User experience research is the systematic investigation of your users in order to gather insights that will inform the design process. Trying to save money, many startups overlook user research, failing to realize that it can not only save them money, time, and effort, but also increase their chance of success. According to Fortune Magazine, the most prominent reason startups fail is a poor understanding of customer needs.
While there is a growing number of UX researchers across the continent, there’s limited information on the status of user research that details how research is being conducted and the challenges UX researchers face. To get a sense of where UX research is on the continent, YUX, the pan-African research and design company, put together the “State of User Research in Africa” report.
YUX conducted 22 interviews with industry professionals at companies like Flutterwave and Orange, and analyzed 129 online survey responses. The report uncovers the tools, methods, and challenges people across the continent experience conducting user research.
I connected with Elizabeth Akpan, who works at YUX Design in UX Analytics, to discuss the report and its findings.
Why is user research necessary, and why was it important to create this report?
The field of user experience research is booming in Africa, and it’s primarily driven by the rapid digital transformation happening across the continent. To successfully build any digital tool or innovate, a deep understanding of your end-user is critical. UX Research bridges the information gap between business goals and user needs.
Moreover, as UX grows on the continent and more people join the movement, we thought that it was necessary to get some data on the domain to facilitate conversation and help push UX research forward. The report answers three main questions: are companies maturing in the push to design, what tools and practices are researchers using, and where do designers, researchers, and product managers face the most challenges?
Share your general thoughts on the report and some of the key takeaways?
For this report, we wanted to understand the UX research landscape. To do so, we spoke to UX designers, product managers, UX researchers, and anyone else who led user research in their organization.
Overall, from our conversations, we noted that user research in Africa is still in its dawn. We’re still early in our journey, but progress is happening.
My three stand-out findings from the report are the following:
- 38% of our survey respondents work in fintech
This finding could be driven by the abundance of fintech organizations on the continent, so there’s a chance our number could be skewed.
- 38% of survey respondents have a dedicated user researcher in their organization. And 63% of organizations conduct research 3 or more times a year.
This insight was interesting because it means that user research is happening even if there is no dedicated user researcher on the team.
- 58% of survey respondents considered participant recruitment the most prominent research challenge.
The lack of infrastructure across the continent adds to the inherent challenges that come with conducting user research. For example, if you schedule a virtual interview, there are times where the person might not have their phone charged, lack a stable internet connection, or worse, not show up. And if you do manage to get someone to participate in an interview, some people are not comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions with a random person because of cultural upbringing.
What did the report reveal about the tools and methods people use to conduct user research?
We were surprised by the simplicity of tools people use for conducting and analyzing research, like Google Form, Google Slide, even Whatsapp to a lesser extent. In our conversations, something that came up was the lack of tools created for the African context, particularly when researching in rural areas that have issues with power and people aren’t as tech-savvy.
There are various methods UX researchers can use to gather information and expose design problems. However, most of the researchers we spoke to highlighted that cultural nuance makes it challenging. As products go from having users in one country to expanding across the continent, the role of UX researchers is becoming more critical. For example, a researcher may be based in Nigeria but be helping with the rollout of a product to the Senegalese market.
For that reason, many researchers were interested in connecting with researchers in different parts of the continent who can provide insight into their country’s cultural nuances. And to learn what methods their colleagues are using to navigate these challenges. At the moment, there’s a huge need for more researchers to write and share their processes and what they’re learning in public.
What are some of the challenges people face conducting user research?
Even as more people learn about user research, getting stakeholder buy-in is still a challenge for all UXers, be it researchers or designers. Someone mentioned in an interview that most stakeholders would rather you show them something tangible like a design or a wireframe than research insights.
While researchers are doing their best to overcome this by advocating for research within the organizations, they are also interested in hearing from their colleagues and learning how they’re getting stakeholder buy-in.
Are companies benefiting from their UX Research efforts and what impact is it having on tech in Africa?
I do think companies are benefiting from their UX research efforts. From our survey, 38% of the respondents had a dedicated UX researcher at their company, while 63% conducted research at least three times a year. For this amount of people to be conducting research at least three times a year, there has to be something that’s working. People wouldn’t be doing it that often if it wasn’t relevant or working. So I do think they are benefiting from their UX research efforts.
As for the impact it is having on the tech space in Africa, I’m not sure. There’s still not much data online on consumer behavior, so people have to rely on observing or speaking to users.
What must happen for companies to receive the full benefit of UX Research?
This question is interesting because, during the interviews, I noticed that whether you were speaking to someone in Dakar, Lagos, Nairobi, or Kampala, getting stakeholder buy-in for research was a huge challenge. And as I said, this isn’t just a challenge that only UX researchers face, but anyone who leads UX research in their organization. To get the full benefits of UX research, leaders in companies have to start prioritizing research.
Built In Africa. What does that mean to you?
When I hear the phrase built in Africa, what it means to me is a product or service that’s built on the continent for Africa and/or the world. But most importantly, the product is useful and solves real problems.
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