What is UX research?

User experience (UX) research is a pivotal component of a human-focused design process and crucial for building solutions that satisfy user expectations, delivering the highest value to customers. This complete guide to usability research methods dives deep into the fundamentals of UX research and its various techniques.


What is UX Research?

UX research is the process of gaining insights into user behavior, needs, desires, and pain points using a variety of feedback methodologies and observation techniques. The purpose is to give product teams more perspective and context to make informed decisions when developing user-centric products.

Why is UX research vital?

Engaging in user research is a form of systematic inquiry. We can break it down into three categories: thinking of a question, gathering information, and analyzing what it all means.

Good UX research involves continuously gathering evidence and questioning what you have; this methodology is a process where findings and insights are used to develop human-centered experiences with intuitive interaction.

UX research is not just a one-stop process in the development cycle; research happens throughout the entire lifecycle.

Because of this, the insights companies glean from research are crucial for making informed design, product, and marketing decisions when iterating existing products or developing new ones. UX research represents user-centric insights and customers leveraged to make wise product decisions throughout the development process.

Types of User Research

The more you understand your clients, the better your teams can develop products that meet their needs.

Generative research

This research method gives enterprises a deep understanding of an audience’s behaviors, motivations, and challenges. Generally speaking, generative research aims to narrow down a problem statement, determine what problem needs solving, and gather enough data to proceed.

Evaluative research

This method focuses on evaluating a product, service, or concept to gather data in a way that improves the solution. Evaluative research usually occurs early in the development cycle but is also used iteratively throughout the design process.

Quantitative vs. qualitative research

These research methods are often used separately, but they’re best used in conjunction. Quantitative research results in numerical data gathered from data and statistics; its purpose is to find patterns, make predictions, and establish general findings of a topic or audience. Qualitative research comes from opinions, comments, and observations; companies use this data to yield motivational data and target user behavior.

Benefits of UX Research

Modern enterprises leverage insights and data from continuous research to build products that solve fundamental user pain points, providing consistent value for the product’s lifecycle. Therefore, research is the most significant competitive advantage that you can benefit from.

1. Make data-informed decisions

A core benefit of establishing the various types of UX research throughout the development process is that it helps you understand your users and make more informed decisions.

UX research includes quantitative and qualitative methods. Both are powerful techniques to keep at hand.

Additionally, UX research allows companies to build better products for less money. More than that, UX research lets you create unbiased, accessible experiences.

2. Eliminate bias from the UX design process

Everyone is susceptible to confirmation bias; this tendency occurs when someone interprets data, adopts it, and then forces everything top-down to align with the interpretation.

Psychologists have identified more than 100 cognitive biases; many of these influence the products we build and our decisions. Asking practical questions is a great way to remove bias from the development process.

For example, you might ask questions like:

  • What are you assuming?
  • What have you assumed about your users without evidence?
  • What information do you have that is actually an anecdote, and how will you challenge them?

Another effective way to remove design bias is to remain empathetic towards people and circumstances. The greatest UX designers understand human behavior, learn from their users, and aren’t afraid to challenge their own assumptions.

3. Test and validate ideas

UX research allows enterprises to validate ideas for feedback well before launch day. Until then, an idea without a test is nothing more than an idea. So, before making any design decisions, conduct user research methods like:

  • Focus groups
  • One-on-one user interviews
  • Co-creativity sessions through hypothesis concepts and design sprints
  • User testing

However, usability testing lets you test any mockup or prototype early on when it comes to validating ideas.

Remember, developing the right solution comes at the end of an iterative listening, learning, and adjusting cycle.

4. Successfully bring products to market

Finally, UX research is vital for product marketers who must understand customer needs. Without this data, they cannot effectively communicate the value the product brings to the market.

The better you understand your target audience, the more valuable the final products will be, increasing your chance of success.

So how do we create a UX research plan?

How to Create a Research Plan

Creating a research plan that outlines your steps will help foster a successful study. In addition, these plans help align stakeholders, ensuring all parties involved are familiar with the project’s scope, goals, and timeline.

What is a UX design and research plan?

A research plan is essentially a play-by-play document that kicks off the project. You should share it with key stakeholders to ensure everyone knows what to expect.

Benefits of a written plan

Forming a plan streamlines the research process and keeps stakeholders happily in the loop. There are several benefits of pre-planning research, such as:

  • Facilitates alignment: A good UX research plan keeps the entire team on the same page regarding expectations, objectives, and timelines. It also provides a reference document for all relevant personnel.
  • Reach UX goals: A good research plan is like a map that keeps you focused and on a linear path. It’s a document that reminds your team of your overarching goal while acknowledging its progress so far.
  • Engages stakeholders: Written plans are a good way to keep stakeholders involved with the project, turning them into participants rather than observers watching in the background.

Creating a UX research plan

In this section, we’ll cover the process of developing a research plan:

  1. Identify the problem statement
  2. Define your goals
  3. Pick the right research method
  4. Find participants
  5. Prepare the brief
  6. Establish a timeline

1. Identify the problem statement

Before developing a research plan, you need to know what question you’re trying to answer.

You can use different methods to identify this problem statement, such as team sessions, stakeholder interviews, or analyzing existing data. Likewise, knowing the data you already have and what you still need is the first step to effective UX research techniques.

2. Define your goals

With your problem statement known, consider your research objectives; what are you doing, why are you doing it, and what do you expect to learn?

Setting clear goals also helps you conceptualize the project scope; if the range is too broad, everything becomes a research question, and that’s too overwhelming to manage.

If you struggle to narrow down the questions you want answered, you can use The Five Whys method to dig into the root of a problem. This approach requires you to ask questions like:

  • What are this product’s pain points?
  • Why don’t they use it?
  • What problems do they have?
  • Who are we designing this for?

3. Pick the right research method

Picking the correct research method is contingent upon your goals, how far along the development process your team is, and the project’s resources, constraints, and timeline. For example, if you’ve just started designing a concept, a generative research method like field studies and user interviews will help you learn more about your target audience. Alternatively, usability tests can help you evaluate how users like a new design before committing to it.

Regardless of your method choice, make sure it can help you reach your objectives and give the necessary evidence to make data-informed decisions.

4. Find participants

Defining your participants should factor in your goals and unanswered questions. Moreover, think about the resources you have available. For example, you might have an existing user base to tap into.

5. Prepare the brief

Next, it’s crucial to define a brief for your research sessions. This brief will guide you through field studies and user interviews, reminding you of your desired questions and keeping you on track.

6. Establish a timeline

Finally, estimating how long UX research will take and when you can expect results is an essential step for all projects.

Even if you can’t develop an exact timeline, an approximation lets you manage your stakeholders’ expectations.

UX Research Methods

Once you know your objectives and have planned a framework, you can choose the best UX research methodology for your needs.

What are UX research methods?

UX research methods let enterprises generate information about their users and their motivations, needs, and behaviors. You can use different ways to identify opportunities to improve user experience, including focus groups, usability testing, card sorting, and more.

Choosing the right research method

Choosing the correct research method begins with identifying the problem statement you want to solve and knowing the data you need to gather.

Start by considering what you’d like the outcome of your research to be; in other words, effective research involves working backward, defining the questions you want to answer and picking the method, people, and data based on that.

Some questions you might ask yourself before choosing a UX research method include:

  • What do my users need?
  • How can I help my users?
  • What problems do my users have?

Having a clear understanding of where you are in the design process will also help you pick a UX research method. For example, products early on in development don’t have prototypes to test, so generative research methods like field studies are better for exploring data. However, if you need to test design mockups, evaluative research methods would better serve your needs.

The best UX research method

The best UX research method is whichever one gives you complete, relevant answers to the questions you ask. As we mentioned, the ideal way depends on your project and what stage it’s in.

Most common UX research techniques

Let’s go over the top techniques to know when performing UX research.

User interviews

This well-known research method helps you gather data through direct conversations with users.

During an interview, you ask a user a few questions on a particular topic and analyze the answers provided. The results you get depend on your ability to form questions, ask them, and follow up on responses.

As a researcher, it is your responsibility to discover the actual problems hidden behind user complaints. When they narrate an incident, allow them to speak freely to gather little details about user behavior. Consider the following when forming questions:

  • Use a wide context: Don’t lead questions with your product
  • Hone in on the problem: Ask questions relevant to the tasks a user must complete
  • Invest in the analysis: Have transcript made and share what you find with the team

To ask better questions:

  • Don’t make users predict the future: It doesn’t help to ask if someone will use a future feature; most participants will answer affirmatively to appease you. Their honest choice might differ once the feature is released.
  • Understand existing behavior: You might ask an interviewee, “How have you solved a similar problem before?” If possible, ask them to show you their process.
  • Ask why to uncover needs: Asking the “why” question in response to statements will help you uncover a deeper motivation for why someone will or won’t do something.
  • Avoid bias: Never insert your opinion into a question. For instance, it is common to follow into this trap when asking about pain points; if the user doesn’t seem to have a problem, this question adds bias and causes the user to seek pain points they don’t already have.
  • Don’t ask closed-ended questions: Too many Yes/No questions won’t get you any useful data or insight on the reasoning.

Forming the right questions is essential to getting actionable results.

Field studies

These research activities occur in the user’s environment instead of your office; they’re an excellent technique for uncovering unknown motivations, contexts, or constraints that impact the user’s experience.

The primary advantage of conducting a field study is observing users in their natural environment; this setup gives you a glimpse into important context regarding how people use your product. In addition, a field study helps you collect in-depth user stories and learn about everyday needs.

Through these studies, you can better understand your target audience and study aspects of product use that would otherwise be impossible to see.

Focus groups

This qualitative research method lets you study a group of people and their opinions and beliefs; focus groups are best for gathering product feedback or market research. Most focus groups occur as face-to-face meetings, but video conferencing is also an option.

With a focus group, you can get a better grasp on:

  • What users think your product’s most essential features are
  • How people perceive your product
  • Common problems users have with your product

Typically, a moderator hosts six to nine participants through a guided discussion that lasts about two hours. Like with user interviews, the effectiveness of a focus group depends on your ability to form questions and guide participation. That means you’ll want to prepare a plan to refer to during the session. Consider the following:

  • Know your goals for hosting the focus group; come up with the questions you want answered
  • Put together a script to follow during the session
  • Ask specific open-ended questions relevant to the topic you want to learn about
  • Invite the right number of participants to stay focused and organized

Card sorting

Users organize topic cards into categories during this UX research method. Card sorting is a practical step for creating an intuitive information architecture.

You can use a digital tool or physical index cards to run a card sorting session. During this methodology, users group cards into the provided categories as it makes sense to them.

Tree testing

With tree testing, you can evaluate the findability of topics on a website or app.

The data gathered from a tree test teaches you where users try to navigate first; it’s an effective way to assess a website or app’s information architecture and labeling. However, it’s recommended that you keep these sessions short and sweet, limiting participants to a few tasks in 15 to 20 minutes.

Usability testing

Finally, usability testing is ideal for assessing a product by asking people to complete specific tasks and noting their interactions.

The goal of usability testing is to evaluate whether your design is easy to use and identify any problems that arise. You can use several methods, such as unmoderated vs. moderated or quantitative vs. qualitative; selecting the correct one depends on your timeline, resources, and goal.

Establishing a UX Research Process

The best UX research plan won’t serve you well if you don’t know how your organization operates. So spend some time learning about the different departments, your organizational culture, and who makes what decisions. Learning this information gives you a better grasp of the value your research can play for your enterprise.

Essentials of a UX research process

As you study your organization, keep two things in mind:

1. Find out how decisions are made

Sitting down with stakeholders and holding internal discussions can give you insight into your organization’s needs and how you can contribute to the discussions. Ask stakeholders questions like:

  • How does the company actually make decisions?
  • What kind of decisions do the different parts of the organization make?
  • What decisions do the design team and CEO make, and what basis do they use to decide?
  • What evidence do we need, and what kind of data is sufficient?

2. Find out about prior research experience

Next, it’s good to find out your team’s experience with research.

This knowledge arms you with the data you need to implement a robust research practice. As long as people understand the value of research, it’ll be easier to get buy-ins for opportunities for projects as they come up.

Establishing the process

UX research is about answering a hypothesis your design team has. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to establishing a research practice; every enterprise has unique objectives specific to its needs. Learning what kind of research to do and how to do it is fundamental to building a research practice.

Remember, some data is always better than none, but it’s more important to know how to collect what kind of data when.

Correctly scope the research project

Start your research project by asking questions and setting objectives to identify the project scope.

Part of a researcher’s job is to understand the data the team needs, allowing him to pick the proper research method for the job. Therefore, a flexible approach is paramount to success.

Engage the whole team

Researchers need to work collaboratively with their team to make research a company-wide discipline. In other words, you must include the stakeholders in user interviews, document your findings, and ensure the product team has the answers they need to make choices.

Introducing a company-wide culture emphasizing research and learning is the best way to get others involved; your role is to shepherd your team into realizing that you’re not trying to answer every question but facilitating a learning environment to make informed decisions.

Inviting stakeholders to user interviews and preparing them in advance is one effective way to make research more accessible. Making sure they know the process is vital because research participation helps your team grasp its value better.

Share the results with your team

Conducting the research is just one part of the development process; you must share gleaned insights with your team in a digestible way.

Determining the best medium to share these findings depends on your team’s preferred communication methods. For example, if your company already meets weekly for in-person discussions, set up an all-hands presentation.

Sharing the results with different employees also ensures that each team member understands common user issues, helping them make better decisions when planning improvements.

Identify research effectiveness

Finally, you must ensure that the findings you’ve given to your team are usefully applied to the design process.

Some questions you might ask include:

  • What is the shelf life of these insights? Will they matter in a year?
  • How many team members have reacted to these results?
  • Has this development resolved any pain points?

More than that, it is essential that all decisions are made with these insights in mind. After all, the goal is to benefit your team and target audience, ultimately making things better for everyone. The only way to achieve this is to know what “better” means and if your research might have an irreversible impact. To assess, you might ask yourself:

  • Am I doing the right thing for my customers?
  • Am I doing things that service my company?

At the end of the day, the value of research only goes as far as your company’s ability to build a successful product based on new learnings and gleaned insights. It is key to monitor and measure changes new decisions have made to performance over time.


Promoting the ethos of research and helping your company build better ways to learn about their customers ensures that research becomes a company-wide practice. Research is a beneficial activity that all personnel should be involved in to make data-informed decisions.


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