professional background
First of all, a professional researcher will do a better job of testing. They will know when it’s most convenient to conduct which kind of research. Also, they will know how to set up the research to get the most value out of it. This includes structuring the sessions, defining tasks, and asking the right questions.
For children, all of these aspects are very different than for adults. For example, kids have a (1) limited attention span, (2) they are easily influenced by their surroundings, (3) they need to be kept engaged throughout the session, and (4) they lack the cognitive skills required for some kinds of research techniques.
An external researcher is not emotionally involved in the product. This is a big advantage of hiring an external professional. People from within the company have usually all been involved in the development process of a product. This leads to subjective ideas about the product, which can have a major impact on the research results.
For example, designers who test their own product are likely to give hints, react disappointed, or unintentionally push users into a desired direction. External researchers on the other hand have an objective distance to the product. This allows them to hold back during the research and get honest and valid results from the users.
Thirdly, professional researchers can contribute insights based on their knowledge and experience. They will (1) be more efficient with conducting the research and analyzing the results, (2) recognize common usability issues and throw in a free expert review, and (3) offer solutions based on best practices.
External researchers are independent. As independent consultant, the focus lies on the product and the user. There are no corporate-political decisions involved and research results are reported objectively.
5. Time saving
Last but not least, in most organizations, time is a big argument for not conducting research. It’s either that there is no manpower available for conducting formative research, or there is no time for design iterations.
An external UX research professional can (1) take the whole research process out of hand and (2) help optimize the product development process to free time for design iterations. A good time management is everything.