The importance of UX research

More and more we are made aware that good, functional, and usable design creates winning products that gain users’ trust. Good UX research is what makes this possible.

Think of your favorite app… how many people have you shared it with? Think of your bank, why do you use it? Have you gotten anyone else to switch to it? Why? These are the questions that UX research aims to answer, and for that, it is integral to find the reason why. In order to build products that have a competitive edge in the user’s mind, research is essential throughout the whole design process. 

What is UX research?

User experience (UX) research is the way to shape your product according to customer needs. It is a systematic investigation of users and what they require, in order to apply that knowledge into the design of user experience. It includes everything from user research techniques to learning what your users need and want and also includes implementing that feedback to improve user experience with a service, product, or the user interface.

In the most basic terms, UX research is considered to be a form of applied research  – it is task-specific, analyzed through the lens of predetermined objectives, and leads to new fundamental questions all while creating new processes, technologies and products. 

UX researchers use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research to learn what their users need and want. The reason they use a mix of research techniques is to capture well-rounded data that they will use to inform design. It aims to gather information from users in all varieties:  research methods include interviews, personas, contextual testing and inquiry,  but we will dive into these in greater depth below. It is focused on a systematic approach to gathering and interpreting collected data. Due to this, UX research demands the structured and methodical selection and application of the most appropriate tools for information gathering. 

Why do you need to invest into UX research?

Simple – to be the best among your competitors…

To better understand your customer. 

Since UX is a recently developing field there is more and more growth and investment in the area of product development. Traditionally, teams performed exploratory research using methods such as in-person interviews and focus groups prior to the product design phase, then a usability test before and after launch. However, there’s a shift toward getting user insights earlier and more frequently during developmental stages. Companies are incorporating more frequent competitive research to understand customer expectations and benchmarking to measure the impact of changes to the customer experience.

Organizations are looking to their target users to identify needs in the market. There’s a growing interest in testing to understand users’ needs and attitudes, not just their ability to use an interface.  This is also in their best interest because there is a reduction of risk in building expensive (and useless) functionalities that people will ignore, making development more efficient, and minimizing wasted time. UX research is aimed at targeted objectives and steps which help you find answers along the building process and reduce unnecessary building rather than uncovering mistakes at the end, at which point the time has already been invested.  

User-Centred Design Requires User Research

The most  important thing to remember is that you are  designing for the user – a design that is not relevant to its target audience will never be a success. Research is the only way to understand  your user, and create relevant designs, it is the best way to empathize  with your users. Different types of interviews and observations of people in the contexts where they will use your design is a common method of doing this type of user research. We often place this type of research at the very beginning of a project to ensure that the overall direction for the project is relevant to potential customers and users. In order to ensure that your design continues to be relevant as your project progresses, validating your ideas with prospective users on a continuous basis is a vital habit to stick to. 

User Research Is the Foundation of a Great User Experience

Great user experience comes from a high level of usability  (ease of use),  people expect products to be easy to learn and use, not require the need of an expert.  Users expect to pick up a product and do things with them while only thinking about what they hope to achieve, not having to think about the products themselves. User tests, interviews, and surveys can help in understanding and achieving the production of something truly valuable and usable. Keep in mind that if your user experience is not good, chances are that people will move on to another product. In the end, conducting user research is the difference between designing based on assumptions, and creating a solution for a real user problem.

Research is an ongoing process…

As we have mentioned previously UX research can be applied at any stage in your production process, and it is ongoing throughout the lifecycle of a product. It is as important to establish the right question as the research is. It is critical to plan user research studies that match the questions which need to be answered at each stage, the type of user research you should do depends on your work process as well as your reason for doing user research in the first place. It is also important to note that the right kind of data (qualitative or quantitative) is collected using the correct research method at the right time.

Surveys and formal experiments are examples of quantitative research tools. Quantitative user research methods seek to measure user behavior in a way that can be quantified and used for statistical analysis.

Interviews and usability tests are examples of qualitative research tools. These are often more exploratory and seek to get an in-depth understanding of the experiences and everyday lives of individual users or user groups.

UX Research Methods & When To Use Them

Each project is different, and each stage in a project requires different methods of research. Here we see that  there are multiple options for each of the stages in a product life cycle. This is important since it shows us that there are tons of ways of getting to the questions and the answers, which are easily tailored to what your product might need. It is not necessary to execute a huge list of non-relevant research activities -rather the point is to start somewhere and learn more as you go along. Take a look at our Practice Living case study and how we managed to respond to the pandemic crisis with fast, agile and insightful UX research that helped us create a digital activity organiser to boost performance and mental health.

Discover Phase

The key activities in this phase are centered around talking, finding sources for data and  generally try to determine the metrics which are important for the research. The activities here are  mainly interviews of stakeholders, users, sales and all other implicated parties.  You can also employ diary studies,  competitive testing, and call monitoring. This phase is all about figuring out the requirements of a product or service, and within which constraints it can operate. 

Explore Phase

Once you have figured out the context in which your product lies the next steps in research are about building. The key research tasks in this phase include persona building,  task analysis, design review,  journey mapping, writing user stories. These activities really focus on the person, and how they interact with the product, or changes within the product; other key activities in this phase include prototype testing and feedback analysis. All of the activities in the explore phase lead to identifying issues, mapping, and giving users control of what they want in order to best navigate further development.

test-icon Test Phase

This phase is about evaluating and testing your product based on the set criteria. Here you will likely conduct qualitative usability testing, evaluate accessibility, and use monitoring.  In this step it is important to track usability over time, include diverse users in your testing, and most of all it is important to track and deliver both the positive and negative observations in order to lead to a fruitful testing.

listen-icon Listen Phase

Once you have delivered on the test phase, the only thing left to do in this cycle is listen. Pay attention to what your users are saying about you through feedback review, FAQ review, and try to reduce the inconsistencies which might need too much explanation or training. Remember that people want easy-to-use, and this might change over time, which is precisely why these cycles are constantly repeating after each other to keep up with your user desires.

Generative research is done to “generate” information on users and how they operate: who they are, what they do, how they go about doing it, why,  and their attitude. This is the research that  defines the problem under consideration – usually conducted at the beginning of the product cycle  – and  provides insights in the broad end-to-end experience. In generative research you may simply watch how someone behaves in a particular scenario to learn more about their expectations, habits, and reactions. This then requires  synthesis of information, creating and understanding patterns, which  mostly contribute to detecting a problem that needs to be solved. 

Generative research is important because it helps direct collaboration with users,  who are no longer perceived as passive consumers, actively participating in the design process of a product they will use.  It is also a great starting point to develop innovative and collaborative ideas that may lead to areas of potential growth.  

Conversely, evaluative research techniques tend to help you assess a particular idea, design, or assumption. Evaluative research is what most UX researchers are doing nowadays. It is done to assess something that exists, e.g., a design or an application with the goal of finding difficulties in the existing product and try to come up with possible solutions for it.  It is important to note that evaluative data is about observation, the key here is to note the difference in what people say they do versus what they actually do, and how they actually interact. you might show someone a UI prototype and ask them to complete a particular task, then monitor how they get on. Or, you might track eye movement or clicks on a website to see how people are actually interacting with it.

Generative vs Evaluative research

Note that both types of research are really important. There is often a tendency for people to dive in with a proposed solution and then carry out some form of evaluative research (e.g. present a user with a new tool and then ask them to provide feedback on it). The problem with only conducting this type of research is that while you might get some useful feedback about your tool, you will likely miss out on some crucial information about the user’s broader context.

Each of these UX-research methods has its benefits and drawbacks, mainly depending on the context and questions they are used to answer. They are useful in achieving different goals, so choosing the right UX-research methods depends on your project’s requirements and constraints

Organizing and sharing research results

Effective research is done when comparing quantitative and qualitative findings to get the big picture, bringing personas to life, and helping the team empathize with the user. For UX research to be effective a researcher must know how to organize and share their results the questions they consider are:

  • Did the research findings prove or disprove the hypothesis? Were there any major surprises that will affect the direction of the project?
  • What patterns emerged? Make note of any usability issues, especially severe or recurring ones. Dig into any trends in your quantitative research, such as how participants perceive your brand or how likely they would be to recommend your company to a friend.
  • How will those patterns affect the company? Which stakeholders need to be aware of them? Make sure everyone involved is clear on how changes will be prioritized.
  • What questions are still unanswered? If there remain unanswered questions, a researcher will supplement their research with another method. For example, if your B version didn’t perform as well as expected in your recent A/B test, you may need to follow up with a usability test to find out why.

Sharing findings, in the right and manner with the right people, is one of the most important tasks a UX researcher has, these are the insights and information that allow for the smooth development of a product.

To summarize…

User research can (and should) be essential to conduct in all stages of the design process. Before you start designing it is important to understand what the target group needs, while you are developing you run iterative tests to ensure that the user experience is on track, and once your product is released you can measure the effectiveness of your design. You want to have a solid base of research to release a considered, analyzed, and tested product, which will ultimately have to face the big test of all: how all of this impacts ROI. By conducting research you are constantly approaching innovation and are steps ahead of your competition. Take a look at our Telesto case study and how we have applied the aforementioned UX research principles to improve their digital product!

Laura Brazay

Laura Brazay

Digital branding specialist with experience in social media strategy, and a background in Business Administration, who sees life in the full spectrum of colours. I spend my free time taking long walks exploring the city with my pup.

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