Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know what to get someone for their birthday?
While you know this person fairly well, you have no idea what they might want. Since you’re trying to keep it a surprise, you don’t come right out and ask what they want, which means that you’ve got to make your best guess. You can’t be sure they will even like your gift. They may love it or they may give you one of those fake smiles, say they love it, and figure out how to regift it.
Think about user research as the process of finding out what your friend wants for their birthday. You reduce the uncertainty by talking to your friend (the user) about what really matters to them.
Usability.gov defines the user research process as,
“the focus on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analyses, and other feedback methodologies.”
Think about it this way, in order to provide your users with an impactful solution, you need to keep the user at the center of your process. How could you give someone a meaningful product that solves their problem if you don’t fully understand them or the problem they’re facing?
User research is the process of asking who, what, where, when, why, and how. You need to first understand who your users are, what problem they are facing, where they are facing this problem, when they face it, why they are facing the problem, and how they are currently facing the problem. “Why” is the most important of all of these because “why” tells you the root cause of why something happened.
At the very heart of user research is this fundamental statement: You are not your user. This is what makes user research important... Because you are not your user, you don’t know their problems, and how they are trying to solve them.
In summary, user research allows you to be mostly objective about your designs. You come at the problem from the user’s perspective, not your own.