How to gather user insights the right way?

UX research example: screen prototypes on paper

The internet says that anyone can do research. Well… Anyone can ask questions. Anyone can conduct a usability test. Sure, anyone can do it. With the right methods and the necessary skills.

Let’s get a basic overview of what can and needs to be done. It will also break down some basic concepts related to UX research, and how user experience researchers work.

Browse through this page to understand better:

  • What constitutes UX research

  • What UX researchers do on a daily basis

  • The different user research methods available

  • UX research methods in each phase of product development (discovery, validation, prototype, follow-up)

  • Low-budget UX research solutions for startups

  • Who can do UX research and what skills they need

  • The importance of user research

What is UX research?

Most simply put: UX research gets feedback from target audience/users about a product.

That says target audience, not users. Why? Often, UX research focuses on not those who already use a product (users) but those who might use it (the target audience).

This process reveals more and more about a target audience’s pain points, needs, motivation, fears and how they use or relate to a product.

UX research example: drawing paper wireframes

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What are UX research methods?

Design requires measurement and testing. Design outlines the things users will understand about your product. It determines what they’ll see and in which direction they’ll proceed. Research comprises an inherent part of UX design.

What does a user experience researcher do?

On our UX teams, each UX designer works with a researcher who works solely on generating, preparing and testing ideas. Designer-researcher duos also do great because they provide a double set of eyes on every detail of a massive design project, which gives the team more credibility and reliability.

Thousands of methods and tricks help user experience researchers do this: user tests, fieldwork, A/B tests, interviews, remote tests, guerrilla tests, five-second tests, ghetto tests, grandma tests, etc. Then come the analytics and statistics. Without applying these, you are just whistling in the dark.

UX researcher

A Step-By-Step Guide To User Research

Product management executives often come to us asking how to implement the user test method into their daily work.

Here's the typical timeline of the research cycle we use at our UX research agency:

  • Make a plan: Form the research questions. Articulate the kind of results desired.

  • Recruit participants: Find the right people to test with (someone from the target audience or users). Invite them and set appointments. They will just answer questions about your products.

  • Conduct research: Time to use the chosen research method, conduct (and record!) the user test with the participants.

  • Synthesize: Analyze and summarize the results.

  • Act: Use them! Share them with the team. If needed, modify the test script, prototype, or research plan and start again!


How and when to do UX research

First determine your position, and then decide what kind of research to use.

We differentiate among four different phases in a product lifecycle:

  • Discovery

  • Validation

  • Prototyping

  • Follow-up

User research can and needs to be done in each of these phases. The exact method, frequency and research design, however, highly depends on which phase the product is currently in.

Research methods in the four phases of the product lifecycle

Product user research makes it possible to design for real people. Without research, we remain trapped into our own bubble. And businesses should always avoid that trap — especially if yours isn't an abandoned niche market. And let's face it: most markets aren't.
Therefore, research makes up part of any design project, even if some would like to forget about it.

Research takes quantitative or qualitative forms. Observation forms one of the UX researcher’s mantras. We don’t ask people what they want: we build a quick prototype, put it in their hands and observe how they use it.

Observations deliver much more specific results than any focus group or survey research. Your UX research team considers users, examines their needs and behaviors, and tries to find constantly better solutions for them.

In what follows, we review the most typical research methods and look at examples for their execution. We will focus on UX and innovation research methods you can use in the different phases of designing and developing your product.

UX researcher during user test interview

1. User research during the product discovery phase

In this phase, search for a target audience’s problem and its solution. This will form the foundation of the product.

UX research methods for this phase:

  • Interview

  • Market survey

  • Field research

  • Competitor analysis and industry research

  • Market analysis

These take a lot of time. All play roles in finding a real need or problem. It definitely pays off, even though you may lack the time or money. We know.

User Interviews: Talking to the target audience!

Why: To find out people’s needs, fears, motivation, habits etc. But most importantly, which problems can the product solve?

How many: The project determines how many interviews you need. To create a product for a very specific group, do 5 to 8 interviews for the first round.

Competitor Analysis: Checking out the competition.

Why: On one hand, it determines market saturation, providing a feel for how much a challenge penetration will pose. On the other, you can gather many good ideas for your project! Other products leave many user issues unsolved. Reflect on these problems with your own product.

How much: Again the project determines this, but check 4 to 7 competitors.

2. User research techniques during product validation

In the next phase of the product design process, validate a solution for the problem when measuring the target audience’s interest for a product/feature idea.

UX research methods in this phase:

  • Website analytics

  • Fake door tests

  • Landing page tests

  • A/B tests

Landing page tests:

When making a new product, this method easily checks the target audience’s first reaction. Create a landing page and analyze its conversion.

Why: Coupled with paid ads, you can quickly see people’s first reaction to a product idea with a landing page test.

How much: It depends. Target a “high” conversion rate, 10% or more. The quantity of answers counts too. From ten people, a 10% conversion does not validate the product. Yet. Build nothing on just one person’s opinion. Find the right platform to precisely target your audience.

Fake door tests:

Use these tests for a feature idea of an existing product. Create a fake button in the app and measure how many users click on the button.

Why: Quick feedback from real users.

How much: Just as before, the percentage of the conversion counts.

*Tip: In the validation phase, we advise doing proper market research to examine the competition and target market. Look at the war where you want to fight. Then, count your “soldiers”, and see if you can win.

3. User experience research while product prototyping

Ideas now take shape for life. In this phase, make prototypes and test their usability. Run several iterations at this phase.

Modifying the prototype and running another round of usability tests costs less than fixing things in a developed software.

UX research methods in this phase:

  • User journey mapping

  • User tests

  • Heatmap analytics

  • Click analytics

  • Card sorting

User journey mapping and user tests

Why: As mentioned, user tests indicate crucial problems at an early (and cheap) phase.

How much: Until all the serious usability problems have solutions. Test one version of the prototype with at least three or four people. By then, it may not retain any serious usability issues in smaller products. But a huge application may need many more iterations.

User testing:

Why: Typical scenarios for usability testing include: identifying issues, checking if users understand tasks and navigation, observing how easily and quickly they accomplish tasks, validating the value proposition, testing competitors’ solutions.

How many tests: On average, running 5 tests in one cycle filters out 85% of the problems. After a round, prioritize the issues and work on them, iterate, and test again.

4. UX research follow-up and testing UI design

After the launch, many options to get feedback from users remain. Indeed, now real users can provide data.

UX research methods in this phase include:

  • UX metrics

  • UX surveys

  • Heatmaps

  • Recording

  • Data analysis

UX metrics

The right measurements can provide data about the user experience. Quantify the feedback.

Why: Data tells the truth. The right measurements can tell what users really do on a site. The vital “retention rate”, for example, is a great example for the type of data to pay close attention to.

How much: The fewer targeted metrics, the easier the decision. So in UX metrics, aim not for quantity but quality.

*Tip: Use the HEART model to set up the right metrics. After defining them, use multiple analytics tools to measure user behavior. Just to mention a few: Hotjar, Google Analytics, Google Firebase.

UX surveys

The main advantage of a UX survey is that you can ask real visitors during their actual visit. People forget things easily and later they can give different explanations.

Why: Finding out why people visited your site, collecting quantitative data to back-up your qualitative research, gathering feedback about a new or beta service, accumulating data about content quality or overall customer satisfaction, recruiting test participants for moderated user tests with experienced users.

The 3 most typical UX survey types

  • Interstitial survey pop-ups

  • Feedback form placed between the content

  • Bottom-right panel

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Who can do UX research?

So, who has the qualifications to do UX research? As with other professions, a few specific soft skills come up here, too. The most necessary soft skills include:

Curiosity

A lack of curiosity about the users makes it harder to get reliable results. Curiosity and determination help in digging deeper into a problem.

Empathy

Let go of yourself. Let go of assumptions and expectations. Research involves seeing a problem from another point of view. We consider that the whole point.

Communication

UX research necessitates good communication skills and involves contribution. Communicate with the users during the interview, and with the team about the results.

Critical thinking

Think critically about yourself and your assumptions. Listen skeptically to what the target audience says in an interview, using multiple research methods at the same time.

Organization

UX research also poses a challenge in that it requires a lot of organization and logistics management.
*Tip: A research system can help a lot in organizing huge research data.

Collaboration

UX research is most effective when it's the result of a team effort. It's important that all the leaders, designers, devs and other stakeholders are all kept in the loop about research outcomes.

What makes user research so important?

A huge part of product success comes from finding the right problem to solve. Finding something that people care about. We want to design a product that can help a lot of people.

Typically, the research focus is understanding user needs and pain points. That's one way to go about it. You can choose a group of people as your target audience, then do everything you can to get to know them.

User or consumer research makes it possible to design for real people. Without research, we remain trapped into our bubble. Research, therefore, makes up part of any design project, even if some would like to forget about it.

Written by: Alexandra Kovács, UX Researcher, and Brigitta Puskás, Digital Marketer at UX studio

We are a UX research agency

We deliver user insights to leading brands all over the world. Our clients include HBO, T-Mobile, Wizz Air, KBC, and many more.

From fintech to gaming, from education to telecommunication, hundreds of digital products out there have been developed based on research results gathered by UX studio.

Our user experience research consultants work together with you on transforming your product design process, digital strategy.

Let us help you build profitable and lovable digital products! You can hire our UX Researchers for shorter projects, or on a subscription basis, together with or without a UX Designer. We also hold UX research trainings, where your team can learn the basics of gather in user insights, in only a couple of days.

UX agency card sorting on a window