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UX Research 101: A Practical Guide to What it is & Why It Matters
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UX Research 101: A Complete Guide to User-Centered Design

Gene Kamenez
Colin Pace
Alesya Denga
Crafted by industry experts
Updated on Jan 10, 2024

Ready to uncover valuable user insights? Our UX research guide equips you with the tools &  knowledge needed to create user-centered designs.

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Chapter 1

UX Research 101: A Practical Guide to What it is & Why It Matters

User experience (UX) research is basically when you study what the end user of a program or application needs and wants. You can use the insights you get from UX research to tailor your product or software designs. This helps your customers have a better experience.

UX research is focused on gathering insights about user behavior and their pain points. It basically uses comprehensive observation, usability testing, and user interviews and feedback.

A positive experience is paramount to businesses regardless of their niche. Where customers tend to laud products, services, or applications they had fun with, they also tend to share their bad experiences. In fact, recent studies have shown that every single dollar invested in UX research leads to a return of $100.

But that’s not all. Not ensuring the desired user experience can lead to a loss of customers. A recent UX study conducted by Amazon Web Service (AWS) has shown that 35% of customers leave businesses due to a poor user experience. In this article, we’ll focus on understanding what UX research is all about. Then, we’ll delve deep into:

  • The importance of UX research
  • Methods to conduct UX research
  • UX research best practice and challenges

So, buckle up and let’s get started.


What Is UX Research?

User experience research, commonly known as UX research, is a process that focuses on using both qualitative and quantitative methods to gain insights into user behaviors. The aim of conducting UX research is to understand how a user interacts with a product or application.

UX researchers help organizations close the gap between expectations and reality. They’re an integral part of the product design research and development process. When conducting UX research, it’s important to have an open mind. You should never approach the research process just to prove themselves right.

“Never go into user research to prove a point, and never create goals that seek to justify a position or reinforce a perspective.”
Mike Kuniavsky, Technology R&D Senior Principal at Accenture Labs

Why Is UX Research Important?

In a perfect world, customers can easily use your product, love what you make, and buy from you all the time. However, the reality is far from perfect, and UX research is the missing piece. It is essential because it can help make informed and data-driven decisions regarding product design and development.

UX research allows you to take the preferences of your target audience and turn them into product features and design aesthetics. User experience research, in today's digitized world, is becoming more of a necessity than a choice.

Your customer only interacts with your website or mobile apps for a few minutes, if not seconds. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure they’re happy with the experience. This can help you retain visitor, turn them to customers, and make money.

What Does a UX Researcher Do?

In a perfect world, customers can easily use your product, love what you make, and buy A UX researcher is a professional tasked with studying human behavior and human-computer interaction. The average UX researcher salary in the United States (US) is around $86,000 per year.

This professional makes use of both quantitative and qualitative research and collects valuable insights based on user interaction and UX testing sessions. These insights are then used to aid the product development process. Working as a UX researcher, you have to:
So you see, the role of a UX researcher is vital to the design and development of successful products and applications. UX researchers provide vital insights about user behavior and perception and therefore require a monetary investment.

  • Work with different team members and stakeholders to determine the research objectives.
  • Understand behavioral science to determine how target users interact with your products.
  • Conduct research using focus groups and other methods like user interviews to collect user feedback.
  • Create a well-crafted research plan, budget, and timeline.
  • Derive insight from usability testing.
  • Determine the needs and preferences of your target audience.
  • Share your findings with design and development teams and other project stakeholders.

So you see, the role of a UX researcher is vital to the design and development of successful products and applications. UX researchers provide vital insights about user behavior and perception and therefore require a monetary investment.

Reasons to Invest in UX Research

“UX research helps reduce and mitigate the risk of building the wrong thing—or building the right thing in the wrong way.”
Sinéad Davis Cochrane, UX Manager at Workday

Technological advancements almost always lead to a change in that customers preferences. Their demands change at a lightning pace! Being oblivious to such changes can lead to businesses missing out on critical factors. Such a scenario will then result in products and applications that don’t align with user requirements. However, this alone is not the only reason to invest in UX research. Some of the many critical reasons to invest in UX Research include:

1. Helps make data-driven decisions

Recent studies have shown that 74% of people believe conducting research helps them make more informed decisions. In addition, 60% of people also believe that conducting UX research empowers them to generate new product ideas.

Pinpointing the exact design and functionality elements to include in a product or application can be quite challenging. However, having insights pertaining to what your target users want and what they don’t can help make effective decisions.

2. Reduces design bias

User experience researchers and the findings they bring forth can help avoid design bias. Design bias is when a UX design is largely influenced by the preferences of the designer as opposed to based on a solid foundation of audience likes and dislikes.

When UX researchers create a biased design, product failure is inevitable. However, the user-centered design ensures success as it help tailor the product or application as preferred by the users. This tailored design then results in a pleasant and intuitive experience and makes the product a success.

3. Helps test and validate concepts

When you conduct UX research, you observe users in the testing phases and read about opinions in online UX communities. This user-centered design process to the overall research strategy pertaining to design and development. It’s what can help you tell the difference between right and wrong.

Researching user experience using various methods like usability testing and user interviews can help gather data. This data can help you figure out what the potential customer likes and what they don’t. These insights are crucial to the product development process. You’ll be surprised when you see the what improvement they can bring.

4. Creates solutions that bring value

The hard truth about solutions is that they are not effective if they don’t add any value. User experience research methods and feedback methodologies can help designers determine how their target user wants applications like digital tools to function.

These insights then lead to the development of products and applications that are aligned with the visual and functional expectations of customers. This alignment ensures that the end users are able to solve their challenges. This, in turn, is what makes what we have to offer valuable and different from competitors.

Goals and Objectives of UX Research

Overall, UX research is all about understanding how users interact with products and applications and using that knowledge to make better solutions. This, from a bird's eye perspective, might seem pretty simple, however, there’s more to it than what meets the eye. To set effective and achievable UX research goals, one must first understand how these goals and objectives should be defined.

Defining UX Research Goals

When defining these goals, the research must acknowledge the fact that the aim here is to be on the customer’s side. “What does that mean?” you ask? Well the researcher must learn about the user's perspectives, their motivations, and what they intend to achieve using the solution they plan to offer.

Identifying Research Objective

Research goals focus on broad aspects like attitude and perception. However, research objectives focus on minute aspects. Some of the aspects include usability, functionalities, and practicality. Let’s look at what these are in more detail.

  • Usability - this is the ability that a user is adequately able to use for your product or application. To determine the extent of usability, one should focus on asking:

    • Is the solution easy to use?
    • Is it easy to navigate?
    • Can it be used intuitively?
    • Does it require a learning curve?
    • What is the extent of the required learning curve?
  • Functionality - these elements focus on the extent to which your solution can support the user achieve their specific needs and address challenges. To cater to functionality, you should think about:

    • Can the solution solve the user’s pain point?
    • Can it address all the challenges the user faces?
    • Are there any hurdles that may limit the usage?
  • Practicality - this element basically focuses on the user's ability to use the solution after the influence of factors that are beyond their control. To ensure practicality, think about the following.

    • Is the solution realistic?
    • Does it naturally fit into the user’s life?
    • Can the user easily adopt this solution?
    • What would they need to change to adopt this solution?

How UX Research Drives Design Decisions?

As mentioned, UX design decisions must be based on user likes and dislikes. UX research is what helps designers and developers cater to this requirement. UX research starts by defining a problem with currently available solutions. Then the process shifts, gathering data about the problem, why it exists, and what needs to be done to solve it.

These insights then served as the backbone for ideas about different solutions. They help you figure out all the design, usability, functionality, and practicality elements that you use in your products or applications.

Designers and developers then decide on an idea based on these insights and create the desired solutions. But that’s not where it ends. The focus of the UX research process then shifts to collecting feedback, learning and reflecting, and providing insight that is then used to make the solution perfect.

Top User Research Methods to Nail Your Strategy

By now, you’ve probably understood that UX research is by no means something quick and easy. It requires time to understand what the customers actually want. It’s the to the answers the million-dollar question. For now, we’ll briefly go over some of the most common UX research methods, but no need to worry as we’ll cover all of them in depth during a later chapter. So, with that in mind, let’s get started.

Moderated and Unmoderated Research

To keep it simple, moderated research is any research that is conducted in the presence of a facilitator. The facilitator may observe users, take notes, ask questions, or provide instruction if necessary. Some common examples of moderated research include:

  • User interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Facilitated usability testing

Unmoderated research, on the other hand, lacks the presence of a facilitator. This ensures that users are taking actions based on their own knowledge and abilities. Some of the most common unmoderated include:

  • Unfacilitated usability testing
  • Live testing
  • Surveys

In-person and Remote Research

In-person research is required when the product or solution you plan on selling requires physical testing, safety considerations, or supervision. This method typically comes with time and incurs costs. Common examples of in-person research methods include:

  • User interviews
  • Gorilla research
  • Field studies

Remote research is a highly flexible and preferred method that’s often used when someone’s shot on money, time, or both. This method focuses on the use of UX research tools and emphasizes recording user behavior and feedback. Common examples include:

  • Card sorting.
  • Concept testing.
  • Eye tracking.
“If you’re not talking to the right people, it’s really hard to make the right decisions.”
JH Forster, Senior Vice President of Product at User Interviews

Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Quantitative research is a method that focuses on using data and statistics. This research method identifies patterns, forecasts outcomes, and generalizes the findings about target users. Common examples include:

  • A/B testing
  • Heatmaps
  • Surveys

Qualitative research, on the other hand, focuses on understanding the reasoning behind the data. Justifications for these reasons come from opinions, answers, and feedback. These justifications can help understand user motivation and goals. Common examples include:

  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Open-question surveys

Behavioral and Attitudinal Research

The behavioral research methods focus on user testing observations. These observations then lead to valuable insight, which can be incorporated into the design thinking process. Common examples include:

  • Observation
  • Dairy research
  • Tree testing

Attitudinal research, on the other hand, is about understanding what the target users feel and why they feel it. Attitudinal and behavioral research hand-in-hand can help UX research truly determine what the user needs. Common examples of this method include:

  • Focus groups
  • Surveys
  • User interviews

Best Practices for Successful UX Research

UX research coupled with UX design skills can help you create a user experience that is second to none. This is what ensures that your customers are able to use your products, tools, or applications to solve their problems. However, when your doing your UX research, there are a few best practices that you need to keep in mind. These best practices include:

Recruiting and Selecting Participants

The results of your UX research are solely based on the participants you choose. So, it’s important to make sure that these participants are relevant to what you're producing. Your participants need to be an accurate representation of your entire target market. Therefore they should be a mix of individuals with different backgrounds, incomes, characteristics, and preferences.

Creating Effective Research Materials

When creating research materials, it is important to understand that they should be simple, in-depth, and effective. You must ensure that your research question can be easily understood by your participants. Your observation methods should not put the participants in uneasy situations. This will allow you to gather natural and authentic responses you can use in the design and development process.

Facilitating Research Sessions

Despite all the efforts you make to ensure ease of understanding, some participants or research methods may still require facilitation. As a researcher, you need to provide the needed guidance. This can help ensure that the participants stay on track and that their responses or opinions are limited to the context of your research.

Documenting and Sharing Research Findings

Lastly, you need to document all the findings of your research. Documenting your findings will help you keep manage and harness all the insights you’ve gathered effectively. In some cases, the responses may prove to be ineffective. Having those findings and methods documented will help analyze them and determine what went wrong.

Common Challenges in UX Research & How to Overcome Them

It’s needless to say that UX researchers some pretty serious challenges while initiating and implementing their research methods. where some of those challenges may be due to internal reasons like bias, and others occur due to external factors like monetary constraints. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand how these challenges should be addressed.

Overcoming Bias and Assumptions

Most researchers select methods and examine findings through a lens of prejudice. This can lead to inaccurate insights that are not effective for the product or application designs. To overcome this, you need to understand that the purpose of UX research is not to justify but to understand beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, and preferences.

Dealing with Limited Resources and Time Constraints

Time and resource constraints are caused by external factors like deadlines and monetary limitations. Such constraints can limit a researcher’s ability to use the right methods and collect data they can actually use. To overcome this, UX researchers must present the prior and potential benefits of their initiatives to all stakeholders directly or indirectly affected by the process.

Addressing Unexpected Research Findings

Oftentimes your research may not lead to the finds as you expected. To cater to this problem, it's important to reexamine your research methods and see if you missed out on something. In addition, you should also focus on understanding the logical reasoning as to why your research has led to such findings.

Key Takeaways

UX research is essential to the design process. It provides valuable insights into customers' preferences. These insights can then be used to tailor products or applications. UX research is often affected by various challenges like prejudice or lack of time or money.

To overcome them, you must understand the research aims to ensure customer advocacy and that all stakeholders should be made aware of the research's benefits. Signup for UX courses with Uxcel to turn your research and design dreams into a reality today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What skills does a UX researcher need?
What is UX research, and what is it not?
What is the basis of UX research?
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