As any great product team, we here at Optimizely value understanding our customers through user research!

I am the new UX researcher on the team and look forward sharing some insights and methods that have been Creative concept of the human brain, vector illustrationuseful for me. Please remember that user research looks different at each organization and there is no single right way to do it.

My personal belief is that user research starts with having a strong sense of empathy for your user and his or her emotional journey. In my work, I rely heavily on my behavioral psychology background for both quantitative methods, interview tactics, as well as fundamental knowledge of human behavior. Though psychology can inform user research, you certainly don’t need to spend six years in graduate school to understand and apply some basic principles.

Here are some of my favorite psychology insights that I have found useful in my product work. I look forward to expanding on some of these and would love to hear your feedback and experiences.

  1. Emotions are powerful motivators and predictors of attitudes and behavior. People make decision based much more on emotion, intuition, and mental shortcuts than on deliberative reasoning. We might be “thinking beings,” but we’re also surprisingly automated. For example, something as simple and unnoticeable as feeling more disgusted in a messy room can change our political attitudes. It’s likely this applies to messy web products as well!
  2. Knowing the specific emotion that a user is feeling is important.  It is certainly a good start to know when your users are happy and delighted and when they are frustrated. However, research has identified the unique effects of many specific emotions. For example, anger makes us feel just as bad as sadness, but the former also makes us want to take more risks. Research has also shown that gratitude, above any other positive emotion, has the potential to create the strongest relationships.
  3. Social identity can be an invisible force. What we do and how we think is shaped by how we identify with gender, race, and culture. For example, behavioral research has shown that simply asking test-takers to identify their gender before a math test makes female students perform worse than asking their gender afterwards. Female students are performing worse, because the negative stereotypes about women and math are creating anxiety and keeping them from doing their best. As researchers, we can’t avoid this entirely, but we can help minimize it by the way we ask questions and create surveys.
  4. Choice is good, but too much is bad. One assumption is that consumers and users want as much choice as possible. Research has shown that while we do want some choice, we can quickly get overwhelmed. One study showed that people would rather pick from six types of chocolate than 20. Providing the right amount of choice is one of the most important conversations product teams, especially with e-commerce sites, can have.

I look forward to questions and sharing more next time!