Unsung Tools of User Research

As I talk to other UX practitioners about the tools they love, I’ve noticed that the conversation tends to focus on their platform of choice for design and prototyping. I’m guilty of this myself and have discussed the topic so many times that I’ve developed somewhat of an elevator pitch for the design software I currently use, have recently tried, or have used in the past.

If we truly want to be champions of user experience though, a discussion about UX tools should include those that help us connect with our users and ensure that the solutions we’re designing serve them well. There are software products and services out there that are tailor-made for every facet of the design process. As I think about my favorite user research tools though, many weren’t designing for solving UX problems at all. They’re often overlooked and sometimes taken for granted but these tools are the workhorses of our research process at PowerDMS.

  • GoToMeeting

    While it’s always great to have in-person meetings with our users, remote usability testing is the next best thing and we typically host three, hour-long sessions per week. GoToMeeting allows us to record sessions, share our screen, give users mouse control to interact with our designs and share their own screen.

  • AcuityScheduling

    We recruit participants for our remote usability tests through a link in our monthly user newsletter. That link goes to our AcuityScheduling page, which allows our users to choose an appointment time that works for them. I’ve used several other scheduling apps in the past but Acuity’s handling of time zones, their GoToMeeting integration and their custom reminder email feature make it my favorite by far.

  • Tampermonkey

    As we work to improve our web application, many of the projects we take on are minor iterations or additions to the existing user interface. Occasionally, we like to prototype in a new form element or apply a style change that we want to get feedback on. Tampermonkey is a tool that allows us to create and manage userscripts that can make those sorts of changes live in the browser. When applied during a remote usability test, custom userscripts allow us to test out application changes with users before they’re even coded into our app.

  • OBS Studio

    When we do have the opportunity to conduct in-person guerilla usability tests, we like to capture webcam, screen and audio when the user gives us permission to record. OBS (Online Broadcaster Software) Studio is an open source and cross-platform recording tool that’s popular in the video game live streaming community. Unlike other usability test recording applications, the output of OBS is infinitely customizable, can handle many audio and video inputs, and even allows you to switch between cameras live while recording.

  • Google Forms

    There are many ways to incorporate online surveys into your research process and almost as many tools out there for creating online surveys as well. If your organization uses G Suite, the quickest and easiest option is already in your app drawer. We tend to use Google Forms to collect feedback from small groups of beta testers, but have also used it to poll large groups of users as well.

While the patchwork of random tools above certainly helps with our current user research needs, this post is not meant to be an endorsement for any of them. There are plenty of products out there that solve the same problems and if you have ideas for other tools I should try, I’m always happy to hear them. Keep listening!

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