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GuidesUser experience (UX)Guide to generative UX research

Guide to generative UX research

Last updated

13 April 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

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Generative UX research is a valuable tool for designers and businesses looking to create products that meet their user's needs. This type of research involves collecting qualitative data through different methods to gain deeper insight into the user's needs, desires, and behaviors.

Unlike other UX research methods that focus on evaluating existing products or experiences, generative research aims to uncover user motivations and needs, which designers can use to inform the design process.

Generative research can also uncover new areas for innovation and opportunities, which can help companies to stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

What is generative research?

Generative research is a qualitative methodology that explores user needs, conducts, and stimulations to generate insights and ideas, informing the product's design or services.

The research involves techniques such as:

  • In-depth interviews

  • Focus groups

  • Ethnographic research

These methods gather rich, detailed data about user experiences and mannerisms. Then, the designer analyzes this data to identify patterns, themes, and insights to instruct the design process.

Why is generative research important?

You can use generative research in different contexts, from developing new digital products and services to designing physical spaces and environments. Here are some other reasons why generative research is vital:

  • Differentiates from competitors. Generative research can help companies stand out by creating products and services with superior user experience, attracting and retaining more customers.

  • Reduces risk and improves ROI. Generative research can help designers understand user needs and behaviors to create products and services more likely to succeed in the marketplace, improving return on investment.

  • Creates user-centered designs. Generative research helps designers make user-centered designs by creating products and services that are more effective, engaging, and easy to use.

  • Saves time and money. By conducting generative research early in the design process, designers can identify potential issues and opportunities before investing significant time and resources in developing a product or service.

By gaining deeper insights into user needs and attitudes, designers can create products and services that match their target audience's needs, helping them be distinct in a crowded marketplace.

8 steps for creating a generative research plan

Creating a successful generative research plan requires careful planning and execution. Here are the steps for creating a generative research plan:

1. Define the research questions

Defining the research question helps to establish a clear purpose for the research. In turn, it enables the designers to ensure the generated data is relevant to the current problem.

For example, when designing a new mobile app, the question "What are the key needs and pain points of users when using mobile apps for task management?" is a good starting point. This research question is specific, focused, and relevant to the design problem.

A clear research question helps to ensure the research is relevant and actionable, leading to better design outcomes and increased user satisfaction.

2. Identify your target audience

The target audience should represent the user group for which the design is intended, as their insights and feedback will be critical in creating a successful product.

For instance, you might aim a mobile app for busy professionals at people aged 25–45. This group is likely to have similar needs, behaviors, and preferences when managing tasks and staying organized on the go. They may also differ in other ways where your insights show how different sectors or your users can break off into different persona groups—i.e., entry-level 25-year-olds request additional support, while 40-year-olds request more complex task management features.

Having your target audience in mind, researchers can tailor the research methods and questions to suit their needs. They may settle for surveys or interviews with the working professionals to gather insights into their task management habits and preferences.

3. Choose appropriate research methods

Various research methods are available, and the most effective ones will depend on the research question, the target audience, and the resources available. Some of the common generative research methods include:

  • In-depth interviews. Researchers engage in one-on-one conversations with participants to gather detailed insights into their thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to the design problem.

  • Focus groups. Researchers can gather diverse perspectives from multiple participants in a short period facilitated in a group setting. 

  • Ethnographic research. Researchers can observe participants in their natural environment to understand their behaviors and experiences related to the design challenge.

When choosing research methods, consider the pros and cons of each and how well they align with your research. For example, in-depth interviews may be appropriate when researching a niche topic, while focus groups may be more appropriate for gathering diverse perspectives from a broader audience.

4. Develop research guides

These guides serve as a roadmap for the research sessions, ensuring the research stays on track and addresses the research question. A well-crafted guide helps to ensure the data collected is relevant, detailed, and helpful. It also ensures each session is consistent, making analysis possible.

The guides should include a list of questions or topics to be covered during the sessions. These questions should be open-ended and designed to elicit detailed responses from participants. 

Additionally, include prompts that encourage participants to provide detailed and valuable information. These prompts can have follow-up questions or requests for specific examples to help participants elaborate on their responses.

5. Recruit participants

Before recruiting participants, define the criteria you’re looking for. It might include demographic information such as age, gender, location, or specific characteristics such as experience with a particular technology or product. In B2B situations, you may require more specific demographics, such as working within a particular field or a specific role within that field.

Recruit participants who are willing and able to participate in the research sessions. Ensure participants understand the time commitment involved and can attend the sessions. Additionally, ensure participants are comfortable with the research methods—whether in-person interviews or online focus groups. Incentives such as compensation and gift cards are often required to keep participants coming, especially with more in-depth generative research methods.

6. Conduct research sessions

Choose a quiet and comfortable location where the participants will feel at ease. Ensure the environment is conducive to open and honest communication.

Use the interview or focus group guide you developed to guide the conversation. Be sure to ask open-ended questions, encouraging participants to share their thoughts and experiences in depth.

You can record the session using a camera, microphone, or note-taking software to review it later. The recording will help you capture crucial insights or ideas you may have missed during the session.

7. Analyze the data

If you recorded the sessions, transcribe the data to analyze it better. Look for patterns and emerging themes, including commonalities and differences between participants, and consider how these may inform your design decisions.

Once you have analyzed the data, synthesize your findings and identify critical insights to educate your design decisions.

8. Create a research report

Create a research report that summarizes your insights and provides recommendations. The message should be clear and concise for stakeholders to quickly grasp the key findings and use them to drive decisions.

Provide specific recommendations for the design process based on your insights and themes. These recommendations should be actionable and should tie back to the research findings. Consider including visual aids, such as diagrams or mockups, to help stakeholders understand how to apply the research in practice.

A well-executed generative research plan can be a powerful tool for creating user-centered designs that meet your target audience's needs and expectations. By carefully planning and executing your research, you can ensure the data supports your design decisions.

Examples of when you can use a generative research method

Generative research methods are helpful when there is a need to understand user needs and preferences. Researchers can use these methods when:

This information can create designs meeting user expectations, ensuring a successful launch of a product or service.


What is formative vs. generative research?

Formative research gathers user feedback to improve a product, while generative research generates new ideas.

What is generative vs. evaluative research?

Generative research generates new ideas using qualitative methods like ethnographic research and ideation sessions. Evaluative research evaluates existing products through quantitative methods like surveys and usability testing.

What is the opposite of generative research?

The opposite of generative research is evaluative research—research focused on confirming or verifying a hypothesis or theory.

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