What is UX Research: The Ultimate Guide for UX Researchers

User experience research is a crucial component of the human-centered design process and an essential part of creating solutions that meet user expectations and deliver value to customers. This comprehensive guide to UX research dives into the fundamentals of research and its various methods and includes tips and best practices from leading industry experts.

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Chapter 1

What is UX research?

User experience (UX) research is the process of gathering insights about users' behaviors, needs, and pain points through observation techniques and feedback methodologies. The goal is to understand your users and gain context and perspectives to help make informed decisions, and build user-centered products.

In this chapter, we look at what UX research is to understand why it’s the backbone of building good products. In the process, we zoom in on the benefits of research and share how research drives informed design decisions.

UX research represents the insights gathered from users and customers that are leveraged to help make product decisions at any stage of the development process.

Sinéad Davis Cochrane, UX Manager at Workday

Why is UX research important?

In Just Enough Research, Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule Design Studio, explains that conducting user research is systematic inquiry and can be broken down into three areas: thinking of a question, gathering evidence, and considering what it means.

As such, UX research involves continuous questioning and evidence gathering—a process whereby findings and insights from the study of people are used to create intuitive, human-centered experiences.

The most impactful research is when it’s multidisciplinary in its approach. Researchers should lead research, but designer teams and product managers need to support and be part of the research process.

Sinéad Davis Cochrane, UX Manager at Workday

Sinéad Davis Cochrane, UX Manager at Workday and former Product Researcher at Intercom, says that UX research is more than just a "step” in the development process—research happens throughout the entire product lifecycle.

Therefore, the insights collected through research are important to make informed product, design, or marketing decisions when building new products or iterating on existing ones. Sinéad continues: “UX research represents the insights gathered from users and customers that are leveraged to help make product decisions at any stage of the development process.”

Our 2023 Continuous Research Report shows that today's modern teams leverage data and insights gathered through continuous research to create products that address real user needs and pain points and provide consistent value. Research is one of the biggest competitive advantage that product organizations can benefit from. Let's look at the most common UX research methods and those benefits in more detail.

Tip ✨

Research should happen at each stage of the design process, from early interviews and field studies to prototype testing and after-launch monitoring.

UX research methods

In Chapter 7, we go over the different options when it comes to choosing a UX research technique. To get started, let’s get an overview of the types of research methods:

Generative research

Generative research is a research method that provides a deep understanding of your target audience’s motivations, challenges, and behaviors. Broadly-speaking, the aim of generative research is to pinpoint a problem statement, identify the problem to be solved, and collect enough data to move forward. Find out more in Chapter 4.

Evaluative research

Evaluative research focuses on evaluating a product or concept in order to collect data that will improve the solution. Evaluative research is typically undertaken early on, and used in an continuous, iterative way throughout and following the design process. Find out more in Chapter 5.

Quantitative vs. qualitative UX research

Quantitative and qualitative research methods are two types of research methods often used separately, but best used in unison. Quantitative research comes from data and statistics, and results in numerical data. Its goal is to identify patterns, make predictions, and generalize findings about a target audience or topic. Qualitative research comes from comments, opinions and observations, and is used to yield an understanding of the motivations, thoughts and attitudes of target users. Find out more in Chapter 6.

The benefits of user experience research

Now that we know what research is, let’s look at the benefits of UX research. In this section, we explore five benefits of incorporating UX research throughout the product and development process.

1. Make informed decisions based on data

One of the key benefits of incorporating UX research throughout the design and product development process is that it helps you understand user behaviors and make better, more informed decisions.

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

Sian Townsend, former Director of Research at Intercom, talks about how early research at Intercom revealed that when a live chat includes images from the people at the company, users are more likely to pay attention to the pop-up message. The research done early on helped the team refine the design, leading up to the launch of a new product Acquire.

UX research includes qualitative and quantitative methods, both of which are valuable tools in the researcher’s arsenal. Here’s Bertrand from iMSA on types of data and metrics are important:

We analyze a lot of metrics to make design decisions. There are multiple factors in the decision process, and (qualitative) user feedback is just one stone of the road. Those different factors are tied to specific data like traffic analytics, chatbot feedback, user surveys, user testing, etc. to help us make decisions. The convergence of all the data, our users’ needs, and legislation govern the choices we make.

Bertrand Berlureau, Senior Product Designer at iMSA

To Bertrand, the benefit of UX research is building a great product at a lower cost. But more than that, UX research also enables you to design accessible, unbiased experiences, which is the next benefit we explore.

2. Remove bias from the user experience design process

Confirmation bias happens “when you have an interpretation, and you adopt it, and then, top-down, you force everything to fit that interpretation,” says psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

There are a lot of biases you can implement in your new product, but you have to be humble, optimistic, and open-minded.

Bertrand Berlureau, Senior Product Designer at iMSA

There are more than 100 cognitive biases identified by psychologists, many of which influence our decisions and the products we build. An effective way to remove bias from the design process is to ask effective questions.

For Sinéad, UX Manager at Workday, the questions you should consider early in the process are:

  • “What are your assumptions?”
  • “What are some of the assumptions you’ve been making about your end-users and product without any evidence?”
  • “What are the anecdotes or coincidental pieces of information that you hold, and how can you challenge them?”

Sinéad also emphasizes the importance of making your assumptions visible and transparent and not being afraid to challenge them.

Another way to remove bias from the design process is to be more empathetic towards users and their circumstances. Understanding human behavior and learning from your users is a key UX principle great UX designers embrace.

When you start a project, you need to learn everything from scratch. I start from zero every time. I'm always surprised by the collected data.

Bertrand Berlureau, Senior Product Designer at iMSA

Discover your next UX research tool

Explore the top UX research tools that modern UX teams use to make informed product decisions.

When you speak to people early and consistently to understand their mental models, you can remove biases from the process and improve your product.

3. Test and validate concepts

Similar to the Lean startup’s Validated Learning concept, UX research allows you to test and validate ideas early, without waiting for launch day to gather feedback.

Usability testing, moderated and unmoderated user interviews and carefully designed online surveys are methods that we’re using when a question needs answering.

Ellesa Sabasaje, UX Researcher at Collibra

For Bertrand, who we’ve heard from above, an idea without a test is just an idea. So, before starting the design process, his team conducts user research methods using methods like:

  • Face-to-face and remote user interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Co-creativity sessions through design sprints, quick prototyping, and hypothesis concepts
  • User testing

We explore these common user research methods in detail in a later chapter.

But when it comes to testing and validating design ideas, usability testing with users early in the process allows you to test anything from a low-fidelity mock-up to high-fidelity prototypes.

We always validate concepts before the production starts with focus groups, prototypes, and user testing. We work in a SAFe environment so that we can adjust the wireframes quickly based on the lean UX and sprint methodology.

Bertrand Berlureau, Senior Product Designer at iMSA

Building the right solution is an iterative cycle of listening, learning, and making changes and improvements by understanding user needs and collecting customer feedback.

4. Work on solutions that bring real value to customers

Another main benefit of UX research is that it allows product managers to manage risks. "That is, making sure that we're using our most precious resource—time—to work on solutions that are valuable to our users," says Luke Vella, Senior Product Manager at Maze.

One of the main risks we need to control is the 'usability risk'– whether users can figure out how to use a solution we've implemented. UX research helps us reduce this risk, allowing us to build solutions that our customers see as valuable and make sure that they know how to unlock that value.

Luke Vella, Senior Product Manager, Growth at Maze

Luke works a lot on pricing and packaging, an area that requires constant user research. On the one hand, he and his team want to understand which problems are being faced by different users to offer plans that satisfy customers with different needs. On the other hand, they need to make sure they can monetize in a sustainable way to further invest in the product.

Research helps us better understand which solutions are valuable for each different type of customer, such that we can build out a list of plans that aligns with the value that we provide to our customers.

Luke Vella, Senior Product Manager, Growth at Maze

As Luke points out, UX research is vital to deliver solutions that bring real value to customers and are intuitive to use.

5. Successfully take products to market

UX research plays a crucial role in helping product marketers understand customer needs and effectively communicate the product's value to the market.

Our goals of showcasing the value of products to our desired market rely on research. Understanding how and why customers need and use our product pushes marketing launches to the next level—you can get a steer on everything from messaging to language and approach.

Naomi Francis, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Maze

Naomi Francis, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Maze, uses different research methods to inform her decisions. These include conducting user interviews to build personas, using rapid testing to collect insights on messaging drafts, product naming, and content testing, and running surveys to gather user feedback on beta products, onboarding, and more.

“Recently, I've brought rapid testing into the product naming process and have felt overwhelmed by the ease it's brought to creating actionable next steps,” explains Naomi. “Having user opinion invested so early on has removed assumptions, validated and invalidated preferences, and is helping us move in a direction we can feel confident with."

Every company can benefit from research as it can strengthen the processes and output of every department, especially product and marketing. I think in a world where your next competitor was born yesterday, research helps you stay one step ahead and gives you a competitive edge.

Naomi Francis, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Maze

The more you understand your customers, the better you can create products that meet their expectations, tailor your strategy to their specific needs, and increase your chances for success.

In the next chapters, you’ll learn more about the different UX research methods, such as generative and evaluative research methods and the various UX research techniques like card sorting, tree testing, and diary research. But before we dive into that, let’s learn how to create a UX research strategy.

Frequently asked questions

Is UX research considered a career?

The short answer is yes. User experience (UX) research is a growing field, and the role of the UX researcher is becoming more prominent and in-demand. In a highly competitive market, more and more companies are looking for professionals who can conduct extensive user research to understand user needs and develop products that satisfy their expectations.

What is the role of a UX researcher?

The role of a UX researcher is to investigate user behavior, pain points, and expectations to help product teams make informed decisions and develop products that provide value. UX researchers use qualitative and quantitative methods to understand customer needs and motivations. They then analyze the data collected to identify trends and patterns that will inform the design and product development process.

What is the future of UX research?

With more and more companies putting user needs first, the demand for UX research will continue to grow. Figuring out how to scale user research throughout the organization will be vital to support this growth. The role of UX research will expand to empower everyone in the team to learn. Other trends that will shape the future of UX research are the use of remote research tools, the rise of AI, and the emergence of new roles like ‘research operations.' To join the future of UX research now, take a look at researching through Maze.