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How to integrate user research into product development

Reading time: about 6 min

Think about your last big, pie-in-the-sky, imaginative idea. Now think about the moment you realized someone beat you to bringing it to market. More than likely, it was something that solves a very practical day-to-day problem. 

Our economy is filled with these ideas—simple yet life-changing concepts or products that solve a very immediate problem or fill a need. What makes these ideas so successful? They're laser-focused on the end user and their experience with the product. After all, a product is only as valuable as its level of adoption. 

However, when it comes to product development, it can be easy for the end user to get lost in the product vision. Let's look at how to integrate user research into product development and how this practice will improve your product development process and outcomes. 

The importance of conducting user research 

A product is useless without users. So, the need to incorporate user research into product development as early as possible may seem obvious. However, the user research process and product development typically occur in separate departments, which creates silos and makes it challenging to align priorities. 

However, integrating user research into the product development process is crucial to creating successful products. Why? User research helps uncover biases in the product development process, identify potential UX roadblocks, and fill in knowledge gaps about the target user base. 

Do we have a clear picture of who will use the product? Will the product deliver on the user's goals and provide an extraordinary user experience? How will the product be used—at what time, in what scenario, and on what device? Failure to ask these questions at the beginning of any product development cycle will significantly increase the likelihood that the product will also fail to deliver on your user's needs. 

8 benefits of integrating user research into product development 

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously said, "You've got to start with the user experience and work backward toward the technology—not the other way around." However, Jobs also stated that it's essential to show the customer or user what they want to use before they tell you—and the only way to do that is to clearly understand their current state of mind, needs, and priorities. 

User research can help you better understand how your users interact with your existing products and where they are running into roadblocks or confusion. These qualitative insights, paired with direct feedback from your current and prospective customers, can help you create a plan to build smarter, more successful products, improve the product development process, and ultimately reduce business risk. 

Let's consider how integrating user research into product development can benefit both your customers and your bottom line. 

Create relevant products 

This one is simple. If you're not creating for your user, who are you creating for? The user research product development cycle gives you a clear picture of exactly what your customers are looking for, or at least what's missing from their current experience. 

A Design Thinking approach helps you empathize with your users, and user research is a great way to kick off that process. Through interviews and observations, you can understand the context in which people will use your design to ensure the direction is relevant to potential customers and users. It's also important to check back in with your users over time to ensure your products continue to stay relevant and useful. An irrelevant product will never be a successful product. 

Create products that are easier to use 

To reiterate, your product is only as valuable as it is useful. More than ever, consumers have come to expect and rely on ease-of-use in the apps and products they use every day. Your product's functionality might seem like second nature to a digital native, designer, or product developer, but is it easy for your target audience to use and understand? 

If your UX is clunky, chances are your customers will move on to another product. Even if you are designing products for a highly specialized work environment or a more technical audience, a high usability level will increase product adoption and make your customers love you. 

Build smarter products with higher ROI 

When budgets are tight, the UX research process, UX design, and the customer experience can be some of the first things on the chopping block because the pains of a poor UX aren't felt as immediately. Bringing in user research early to product development provides key user insights that can help you demonstrate how design changes generated more sales, increased product adoption, or made work processes more efficient. Incorporating user research early and often can help you continue to show your ROI and secure future budget and resource investments. 

Improve the product development process

User research allows the users' needs and wants to guide product development, rather than what we think users want and need. If you have a clear vision of what you're trying to create and for who, you can build in a shorter development time upfront, help your design and development teams prioritize tasks, avoid unnecessary rounds of feedback and iterations, and lay the groundwork for future product optimization. 

Reduce business risk

"The customer is always right" may be an overly simplistic, outdated mantra when applied to the complexity of modern business and product development, but the general concept still rings true. Think about it. If the end user is always the main focus of your business, will it ever be possible to veer too far off course? User research can help your team spot issues before any huge investments have been made, pivot with more confidence, and avoid costly fixes on dead-end, irrelevant, or non-user-friendly solutions. 

Create open channels of communication 

Consider the user research stage of your product development process as your first and most important opportunity to align your teams and encourage cross-functional collaboration. When your teams work collaboratively, you can spot any flaws in the product early. You'll also foster a sense of ownership and camaraderie among previously siloed teams as you work toward a shared outcome—delighting your customers. 

Gain leadership buy-in 

Again, it's tough to argue with what the customer is telling you they want. Incorporating user research early and often in the design process can help you demonstrate a clear business case for the products and solutions you're building and focus your efforts on the things that matter. 

Align user research with both company and product strategy 

Strategic alignment is key to success across every department and function, but it's especially crucial when developing. Suppose feedback from your users is not aligned to your existing company and product strategy goals. In that case, it's a clear indicator it's time to take another look at your action plans, whether that's shifting your focus to a different user base or your product roadmap to the needs of your customers. 

Ultimately, we all want to create products that delight our customers and improve business results. Integrating user research early and often in the product development process can help you reach those goals. 

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Lucidspark makes it easy to bring your user research into your product development cycle.

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Use Lucidspark to bring your user research into your product development process.

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