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Understanding the UX Research Process

UX Research Process

More is needed to create a product, provide a service, and sell it as advertised today. Businesses must consider the customer’s entire experience, starting with an online click — or 25+ more clicks.

There are so many choices, and it’s easy for people to waste a ton of time going down the rabbit hole of every website and end up unable to make a purchase or commitment because it doesn’t work. Let alone not being able to get support once you try to commit. The online experience, more often than not, is the first and primary experience a customer has in any commercial engagement.

This is where user experience (UX) research comes in.

Businesses must identify what their customers want, and the best way to find out is to have a dedicated professional conducting user experience research.

And that’s why we’re here. This article discusses the UX research process, including why it’s needed, the steps researchers take, why it’s essential, and how to avoid pitfalls. In addition to covering UX research methods, we’ll share how you can gain knowledge and skills through an online UX certificate program.

What Is UX Research?

UX (user experience) research is the study of what targeted end users need and want from their applications, services, and products, then using those insights to improve the design processes. UX researchers use different methods to discover issues, problems, and design opportunities. UX researchers uncover valuable information that can significantly improve the design process by performing this research.

UX research differs from usability testing, however. Usability testing starts with the assumption that the user is doing something wrong, while UX research assumes the issues lie with the product. So, while usability testing tells you how to fix a problem, UX research tells you why there’s a problem in the first place.

And speaking of different but similar concepts, let’s touch on UI.

How Is UX Different from UI?

UI is short for “user interface” and covers how customers interact with websites, apps, and digital devices. User interfaces include all the elements the customer interacts with, such as buttons, icons, menus, navigation controls., and images. You can justifiably call UI a sub-category of UX since part of the user experience involves how easily the customer interacts with the product.

So, UI is part of UX, but UX is not a part of UI. So ends the philosophy lesson.

Why Do You Need a Research Process in UX Design and Development Anyway?

Although there are a lot of potential customers out there, there are also many competing businesses. And during more challenging economic times, people are more careful about how they spend their money and how often they do so. Thus, every business wants to attract new customers and keep them.

A solid UX design gives your customers the best experience, which builds customer loyalty and satisfaction and increases the company’s reputation. UX focuses on the potential customer’s needs, emotions, and behavior, which helps the company tailor their products to achieve optimum success.

In today’s competitive business environment, companies need all the advantages they can get; UX research is one such advantage.

The Benefits of UX Research

UX research offers plenty of advantages for today’s businesses, such as:

  • It’s cost-effective. UX research is relatively inexpensive since it relies on shorter testing periods and recruiting participants for guerilla tests, which costs less than paying for participants recruited for traditional consumer market studies.
  • It’s time efficient. User testing involves a fraction of the time typically needed for market or usability studies. Therefore, you can conduct more frequent studies, easily tracking minor shifts in user behaviors. When a company has this information, it can respond quicker to market changes and stay ahead.
  • It precludes the need for specialists. UX research doesn’t need skilled specialists. So, businesses can save time and money that would otherwise be needed to train specialized testing teams and instead divert those resources into improving the product or service, offering long-run benefits like increased revenue and customer satisfaction.
  • It boosts conversion rates. The company can quickly produce a higher-quality offering since UX research allows the organization to track user behavior and associated changes. These higher-quality products effectively address the customers’ roadblocks (hesitation/reservations about committing to buy), which results in a better conversion rate.

Now, let’s explore the steps of the UX research process.

The Steps of the UX Research Process

There is no “official” way to break down the UX research process, but the following steps appear regularly in different searches. Of course, every organization does things differently, so there may be some variation.

  • Establish your research goals. Decide what results you’re trying for, the questions you need answered, and your research objectives. This first step is crucial because it will set the tone for the whole project and heavily influence your research methods.
  • Select your research methods. What kinds of tests will you conduct, and how will you achieve your objectives? Which usability metrics will you employ to inform your research? We will be dealing with specific UX research processes and methods later.
  • Choose a testing tool. Many research platforms are available to help you run multiple research methods and summarize the results in a report.
  • Generate a testing script. Here, you list all the questions, tasks, and scenarios you want your participants to complete.
  • Recruit your participants. Search for research participants that conform to your user personas and target audiences.
  • Perform the research. Start interacting with your participants.
  • Analyze your results. Keep an eye out for unexpectedly high or low metrics and trends. Once finished, synthesize your data and create a report or download the UX research results into an automated summary.
  • Share your findings. Share your reports and the next steps with the appropriate management and all relevant stakeholders, then decide if you need further research. Remember to keep your design and research teams in the loop.
  • Put your findings into action. Use the insights the research has created to design and improve your goods and services. Inform all relevant parties of any updated results.

Now that we know what typical UX research looks like, let’s check out different UX research methods.

All About UX Research Methods

Here are eight popular UX research methods. Many UX research projects use multiple methods, depending on your UX research goals (see the above section). Also, remember that each research method has different time and resource demands.

Card Sorting

This method involves people grouping items using a set of cards. Participants receive the cards, which typically contain descriptions of different features, and are asked to sort them into logical groups according to a group of categories provided by the researcher (e.g., “a must-have feature,” “it would be nice but not mandatory,” “don’t want”).

Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiry involves gathering data to understand the context in which people use the product or service. This method involves observing people as they conduct their everyday business, then you stop and ask questions at given times about their challenges, goals, and motivations.

Diary Studies

Users keep daily records of their opinions, thoughts, and actions relating to the product or service. These records can be collected over days or weeks and provide a holistic, second-by-second record of how users interact with the product or service.

Focus Groups

The public knows this method well. Groups are brought together to test new services or products and discuss them, getting their reactions, motivations, opinions, and tastes. Focus groups are also good at determining what’s wrong with the research subject.

Heuristic Evaluation

This method is a systematic, efficient, and user-centered process that evaluates the product’s usability, considering the users’ experience with the service or product. Heuristics are vital guidelines for decision-making, where you apply well-known conventions, design patterns, and customer feedback to locate problems or areas for improvement.

Remote Unmoderated Testing

This method of UX research does not feature real-time interaction with the researcher. Instead, the participant gives feedback via clicks on mockups. Whenever users see a mockup relating to their task, they click on it and give feedback.

Tree Testing

Tree testing is a method that involves the user completing tasks from a software application or website and following the appropriate link “tree” to reach the task. Users get a series of tasks and are asked to complete them and not skip ahead. Once the user finishes, they rate each task’s difficulty with a scale of 1 to 5. This method measures frustration levels, task completion, and how much effort people are willing to invest in accomplishing these tasks.

User Interviews

This simple, straightforward method involves online surveys to gather vital information on the user’s attitudes, behavior, intentions, preferences, and opinions. It’s a face-to-face discussion with one or more users representing the target audience and discovering their challenges, goals, motivations, and feelings regarding the service or product.

How Should You Approach UX the Research Process?

There are two primary approaches to conducting UX research.

Qualitative User Research

The qualitative methods are an insight-driven, naturalistic approach that lets UX researchers and designers understand the users’ experience by observing them interacting with the products in real-life situations. Data is then collected via the process of “thinking aloud,” where users are prompted to describe their thoughts when they perform specific tasks, thus letting researchers gain insights into their decision-making process. These results can be synthesized into themes that serve as the basis of subsequent design solutions. This approach is typically used for planning and validating new services or products.

Quantitative User Research

The quantitative method is a statistical, scientific approach to research where data is collected and analyzed to figure out an issue or problem. The method tries to be objective by minimizing users’ personal bias towards a suggested solution and demanding measurable evidence that others can reproduce. It’s chiefly used in testing new products or services.

Mistakes to Avoid in the UX Research Cycle

UX research methods have their share of pitfalls. Here are the most common mistakes to watch for and avoid.

  • Not conducting research before your launch. This is the biggest and most straightforward mistake you can make. Without research, you make decisions based on biased assumptions rather than the user’s experience, which could make your products fail.
  • Limiting your sample pool or approaches. Suppose time or resources are at a premium. In that case, researchers can be tempted to reduce the size of the test participant pool or conduct either quantitative or qualitative research instead of a combination of both. This pitfall yields biased results or misinterpreted insights.
  • Working in silos. In other words, working in a vacuum. If you don’t regularly share research insights with the other teams, you could jeopardize the effort and hard work done to get the buy-in.
  • Going too far to please stakeholders. Stakeholder involvement is important, but that doesn’t mean acting on their every whim and making them happy at all costs. You must align your goals with the organization’s business strategy and clearly communicate those goals early in this process. Doing this will give you something to refer to if an unexpected stakeholder request threatens to derail your research goals.

Do You Want to Learn More About UI/UX?

As you can see, today’s businesses need to conduct the proper research, which means having trained people to conduct UX research. If this is a career you’d like to know more about, consider this essential UI/UX bootcamp. This 20-week, intensive online experience offers live online classes, capstone projects, and training in top design tools such as Balsamiq, Figma, Invision, Mura, and Sketch.

According to, UX researchers in the United States earn an average of $124,034 annually. If you want a career change or are in the UI/UX field and want to upskill, check it out if you want to fortify your UI/UX skills.

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