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User Analysis Before Diving Into Design (Part 2)

Jerry Cao
By Jerry Cao on 4th December, 2014 Updated on 22nd April, 2020

In Part 1, we provided tips for user personas, user & job stories, and user experience maps.

Now we’ll look at how to use three types of matrics to help you plot out user scenarios, content, and product features. If you’d like to learn more, check out the free 150-page Guide to UX Design Process & Documentation.

User Task Matrix

While user stories look at how your product is used and experience maps shows the start-to-finish picture, a user task matrix looks at frequency of use.

User Task Matrix

Source: User Task Matrix

In the above example, the task matrix describes the various methods (and their frequencies based on persona) for accomplishing the goal of booking an airline ticket. The user task matrix helps you identify the non-negotiable aspects of the user experience. For example, our above matrix shows that the most important task is “searching travel routes” since it’s used multiple times by all 3 personas. You can use this to inform design decisions by ensuring the “search route” function is part of the primary navigation instead of a discoverable item.

Stephanie Troeth, UX Consultant at MailChimp, takes a more connective approach to user task matrices. As you’ll see below, her matrix technique provides a broader snapshot of personas and the experience map by looking through the lens of contexts for behaviors and motivations.

User Task Matrix

Source: Design for Multifaceted Users

Compared to the traditional user matrix, her version is more visual and thus lets you spot patterns quickly and prioritize accordingly. For Stephanie’s social running app, the above matrix quickly showed that locals would likely be most involved in the app and therefore the feature set, communications, and marketing needed to appeal to that user group first. Stephanie’s user matrix is actually quite complementary since her version helps provide a high-level view that you can delineate into the traditional user matrix. As you’ve seen, the user matrix can really help in identifying key audiences, validating value propositions, and pinpointing vital features.

User Content Matrix

If your product is cloud or software-based, a matrix will help you better understand how your existing content satisfies user needs, where you can improve, and how to prioritize content improvements.

Content Matrix

Source: Content Analysis — A Practical Approach

Colleen Jones, Founder of Content Science, believes that a content matrix will help you eliminate any content that is redundant, outdated, or trivial. Considering that most stakeholders need context rather than details, a matrix provides flexibility in letting you show only the rows and columns necessary to make your point. A content matrix can provide four specific benefits:

  • Acute awareness of priorities — Knowing what content is present in your product (and why) helps shape questions about usefulness that otherwise may not be revealed
  • Addressing operational constraints — As you fill out the matrix, you may discover new constraints to solutions. For example, users may need a frequently updated home screen on your app, but you might find that you don’t have the technical resources to do so. A content matrix prompts evaluations that can help you discover “second-best” options so you don’t move forward under false assumptions.
  • A common language — Your users probably don’t talk like you do. A content matrix helps maintain consistency in tone and terminology so you don’t go overboard on language specific only to the company.
  • A real sense of scale — The better you understand the scale of content for your product, the better you can design the product. A matrix let’s you see if you need to think about 100 or 1000 pages worth of content, and therefore create the right number of design variations.

Prioritized Requirements Spreadsheet  

At this point, you will have done enough user analysis to have an idea of important features. After all, like we described in the Guide to UX Design Process & Documentation, your product requirements should be derived from user requirements.

Features Prioritization Spreadsheet

Source: Practical Product Management for New Product Managers

While you don’t need to go into as much detail as the product requirements document and features specifications document created in the Implementation phase, you should be able to separate “nice-to-haves” from “must-haves”. According to Jeff Sauro, Founder of Measuring Usability, there are multiple prioritization techniques for trimming down impossibly long feature lists. Some of the techniques require more user testing while others are standalone:

  • Top Task AnalysisGive qualified users a randomized list of easy-to-accomplish tasks and ask them to pick their top five. You’ll quickly identify the tasks most important to users. 
  • Gap Analysis — Give some customers your first iteration of prioritized features and ask them to rate them in order of importance and satisfaction. Next, use the formula: Importance + (Importance – Satisfaction) to reveal opportunity for improvement.
  • Kano Modeling — Ask some users to rate how much they like features when they are included in the product and how much they miss them if they’re removed. This satisfaction gap shows “must-have” versus “nice-to-have” features.
  • Quality Function Deployment — Start with a prioritized list of tasks or features (from top-tasks analysis) and combine this with a list of functions (from the company). A QFD ranks the features that best meets user needs.
  • Pareto Analysis — Known as the 80/20 rule, this method can quickly isolate “must-have” features from “nice-to-haves”. Sort your features from highest to lowest (e.g. most votes in a top-task, most revenue, etc), add up the total, then compute the percentage for each item. The features that score highest are your most important.
  • Cause & Effect Diagrams — Since UX issues can be complex, this analysis can expose multiple causes for each problem, letting you troubleshoot as effectively as possible. Create a set of cause-and-effect diagrams by asking “why?” to uncover the root causes rather than the symptoms.
  • Failure Mode Effect Analysis — This helps you understand the negative effects of certain actions. It can highlight cases in which you can improve the product more by fixing what’s broken than by adding features. An FMEA generates a Risk Priority Number based on commonality, severity, and difficulty of problems.

If you’re looking for a leaner approach, Ian McAllister, General Manager at Amazon, believes a theme-based approach is an effective yet lightweight approach. He creates a list of themes for each product (e.g. user acquisition, user retention, etc.), assigns projects to each theme, and then prioritizes projects based on cost versus benefits. It’s fairly straightforward, so you would only need a  “forced ranking” spreadsheet to get started.

Know Thy User

If your product isn’t made for users, then it’s only made for yourself. Users don’t care that your products can do a million and one things — they just need it to work for them.

UX Design Process

Source: Why User Experience Research

When it comes to truly understanding your user, simply saying that they are “18 to 35 year old marketers who need an app to simplify inbox sorting” doesn’t cut it.

As we’ve discussed, you need to know your user as a person, understand how and why they’d use your product (and how often), and all the experiences that come between them and your product. That multi-dimensional understanding is the only way you’ll be able to prioritize your features appropriately — otherwise you might enter the Design stage without even knowing you’re on a course for disaster.

For more smart ways on incorporating documentation into the design process, download the Guide to UX Design & Process Documentation. Expert advice is featured from Aarron Walter, Laura Klein, Ian McAllister, and dozens others. Visual examples are also shown from companies like Vurb, MailChimp, Apple, Google, and many more.


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