One of the great quotes in the UX world is " Do a usability test now!" -Mike Kuniavsky, Observing the User Experience I hear these words in my head often and what I think is at the heart of this statement for me is that we aren't always going to have the most perfectly written contract that allows lots of time and money to perform exhaustive research or set up week long usability tests but that doesn't mean that we can't find anyway possible to to bring the perspective of the users into the conversation and have this perspective influence the project.
The other night I was asked by a younger practitioner how she could best use the one day she had been given to perform research. This one day was to be the following day and the audience was specific enough that using her coworkers or friends wouldn't be much of a help.
This is what I told her.
"What you really need to do is find a way to bring the user perspective into the conversation. This is can be done in a lot of ways, many of which you don't have time or resources for.
The two things I would do tomorrow is.
1. Define the users. You have to state out loud and clearly who the project is attempting to serve. Use all of the materials from the client, review the RFP and SOW, talk to anyone you know who has knowledge of the industry, do some online research, get on the phone with the people at the buisness who are closest to the users (customer service, human resources, sales people, etc.)
Then write it up, create a chart, draw a picture. This document will bring the user into the design and strategy conversation, allowing everyone to refer to each group when defining functions and needs. This document may also be super contaversal. This is great. If people get up in arms and start arguing about who the users are and what thier needs and motivations are then you've done your job. You might actually get some money and time to do real research!
2. Do a competitive review and heuristic evaluation of the competitors and other players in the user's ecosystem. Understanding how other companies are communicating to the same users can leverage the work already done in this particular industry. Taking the time to mapout and review all the other places the users are participating in and what these environments are like can tell you a lot about the expectations of the users.
You can also use this work to start conversations about the structure and functionality of the site, by showing examples from competitors sites."
What advice would you have given?
One last thing, I can't mention Ecosystem without pointing you toward this:
This does a great job of opening your mind to all of the influences and exfluences* a user may have. This is focused on social media, but is there anything else anymore?
*yes. i made this word up. it means all the things the user spends time putting out in the world. this probably warrents a blog post of it's own.