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GuidesUser experience (UX)User research: the definitive guide for 2024

User research: the definitive guide for 2024

Last updated

28 February 2023

Author

Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Katie Reed

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Looking to make a change to your current design? Not without well-conducted user research, we hope!

User research is an essential component of design success. An effective method for gaining valuable information about the preferences and behavior of your target audience, user research allows you to act like a fly on the wall. You can listen to your customers, then improve your service or product to specifically meet their needs.

Depending on the project size, scope, and type of information you want to gain, there are many different types of user research tools that you can employ for your UX study. But where to start?

In this definitive 2023 guide, you will learn everything you need to know about user research. We will cover three of the most important things to consider when starting up your next user research project—figuring out the type of research to conduct, picking the right methods and tools to meet your goals, and planning how to best implement the valuable information you will collect.

With so much to explore, let’s get into it.

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What is user research?

User research (also known as user experience research or UX research) is the practice of learning more about the primary users of your service or product. Businesses that want to improve the design and experience of using their product or service to better serve their target audience will carry out user research. This can be achieved with the help of a user research platform.

By undergoing a thorough study of your current users, the ultimate goal of user research should be to learn more about the needs, desires, and pain points of using your product or service.

Using this valuable information, you will be able to tailor your design and future offerings to improve customer satisfaction. This process will ultimately:

  • Drive engagement

  • Increase revenue

  • Bring in more daily users

  • Improve any other KPI you’re targeting

The benefits of getting to know your users

If your team is planning on making changes to your design, making time for user research is an essential first step to ensure success. As experts in your product or service, you know it offers unique benefits to your target audience—but is your design and user experience conveying this to your current users and beyond?

By choosing to start your design-refresh process with user research, you obtain valuable information that can change how you approach this large-scale project. When done correctly, the findings from your UX research can offer your business plenty of benefits.

Let’s take a look at three of the main advantages of user research.

User research helps to design better products

Which of the following two options sounds better?

  • Building your design based on something you think your target audience needs

  • Building your design based on direct feedback so you know what your customers want

Companies that prioritize user research are more than three times as likely to achieve their highest annual financial and business goals. It takes the guesswork out of what your users appreciate and lets you focus your time and effort on design updates that will make the user experience more enjoyable.

Moral of the story: better user research = better product, service, and design.

UX research saves your business valuable time and resources

We can all relate to the feeling of spending extra time and effort on a new idea to pitch, just to have it rejected. This disappointment can be avoided with the help of well-conducted user research.

Avoid spending unnecessary time and resources on design plans and options that will ultimately get rejected by going to the source (your users) to understand their needs. With your user research results acting as your North Star, you can use your time and resources more efficiently as you redesign your current service or product model.

User research can be done on a dime

Conducting user research does not need to carry an expensive price tag. While it’s tempting to purchase specific tools or consult experts, it’s also possible to get plenty of high-value information about your current users on a small budget.

Depending on the scope of your user research project, you could save costs by opting for more community-based approaches. For example, turning to your social media followers is a great way to get feedback while keeping your costs low. Other free tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and Reddit can be used to have more meaningful conversations about your services with voluntary research participants.

Learn more about conducting effective UX research on a budget.

The different types of UX research

Now we’ve piqued your interest in the wonderful world of user research, we’ll explore the different types of research you can use to get results.

The type of UX research you choose should match your desired outcome and the scope of your project. What’s more, the type of user research will change at each stage of your project, adapting to your needs as you learn more about your target audience.

Let’s look at some of the most common UX research types and the best times to use them.

Generative or exploratory user research

Generative UX research methods can help you gain a deeper understanding of your target audience. It will help you explore your customers’ interests, habits, and motivations. When exploratory UX research is done effectively, you will uncover unmet user needs and pain points for which you can begin to find solutions.

This user research is best done before a significant design change for your existing product or service.

Descriptive or explanatory user research

Descriptive UX research is done by studying your current users to discover their wants and needs. Using these valuable insights, your team can directly integrate the findings into your design refresh.

This type of user research is most effective before changing your current product or service design.

Evaluative user research

Evaluative research is a valuable tool during the creation and implementation stage of your design process. Used to see if your project is moving in the right direction, the goal of evaluative user research is to test prototypes while confirming or denying your design assumptions.

This type of UX research offers the most value when it is done during the early planning and creation stages of your project.

Causal user research

Causal research refers to the process of identifying cause-and-effect relationships between your design and your desired outcomes. By exploring the differences between two or more variables, this research style helps determine which path to take during your design process.

This type of user research is only effective if you have a few prototype options to explore and test, similar to A/B testing in marketing research.

When to use the different user research methods to get the best results

In all areas of research, there are two primary types of information that can be collected: qualitative and quantitative data.

Each offers its own unique benefits, so it is important to consider what questions you want to be answered by your research. This will impact how you start and progress through your user research project.

Generally speaking, it is common for user research projects to start with qualitative research methods, as this can help unearth important information about users’ needs and wants. Later, during prototype testing or product trialing, quantitative user research methods may be explored to determine if the proposed design changes are effective or not.

Balancing qualitative and quantitative data in UX research: Our full guide

Qualitative user research methods

Qualitative UX research refers to studies designed to gain anecdotal evidence from current users of your product or service. Conversations, interviews, and diary studies will collect this kind of data, to gain real-life responses from participants.

Unlike quantitative research, qualitative data is heavily tied to personal experiences and bias (from both the users and researchers). Therefore, it is important to set clear boundaries for yourself and your team when collecting this type of data. Doing your best to set research parameters (such as avoiding leading questions and sourcing the right participants) that reduce the influence of bias is essential for getting the most accurate, helpful data for your design.

Quantitative UX research methods

Quantitative user research focuses more on collecting numeric data from your users. The goal of this type of research is to collect validating information about your current design assumptions and the habits of your target audience.

Interestingly, it is possible to collect quantitative data from the same research tools used to collect anecdotal, qualitative information. Using surveys, interviews, polls, A/B testing, and usage analytics, the difference between these two research methods lies in the types of questions asked—quantitative research uses questions geared toward statistical results.

For the most accurate information, use larger sample sizes to get a better understanding of the average user experience.

Learn how to calculate the right sample size for your UX research.

The best user research projects often incorporate both methods

When planning your UX research project, it’s important to know you will likely create a research plan involving both qualitative and quantitative user research methods.

As your user research projects begin, focusing on qualitative data can be incredibly valuable as a jumping-off point. What do your current users like about your service or product? What do they wish was different?

It is common for businesses to use their collected qualitative data as a guide during the early stages of design development. Later in the process, when there are design options to be tested and evaluated, quantitative user research can help to provide evidence for which option is preferred by your customers.

How to plan your user research

Keeping everything we’ve just learned in mind, it’s time to jump into the process of starting a UX research project.

Like any other large project, breaking down the process into bite-sized pieces and steps will help to make the entire experience less overwhelming.

Here are the eight steps to successfully completing your first UX research project:

Step 1: Identify your research and project goals

Take the time to determine the 'What' and 'Why' of your UX research project before you begin.

While this may seem like a tedious, unimportant first step (let’s get to the good stuff already!), organizing your thoughts and expectations for your UX research project will help to keep you on track throughout the project.

Questions to consider before you begin:

  • What are you looking to accomplish with your user research project?

  • What information do you want to learn about your current users?

  • What design updates are you planning?

  • Who is your target audience?

  • Why is now an important time to learn more about your users?

  • How will the research findings be used?

Step 2: Choose your research method

Next, decide what type of information you want to collect from your research project.

Qualitative user research

This includes customers’ anecdotal and personal accounts of their experience with your service or product or about the users themselves (their needs and motivations). This type of UX research requires fewer participants than quantitative research but can be more difficult to conduct without bias.

Qualitative user research is most often done during the early stages of a design process to learn more about the needs of your current audience.

Generative and descriptive UX research methods can be used to achieve this goal.

Quantitative user research

Numerical or statistical data can be used to evaluate the value of a particular design update. This type of UX research can be easier to plan but requires more participants to achieve more accurate results.

Quantitative user research is commonly conducted once the design process has begun, as your team evaluates prototype options for your service or product.

Evaluative and causal user research methods are effective tools for gathering this type of participant data.

Step 3: Create a user research plan

Once you’ve decided what method of UX research you’ll be using to collect your data, you need to come up with the plan (aka, the tools you will be using to gather information from your participants).

Depending on your specific needs, some examples of commonly used UX research methods are:

  • Participant observation: Watching your customers interact with your service or product to learn more about their overall experience

  • Individual or group interviews: Asking volunteers questions to learn more about their preferences and pain points with your product

  • Surveys and questionnaires: Collecting qualitative or quantitative data from users by sending out a set list of questions

  • Diary studies: Asking users to self-document their experience with your product or service over time, giving you insight into their habits and behaviors

  • Card sorting: Watching participants organize cards into groups based on overarching categories that they self-determine

How to create an effective UX research plan (2024)

Step 4: Recruit participants from your target audience

With your detailed user research plan in place, start recruiting participants. Some of the different ways to recruit participants for your UX research study include:

  • Reaching out on social media

  • Using digital communities on Reddit, Facebook, Slack, or Discord

  • Creating paid advertisements looking for volunteers

  • Hiring a UX research company to provide study participants

Step 5: Conduct research

Now that everything is in place, it’s time to run your study. We recommend allotting at least a few weeks for this stage of the UX research process—you don’t want to rush the collection of your data.

Step 6: Analyze your results

You now have access to high-quality data about the needs, wants, and/or behaviors of your current audience. Your business can start to look for the following:

  • Patterns of use

  • User preferences

  • Commonly reported pain points

  • Participant recommendations

Through this analysis, it will become clear what direction you need to take to create a more user-friendly design for your service or product.

Step 7: Share your findings

An important (and often overlooked) step in the UX research process is sharing your findings with your key stakeholders. This will help your team and stakeholders to:

  • Make better changes to your product/services based on direct customer feedback

  • Promote the credibility and value of your research

  • Spread the word about the importance of UX research within the company structure (leading to more research requests and better quality offerings!)

Discover why you might need to build a UX research repository to ensure teams can find the right insights and avoid doubling up on research.

Step 8: Adapt your product or service to serve your target audience better

The time has arrived to move forward with the new design, product feature, or insight!

Using your UX research results as your guiding star for your design update, you are in the best position to avoid wasting time and resources on ideas that will not work.

Putting it all together—your next steps for user research success

User research is an incredibly valuable tool, no matter the size of your business. And you don’t need to work for a large multinational company with a massive research budget to get the results you want.

As a way to gain invaluable information on the preferences and pain points of your current or future users, user research is essential. Choosing to take the time to plan, conduct, and analyze UX research is essential for successful design implementation—and it can also improve your relationship with and understanding of your target audience.

Using the findings and data that you collect from your UX research project, you can feel confident that your next design update will be tailored specifically to your customer’s needs and wants—and that’s something both your team and your users will appreciate.

FAQs

Can anyone research their users?

Yes, anyone can do UX research—designers, product managers, engineers, and others. User research is an incredibly valuable resource for any size of business. Having a better understanding of your current users is the key to improving your design to best serve their needs.

When done correctly, UX research can save you time and money by reducing the hours spent on design ideas that do not adequately serve your target audience.

How many people do I need for user research?

Aim for at least 15 participants in your quantitative user research study; even better if you can survey more than 30 people. The more people you have providing their insight, the more statistical significance your project has. This fact can be used as a helpful rebuttal when asked about the credibility and importance of your research.

If your team is looking to collect qualitative user data, interviewing smaller numbers of people (like 5–10) can be sufficient to gather the information you need.

Generally speaking, it is more common to need a larger sample size of participants for quantitative research compared to qualitative studies. Interestingly, research shows that interviewing as few as five high-quality participants for a qualitative study is enough to get the information you need, without data saturation or diminished return on investment.

How long does the average UX research project take?

The average UX research project takes three to six weeks to complete. The actual time you spend conducting your research can be shorter or longer than this, depending on the scope of your study and stakeholders’ timelines (which should be discussed and agreed at the start of the project).

As a rule of thumb, we recommend at least four weeks for your team to collect UX data. This can be the period that a survey is open, interviews are being held, or customer habits and behaviors are being observed.

Do your best not to rush the whole user research process. Taking your time with quality UX research design and implementation will save you resources, time, and money down the road.

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