When a UX designer is working on a product, they have two options. Option A is to make a research hypothesis or generalized assumptions about who you think your audience is and what they want.
Option B is to ask questions like who my ideal audience is, what problems they currently face, and how can I create an inclusive design that offers a great user experience for them?
Option A usually leads to terrible product design, product recalls, poor usability, and dissatisfaction with the product. If 32% of customers never return to a brand after a poor experience, then you have no second chance to make it right with them.
Option B ensures that design isn’t influenced by inherent bias or assumptions that ruin product usability. Instead, you’re listening to your audience and building user-centric products they love. The result? Increased customer satisfaction, excellent user experience, and higher revenues for your company.
If you’re interested in learning how to conduct user research, stick around. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the following sections:
- What is UX research
- Why is UX research important?
- When should you conduct user research?
- What is the difference between UX research and UX design?
- What does a UX researcher do?
- How to conduct UX research
What Is UX research?
UX research is the practice of studying human interactions to understand their behaviors, motivations, and needs. User research aims to get realistic context that helps you understand the impact of design on your target audience, uncover problems, and find design opportunities.
While you can apply UX research at any stage of the design process, most UX researchers start with qualitative methods to learn the user’s needs and motivation. Then, later in the design process, they use quantitative measures to test UX research findings.
Why Is UX Research Important?
UX research is essential for the following reasons:
- Increase sales, customer engagement, and customer retention
- Understand your user’s needs to create products they love
- Ensure you’re targeting the right audience
- Reduce the cost of production
- Build inclusive products free of bias
- Understand your unique value in comparison to competitors
- Understand the ROI of UX design
When Should You Conduct User Research?
Creating a New Product
Conduct user experience research when you start a new project, or you feel like you don’t have a comprehensive picture of the problem at hand. Additionally, it’s a great way to understand the weakness and strengths of competing products in the market.
Using UX research in the early stage ensures the team is aligned on business goals for the project.
Research methods at this stage include:
- Competitive analysis
- Stakeholder interviews
- User interviews
- Customer journey mapping
- Field studies
- Buyer personas
You can use the same approach for building a new product to update or add new features to the product. Research participants would be customers instead of non-users as they’re better suited to highlight existing problems and features they want to see in upcoming updates.
Research techniques include:
- User interviews
- Google Analytics to understand user behavior on your website or app
During product redesign, data about user behavior should influence design decisions. Research techniques such as usability testing, A/B testing, and user interviews will come in handy for data collection.
What Is the Difference Between UX Research and UX Design?
UX research encompasses user experience with a product. It focuses on collecting data to help UX designers improve interface quality. The UX researcher follows a structure when conducting research and contributes to the design process through research-backed ideas.
UX research includes these tasks:
- Create a UX research plan
- Recruit research participants
- Determine UX research methods
- Collect data about the user experience
- Analyze data to make recommendations that influence design
- Present findings to UX design team and other stakeholders
UX design focuses on the human interface. UX designers work to improve the UI of a product and the quality of the customer experience.
UX design includes:
Information architecture: Focuses on the organization of information so that users can easily find what they need.
Interaction design: Focuses on user interaction with features and elements of the product.
Usability: Researchers test the usability of a product after developing the architecture. The goal is to create a user-friendly UI that makes it easy to find information.
Wireframes: After usability testing, designers create a sample application (the wireframe). The wireframe requires knowledge of the ideal customer, which is only possible through UX research.
To develop user-centered designs, UX designers need information about the user’s expectations and needs. UX research provides valuable information that helps UX designers understand their audience, eliminate bias from their work and create products that customers need.
What Does A UX Researcher Do?
A UX researcher is an empathetic, critical thinker. You study a target audience to collect and analyze data that inform product design. The work of a UX researcher isn’t separate from the design process, but it has the most humanizing impact on design.
A few tasks that UX experience researchers perform include:
- Develop a research plan based on research goals
- Recruit participants for research studies
- Write research screeners to prune the list of research participants
- Create discussion guides to lead the conversation
- Develop and implement qualitative surveys
- Moderate usability testing sessions
- Conduct user interviews
- Turn research data into key insight using UX research tools like Aurelius
- Translate key insight into recommendations for the product team to act on
- Craft journey maps and user personas to communicate insight to dev and design teams
- Present UX research findings in a clear and organized fashion to project stakeholders
How to Conduct User Research?
Define the Research Objectives
The first step is to write down your research objectives. Your research objectives should be three to seven goals per research project.
For example: If the goal is to understand what users need when purchasing a headphone, your questions could include:
Who: Who questions help you narrow down prospective audiences by defining psychographics and demographics that form the base of your recruitment efforts. Who is using a headphone? Who am I selling this product to?
When: The different situations when people use headphones, such as watching a movie, recording, and listening to music.
Why: Why do they use a headphone? Do they want noise-canceling, audiophile-quality sound, or greater productivity?
Where: Where are they getting information from? From where do they enter the buying cycle?
What: What does your audience currently know about headphones? What influences their decision when they purchase a headphone or decide to get upgrades?
How: How do they embark on the purchase journey? How do they get to the finish line and take action to reach their goals?
After establishing your research objectives, your head is brimming with potential design solutions. You want to jump in, execute your ideas and send them off for product testing right now!
Slow your roll, tiger. Most of your ideas are based on assumptions. Your hypothesis is what you believe you already know about the end-user and their problems. But don’t be afraid to integrate your hypothesis into research to prove or disprove your assumption.
Externalizing your hypothesis helps you choose suitable research methods based on your objectives. It also makes you aware of your biases towards the topic.
After research, use your hypotheses to communicate your research discovery.
“Earlier on, we believed that [insert hypothesis], but during the research process, we discovered that [insert research findings].”
Next, get a team together, take the questions you framed from your objectives and spend an hour or two deliberating answers. Using our example of headphones from before:
Behavior-related hypotheses: Headphone users mostly use their headphones when working, listening to music, or video conferencing.
Attitude-related hypotheses: Headphone users only want to wear headphones that their favorite celebrities have endorsed.
Feature-related hypothesis: Headphone users will only tell others about the product if the audio quality is great and has noise cancelling features.
Identify Your Target Audience
A few tips to help you identify your target audience include:
Who Are Your Current Customers?
Consider bringing in the sales, marketing, and customer support team to get more information about your current customers. It’s essential to segment your audience based on needs, location, and other demographic data.
Who Is Your Competition?
You can probably list off a few names of competitors off the top of your head. But it still helps to do more research. First, use Google to search your primary keyword and see who’s ranking for that topic.
Then, go through their website to get an idea of their feature description. Next, use social listening tools to hear what your audience uses to solve their problems and how they feel about those products or services.
Use Google Analytics
Login to your Google Analytics account and click on Audience in the left-hand column.
There’s so much information to learn about your target audience. You’ll find demographic details such as gender, age, location, interest, and behavior.
Research Your Ideal Customer
Use the data from your competitors’ social media search and Google Analytics to form the base of your target persona. Where do they live? What’s their ethnicity? What’s their age? Where do they work?
Build audience personas
Now that you’ve identified who you’ll like to serve and the benefit they’ll get from your product, it’s time to create a buyer persona that accurately represents your target audience.
Include Common Details
Next, include important information about your customers. What common issues do your ideal audience face? For example, remote employees need better audio quality when recording Loom videos or jumping on a video conference call.
Give your personas a name and a face. Treating them like real people makes it easier to empathize with their needs and write more personalized content they can connect with on an emotional level.
Segment Your Personas
Develop three to five fictional audience personas since it’s impossible to fit all audience characteristics in one persona. Group audience members who have similar challenges and goals in the same segment.
Determine the User Research Methods to Collect Data
At this stage, you know your research goals, you’ve made some design hypotheses, and you’ve developed your audience personas. It’s time to choose the UX research methods that will help you achieve your goals. The techniques depend on what stage you are in the process.
Here are some options to consider:
Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research
The first thing to note is that it’s not a competition between quantitative vs qualitative research. They both have their use cases and complement each other.
Use quantitative research to collect and analyze numerical data. It’s an affordable way to get a large sample size. Quantitative research is also valuable when you have a prototype, and you need to identify usability issues with the product.
Examples of quantitative research methods include A/B testing, usability testing, tree testing, card sorting, and desirability studies.
Qualitative research evaluates the user experience and usability of a product. It’s any research technique where findings are descriptive elements and words that can be observed but not measured.
Qualitative research focuses on collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data like behavior, emotion, feeling, or even opinion. Instead of calculating numbers, qualitative research categorizes responses and manually analyzes data sets.
Qualitative research includes ethnography, focus groups, user interviews, diary studies, and moderated usability testing.
Here’s a table showing the key differences between qualitative vs quantitative user research
Usability testing is ideal when you have a prototype. Recruit five users as they can find 85% of the usability problems.
During usability testing, you evaluate the usability of a product by testing it with users from your target audience. You watch, listen and ask questions as research participants perform tasks with the product. When remote, you record the participant’s screen via video conferencing as they interact with the product in their natural habitat.
The goal is to identify usability problems and collect quantitative and qualitative data to understand user satisfaction with the product.
Issues that usability testing uncovers include:
- Friction points when using the product
- Knowledge gaps to plug regarding the product use cases
A diary study is a qualitative research method that captures user experiences, behaviors, and activities over an extended time. It gives you a realistic insight into the daily life of your ideal user and how they interact with your product.
Conduct diary studies when:
- You want to see a diverse experience and learn how perceptions and behavior change
- You’re curious about specific micro-moments that affect big decisions
- You’re worried that in-person observers will influence participant behavior
Researchers use card sorting to evaluate or design the information architecture of a website or app. During the card sorting session, participants arrange topics into categories in a way that makes sense to them.
The answers tell UX designers if the UI is correct or needs to be re-examined to fit the user’s expectations. In addition, it’s cheaper to conduct and easy for stakeholders to understand the data.
Options for card sorting include:
Open card sort: Participants organize cards or topics into groups that feel right to them. Next, they label each group in their own words. Open card sort helps you learn the labels and terms users think of when searching for your product.
Closed card sort: Participants sort topics into predefined categories. It’s ideal when you’ve defined categories and want to test if the labels work.
A few best practices for card sorting include:
- Randomize the order of presentation
- Limit the number of cards to prevent overwhelming the user
- Tell the user how long the card sorting should take
- Consider starting with an open sort to categorize cards and a closed sort to label cards
User interviews help researchers to gain insight into the user experience of your ideal customer. It enables you to understand their feelings, emotions, and how they interact with a product.
User interviews help you plug holes in your product design using feedback from the user. Interviews are a great way to humanize your product and connect with your audience. You gain deeper insight into a topic that highlights the product’s best features and areas of improvement. The insight leads to product design that integrates with their daily lives.
Conduct user interviews at the start of the project, when you have an early prototype, and after product launch to collect feedback.
You can recruit participants through your database, online communities, social media, or a dedicated research panel.
Here’s a checklist to guide you when conducting user interviews:
Conduct User Research
After choosing your research methods, it’s time to conduct research. Depending on your methods, you’ll recruit users (usually 8-10 for qualitative and above 50 for quantitative) to meet for research activities. Meetings should be pre-scheduled and shouldn’t exceed an hour per session.
As you conduct research, answer these questions:
- Does the information align with my research objectives?
- Am I getting information I already have?
If you’re not gathering the correct data, it’s probably for the following reasons:
- You need new research questions and hypotheses to dig deeper into the topic
- This is not your target audience, and you should change your recruitment process
- Your design hypotheses are a poor fit
- You’ve chosen the wrong methods for your research objectives
- You’re not using a research repository to make sense of your data
While data collection is essential for UX research, organizing and analyzing data is just as important.
The first step is to choose a research repository software that allows you to store and organize a plethora of research data. Data could be videos, audio transcription, notes, and even Excel spreadsheets. You can also connect Aurelius with Zapier to pull data from Google Forms, Survey Monkey, and other data collection tools.
Make sure you organize your information in Aurelius as you collect them. It speeds up the research process and makes it easier to find and reuse data when researching a similar subject. You can organize notes by project name, product feature, or categories in the project. If you’ve got audio and video files, you can transcribe them into notes in Aurelius to easily make sense of the data.
Create a project, add your notes and organize them to make it easier to synthesize. Next, use Tags to find patterns across your research data. Then, use the key insight feature to highlight relevant text and draw insight from past and current projects.
Rather than writing lengthy reports nobody reads, create a UX nugget that is easy to digest, share and revisit. UX nuggets are research findings that communicate what you’ve learned from research.
Share your Findings with Stakeholders
Until you share your research findings, it doesn’t exist. Aurelius turns your key insight and recommendations into a research report. You can customize the report with design elements (available in Aurelius) and share your research as a PDF or live link.
Tips to guide you when sharing or presenting UX research include:
- Use storytelling to capture a cold audience
- Speak directly to your audience interest to connect with them on a personal level
- Opt for UX nuggets over detailed reports. Keep it down to 4-6 key insights
- Use an inverted pyramid where essential information sits at the top and flows down from there
- Use graphics to simplify data
- Keep it short
- Use slides during presentations
- Tell the audience what you want them to do next
- Send follow up emails and reach out to decision-makers
- Integrate your company Slack or Jira with Aurelius to share your findings with the relevant internal stakeholders
What Is the Best UX Research Tool?
Here are some UX research tools to help you conduct research:
- Aurelius to analyze research data, make recommendations and share UX research findings
- Google Docs for note-taking
- Spreadsheets to store and organize data
- Great Question to build a panel of customers to interview
- Ethnio to recruit participants who are browsing your website or app
- Usabilia for product testing
- Mouseflow for capturing user behavior and identifying friction points
- Optimizely for A/B testing
- Google Analytics to understand user behavior on your website
- Calendly for booking user interviews and remote research sessions
Simplify UX Research with Aurelius
User research is an essential part of product design and should not be overlooked as an afterthought. UX research helps you understand who your ideal audience is, the problems they face, and the solutions they seek.
As you collect research data, organize them immediately into Aurelius. That way, it’s easier to sort through data, find common themes, highlight key insights and make recommendations.
It’s also important to follow up when you share your research if you want stakeholders to take action. With Aurelius, you can do all these by integrating Zapier and sharing your research in Slack, Jira, and other tools in your company workflow.
Frequently Asked Questions About UX Research
What Is UX Research?
UX research studies a target audience to collect and analyze data that improves the product design process.
What Is the Purpose of UX Research?
The purpose of UX research include:
- To prove or disprove hypotheses
- Eliminate inherent bias in design
- Find common themes across research data
- Understand the mental models, needs, and goals of a target user
What Is the Process of Doing UX Research?
The stages of UX research process include:
- Define project goals and objectives
- Determine hypotheses
- Choose UX research methods
- Define UX research plan
- Collect data through UX research methods
- Synthesize and organize research findings
- Analyze data
- Share UX research with stakeholders
What Skills Do You Need to be a UX Researcher?
- Experience in a related field
- Research writing skills
- Ability to work collaboratively with other teams
- An analytical mind
- An understanding of the design process
How Long Does UX Research Take?
There’s no defined timeline for UX research. However, a typical research project can last between three weeks and up to three months. For example, usability testing can take 2-4 weeks, surveys can take 2-3 weeks, and diary studies could run for months.
What are Some UX Research Methods?
Examples of user research methods include:
- Diary studies
- User interview
- A/B testing
- Usability testing
- Live intercepts
- Ethnographic field studies
- Diary studies
- Focus groups
- Experience sampling
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