a surefoot guide to optimizing UX research

At surefoot, we believe in the power of data to guide our work. So when we say we love conducting user experience (UX) research, we ain’t lyin’. Users drive profit. When users aren’t happy (or clicky, or purchase-y), we aren’t happy.

And though our work at surefoot entails a smorgasbord of services, we feel UX research—with its granular, psychographic data production—is worth it’s weight in gold. Why? Because it allows us to not only increase conversions, but to maximize them.

I know UX research, so how is surefoot different?

Search online and you’ll find a Jeff-Bezos’s-net-worth equivalent of definitions for user experience (UX) research. At surefoot, we think of it this way: UX research is the energy we put into understanding what makes people tick so we can create meaningful experiences that motivate customers to try your product or service.  

What do people need? What are their goals, their beliefs? If their favorite color is chartreuse, who in their life hurt them?

At its core, UX research provides qualitative data that is user-centric. Don’t get us wrong, we like our instincts, but we prefer to guard against organizational biases and assumptions. UX research assures we do that.

Well, shucks, y’all…can you show me some examples?

Glad you asked! Here’s a sampling of firsthand benefits we’ve noted when deploying UX research methods. Think user interviews and usability testing alongside traditional conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies.

1) UX research enables us to generate testing hypotheses and evaluate designs

Clients often come to us with known problems, but not every problem is known. That’s where UX research shines. User interviews are the first steps in identifying problems. These problems allow us to generate testing hypotheses.

We’re not blowing smoke up your ass, we promise. Here’s how it’s worked for us at surefoot. Multiple interviewees conveyed they felt lost scrolling through Myles Apparel’s category landing page (CLP). We listened. Their insights shaped high level design objective targets for us. They also led us to prioritize the category landing page for A/B testing. 

We’re also well-versed in helping our clients evaluate their designs. If adopted, we run them through usability tests to assess their viability. Because we conduct UX research early in the development process, we catch flawed design choices before they become memes. And don’t you want to reduce the frequency of costly post-launch fixes?

Myles Apparel user research screenshot
Mockup of dynamic filter / product map as well as redesigned product cards to reduce scrolling based on interview feedback.

2) UX research proves we passed Philosophy 101

When ice cream sales rise, so do crime rates and drownings. Time to fire up the Facebook machine and spend 30 seconds writing a politically charged post that claims ice cream leads to death and destruction. My uncle Frank will it eat up [PUN INTENDED].

But we passed Philosophy 101. We know better than to promote fallacies like correlation equals causation. Just a little digging reveals a common factor in all three: hot, sunny days.

We work to assure we’re not jumping to foolish conclusions. That’s why we take user interviews seriously; they help us explain why patterns appear in test data. 

For example, when we launched a streamlined navigation design for a large e-commerce retailer, A/B test results showed increased engagement but no change to add-to-cart rates. Stumped, we conducted seven interviews with new and returning users and quickly learned:

  • There were still too many options in the nav, and visitors continued to feel overwhelmed
  • The labels were confusing and didn’t match user expectations
  • Photos in the nav and on product detail pages weren’t detailed enough for differentiation or comparison
  • Users didn’t read the long product info section, slowing down their decision process

Without the interviews, we would have missed that the designs and lifestyle photography needed further simplification to meet user expectations. By chatting with living, breathing humans, we learned what changes beyond the navigation were needed to produce cart-adds and conversions. And once we addressed those expectations, guess what happened? Cart-adds and conversions increased.

3) UX research is the a/b testing gift that keeps on giving

Sometimes serendipity strikes. We’ve directed interviewees to try specific features or offer general impressions. Then, the magic happens. They stumble upon other changes to the site we’ve implemented in the past/are live testing. They provide feedback. These temperature checks are multipliers that supplement our data. And MOAR DATA helps us determine if changes we’ve advocated are, in fact, meaningful.

For example, in a set of usability tests for Peak Design, one interviewee encountered a live change. The interviewee provided positive feedback that he’d like to see the same change implemented site-wide. Sure. The quantitative data may have told the same story. But qualitative feedback from a user can confirm and supplement in important ways.

Peak Design user research screenshot
A user saw one of our live changes for a separate test during his interview and provided qualitative feedback supporting its usefulness.

tl;dr?

UX research is a robust component of what we do at surefoot. It keeps our design direction and testing ideas from falling into the trap of conversion-focused echo chambers. When numbers don’t add up, UX research can help narrate the rest of the story.

If you truly want to maximize your conversion rate, give a damn about UX research.

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