GuidesUser experience (UX)What does continuous UX research look like?

What does continuous UX research look like?

Last updated

16 March 2024

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Dovetail Editorial Team

User experience (UX) research has long been a foundational part of designing products. 

Understanding the user experience and seeking to improve it ensures product teams create products that resonate better with the target audience. 

In the early days, UX research was a distinct project phase. Near the beginning of the project, teams conducted research to inform the design stages.

The problem with this approach is the gap between the user feedback and the final product. In dynamic markets, user preferences shift rapidly. Designers must stay on top of those changes for the final product to appeal to users when release time comes around. 

Designers adapted to this changing landscape through continuous UX research. Instead of a distinct phase, researchers gather user insights and feedback throughout product development. 

Continuous UX research provides a more holistic and user-centric approach to the process. It allows development teams to create a project deeply attuned to users’ evolved needs, desires, and experiences.

Let’s learn more about the topic, including continuous research methods, its importance, and how to implement it. 

Understanding traditional UX research

UX research studies the needs and preferences of target users. It adds insights into the design process. Traditionally, this is a highly structured, phased-based approach. 

Traditional UX research involves stages such as planning, data collection, analysis, and reporting. After the UX research phase, designers use the discoveries to continue the product design process. The company doesn’t conduct any more UX research.

Key characteristics of traditional UX research

  • Structured methodology: The research often follows a linear approach that starts with a hypothesis and ends with final reporting.

  • One-off or periodic: Researchers typically perform traditional UX research once at the start of a project or certain phases of the project. 

  • A mix of methodologies: UX research employs qualitative methods (like interviews and focus groups) and quantitative methods (like data analytics and A/B testing).

  • Insight-based reporting: Researchers provide the research insights in a detailed report with recommendations for the design and development teams. 

Typical scenarios and methodologies used in traditional UX research

  • User interviews happen during the early phases to gather insights about users' needs, experiences, and motivations.

  • Surveys and questionnaires collect data from a larger audience than one-on-one interviews allow for and validate hypotheses.

  • Usability testing examines how easily users can navigate a product's layout and feature set, often as the product nears completion.

  • A/B testing compares two product versions to see which performs better according to the project’s goal metrics.

  • UX competitor analysis allows researchers to scrutinize competitors' designs, pinpoint the latest trends, and identify potential opportunities to remain ahead of the curve.

The emergence of continuous UX research

The emergence of continuous UX research didn't happen in a vacuum. As market dynamics began to change more rapidly, companies adopted a more Agile approach to development. 

Today’s UX research plays a part in every stage as a dynamic and ongoing process. This ensures companies can keep up with changes and tap into what users are looking for. 

Key factors driving this evolution

In addition to Agile development practices becoming the norm, a few other factors contributed to the rise of continuous UX research:

Focus on user-centric design

Companies focused on understanding users can provide relevant products, boosting their bottom lines. This provided a competitive reason to shift the focus toward user-centric design.

Technological advancements

New tools and technologies make collecting and analyzing real-time user data easier. Digital analytics, A/B testing platforms, and advanced user feedback tools helped drive the change.

Changing dynamics

Product releases are more frequent now, especially in the software industry. Users install frequent updates with new features, so they expect products to evolve more rapidly to suit their needs.

Data-driven decision-making

As companies become increasingly reliant on real-time data to make decisions, this mentality has also shifted the approach to UX research. 

The significance of continuous UX research in modern design

Alignment with Agile methodologies

The continuous UX research approach aligns perfectly with the Agile methodologies that product developers use. It facilitates a development process where adaptability and user-centricity are at the forefront.

Deeper understanding of user behaviors

Continuous UX research allows product teams to gain a deeper understanding of user behaviors at any point and how those preferences change over time. 

Traditional methods are just a snapshot in time, which can be outdated by the time a product is released.

Rapid testing and iteration

The real benefit of this approach is that it lets teams test and iterate quickly. Constantly collecting user feedback means teams can make small tweaks throughout development. 

This approach eliminates the need for major overhauls late in the development process. The result is a higher-quality product that more users enjoy.

Enhanced empathy for customers

Continuous testing improves an organization's empathy for its customers. Understanding how others think and feel is vital to creating products that resonate deeply with them. 

A one-off approach to UX research doesn't allow for the same in-depth study of customer feelings as continuous research. This more nuanced view of customer behavior can lead to better products.

Competitive advantage

Businesses need every advantage they can get in a competitive market. Staying on top of the latest trends is a great way to give users what they want as soon as possible. 

Continuous UX research is the only way to get those insights quickly enough to remain competitive.

Continuous research versus continuous discovery: Exploring the nuances

While often used interchangeably, continuous research and continuous discovery are distinct concepts within the UX field. 

Although both are integral parts of a well-rounded UX strategy, understanding the differences can help you use each to its fullest.

Continuous research

Continuous research focuses on collecting empirical data and using it to inform and validate design decisions. This usually involves gathering and analyzing user data. 

Continuous research gathers data with user interviews, surveys, usability testing, and analytics. The goal is to optimize every design element for usability. 

Continuous research asks, "Are we building the product right?”

Continuous discovery

By contrast, continuous discovery is broader in its scope. It isn't concerned with validating an existing hypothesis. Instead, it focuses on continuously generating new ideas and insights. 

During the process, teams look to find user needs, problems, and behaviors that products haven’t addressed. Continuous discovery helps businesses find new opportunities for innovation and improvement. 

It asks, "Are we building the right product?"

Project-based discovery vs. continuous discovery

Discovery can be project-based and continuous, much like UX research.

Traditional UX discovery is project-based. It focuses on conducting research at specific points in a project's lifecycle, typically at the beginning of a project or specific phases.

Continuous discovery is product-based. It goes beyond any given project and lasts for the life of the product. It forms the basis for the ongoing, iterative approach to product development. 

Discoveries during this phase may kick off new projects, which can update and improve the product.

A look at continuous UX research methods

Some methods in continuous UX research are the same as those in traditional UX research. Researchers just perform them more often. 

However, some techniques are unique. Let's look at the most popular:

  • Remote usability testing: Using screen sharing and recording tools, researchers observe users interacting with the product in real-time, in their natural environment.

  • A/B testing: Continuously running A/B tests allows researchers to refine the product constantly so that the finished product is as polished as possible.

  • Analytics, session recordings, and heatmaps: Tools like Google Analytics, Azure Application Insights, or Hotjar provide real-time, continuous data on how users interact with a product.

  • Customer feedback loops: Establishing channels for ongoing customer feedback ensures a constant flow of opinions and suggestions for refining the product.

  • Diary studies: Users record their experience while using a product over a given period. These diaries provide insights into the user's journey, usage patterns, and pain points.

Implementing continuous UX research

Now, let's look at how companies typically implement continuous UX research. 

Although the process will vary depending on your industry, product, and preferences, the information below will provide a good overview and some tips for success.

Establish clear objectives

Define what you want to achieve by conducting the research. Are you looking to improve a specific aspect of the project, better understand user behavior, or test new features? 

Clear objectives are required to guide the research and measure success. Lay out each of your objectives and sort them by priority to provide a roadmap for the project.

Integrate with the product development cycle

The whole point of continuous UX research is that it's a vital part of the product development process. Align your research activities with your development sprints or phases so the insights feed nicely into each stage of the product life cycle. 

Get other teams working on the project involved so you'll have a better idea of what direction the research should take.

Choose appropriate research methods

We've discussed several research methods in the UX field. Examine your objectives and select the methods that will provide you with the insights you need. 

This could include usability testing, A/B testing, user interviews, surveys, or analytics. You want a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods for a well-rounded study.

Set up feedback channels

Regular feedback is a critical part of continuous research. Set up mechanisms for your users to provide you with this feedback. 

It could be in-app tools, user forums, social media channels, exit-intent surveys, or anything else that works for your business. Whichever channels you choose, be sure they’re easily accessible to your users and you regularly monitor them. 

Conduct regular user research activities

Schedule and conduct regular user research activities. Align the frequency of these activities with your product development speed and the rate at which you can implement the changes. It may take some trial and error to get the timing right. 

Analyze and share insights

Analyze the data you've collected and distill it into actionable insights that the development team can use to improve the product. 

Share the results with all relevant stakeholders in the most suitable way, such as snippets of key takeaways, executive summaries, slide deck presentations, interactive workshops, or detailed reports. 

Foster a user-centric culture so stakeholders act on the insights.

Iterate based on user feedback

Implement changes based on user feedback and then seek feedback on those changes. This feedback loop is an integral part of the continuous refinement process. Try to make frequent quick iterations rather than waiting for major overhauls. 

Measure and refine

Each time you make a change, measure its impact against the objectives you outlined in the first step. Metrics like user satisfaction, engagement, and conversion rates can help you determine whether your changes are pushing the project in the right direction.

Foster a culture of continuous learning

Continuous UX research isn't just a set of activities but a way of thinking. Encourage a mindset of ongoing learning and adaptation within project teams. This will create a culture that actively looks for ways to improve the product throughout the development process.

Stay flexible and responsive

Continuous UX research is an offshoot of the Agile methodology. Just as with those methodologies, everyone working on the project must maintain a flexible and responsive approach. 

Always be prepared to pivot research focus in response to new trends, technologies, or discoveries.

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