To re-cap this three-part series, we’ve learned why customer research is vital to any organization, what you stand to gain by committing to a process of validation and iteration and, now, we’ll explore two types of customer research that you should use for your research program. As we’ve learned, adopting these best practices will move you closer to making a better product that your customers love. 

When testing your product through research, it’s important to consider what type of research you need and when. Broadly construed, product research methods fall into two camps: generative research and evaluative research. Using these two types of customer research in conjunction will ensure that you’re creating customer-focused solutions, end-to-end.

Step One: Generative Research

The goal of generative research is to discover your users’ behavioral patterns, rather than opinions. Mostly qualitative, this research helps define a problem statement based on user needs and is most closely mapped to the product discovery phase of product development.

The most common way to uncover user behavior is to use contextual inquiry, a method of ethnographic research. Contextual inquiry gets you on the ground with your customers and end-users to observe where they will be using your product. It answers questions such as: in what context will users be interacting with your product? What is the environment like? Is the end-user interacting with customers of their own?

Rather than interviewing users about their day-to-day activity, contextual inquiry allows you to get a first-hand understanding of what they do and how they do it. And, by understanding the context in which your users will be using your product, you’ll be able to determine what features will best support their product-related tasks.

Step Two: Evaluative Research  

Evaluative research helps you determine how people use (or will use) your products. Normally, we perform evaluative research on existing or soon-to-be-built products to fine-tune their user interface and ensure an intuitive user experience.  The most well-known form of evaluative research is, then, usability testing.

Usability testing offers insight into how long it takes users to perform a certain task, and with what level of accuracy. For example, when we were building a new mode of interaction for selecting and interacting with images in Habitat, our cloud authoring and collaboration environment, we learned through usability testing that it was difficult for users to delete an image. Once we identified that problem, we updated the click interaction for adding and deleting media to make it more user-friendly.

Read how we’re reimagining the book as a new digital product in our free how-to guide on the future of publishing, as presented by Inkling Founder and CEO, Matt MacInnis.  

Putting It All Together   

To put these two types of research into practice, here’s how you should get started. First, if you’re creating a new product, start with generative research. Learn who you’re building for, what their motivations and goals are, and what they find most frustrating about trying to accomplish their important work-related tasks. You’ll learn what tasks your users perform most often and identify problems that your product can solve. For example, at Inkling, we spend a lot of time talking to our customers about their content-creation workflows.

If you have an existing product, however, start with a round of evaluative research to determine your baseline numbers and task success rate.  At Inkling, when we first started running regular usability tests on Inkling Habitat, we emerged with a long list of issues that hindered the tool’s user-friendliness. We worked through these issues in order of priority, repeatedly evaluating as we landed fixes, to ensure the user experience was intuitive and empowering.

Performing generative and evaluative research isn’t necessarily a linear process, however; whenever you add a new element to your product, it’s important to go back to stage one. We are constantly operating between the generative and evaluative modes at Inkling, depending upon the stage of our new product features.

Turning Research Into Results

Generative and evaluative research are critical components of the product development cycle, as they feed directly into product idea generation and validation. With research to back up your product features, your product is guaranteed to be much more customer-focused–and successful. Designing with the user in mind is always the best way to ensure a useful, usable and enjoyable product.

To see how we’ve used customer research to improve upon our product and delight our customers, check out Inkling’s customer success stories