The Ultimate Guide to UX Research

How to perform UX research to gain real insights into your users and their needs.

The products we use every day are not all created equally. The products we love tend to have three things in common. First and foremost, they work; they do what they were intended to and solve a problem for us. Next, we know how to use them; this is a basic thing that we take for granted, but remember, anytime something new is invented, there is always a learning curve. Finally, we enjoy using them. After all, nobody would say that they love a product if they didn't like using it.

In order to bring a product to market that checks all three of those boxes, companies need to conduct UX research, which is, in essence, the process of ensuring that those three tenets are adhered to by truly getting to know the needs of your customers.

In this comprehensive guide, you will learn what UX research is and why it's so important. We will go over some of the main UX research tools, UX research methods, and the overall UX research process.

Let’s start by explaining what UX research actually is, why it's important, the benefits of UX research, and its most common applications in business.

What is UX Research?

“There is a big difference between making a simple product and making a product simple”

Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom.

UX research is the process of understanding how users interact with a product, service, software, or interface. The aim of UX research is to figure out what's working with a product and what isn't. The ultimate goal in mind with any product or service is to solve a problem for somebody, but if a user can't actually figure out how to use it or doesn't like using it, it isn't actually solving the problem well. Creating a great user experience is fundamental to making any product a success because it is a core part of the overall customer experience. 

UX Research allows you to ensure that your product or feature is enjoyable, functional, and easy to use by the time it hits the market. UX stands for "User Experience," so UX research ultimately is about understanding the user through how they interact with something and gaining actionable feedback based on what you uncover in your research.

Why is UX Research so Important?

“Users are not always logical, at least not on the surface. To be a great designer you need to look a little deeper into how people think and act.”

Susan Dray, Usability Expert.

Understanding the importance of UX research is critical if you want to get buy-in from stakeholders to support and invest in your research efforts

Most of the time when you are working on developing or improving a product or feature, the answers to even your most challenging questions lie with the users. Users know what they want and can show you what they need. That is why UX research is critical to the success of any product or service. By conducting UX research, you can make data-driven decisions and test your product or service before it goes to market.

Let's take a closer look at some of the benefits of conducting UX research.

5 Benefits of UX Research

There are a number of very good reasons to conduct UX research before you make your product or service available to the general public or your end-user. Let's examine five of the biggest benefits of UX research in more detail so that you can better understand why UX research is fundamental to success.

1. UX research allows you to better understand the end-user

In order to make sure that your product or service is as useful as possible for your end-user, it's important to gain insight into who your desired user is; this is typically done early on in the UX research process with the aid of surveys, interviews and other research methods.

By surveying and interviewing users, you can determine what motivates them to use a certain product over others and what types of features and benefits would be most useful for them so that you can implement them into your design and give yourself the best chance of appealing to people when your product is launched. It also shows the particularities and sensitivities of your end-users so that you can tailor the user experience to their specific needs.

2. UX research enables you to gain insight into customer behaviors.

When the time comes to test your prototype, UX research will allow you to see how users are engaging with your product. It may be the case that they can figure out how to use it by themselves without much explanation, and indeed this is the goal when designing anything. Nobody likes to read through lengthy manuals to try and figure out how something works; they expect it to be easy to use from day one.

This is especially important if you are designing an app, software, or user interface. Being able to see where people are looking, what they are clicking on, and what features they seem to be missing will allow you to position page elements in such a way as to facilitate an optimal design that will allow the user to do what they want to achieve with minimal thought and effort.

UX research also allows you to place elements in such a way as to encourage the user to take specific actions, which is very helpful when sales are a component of your service, such as with a website, for example.

3. UX research lets you find and fix problems with your product or service.

When you see how customers interact with your product, you can identify problem areas that you may have overlooked. When you work closely on a project and are familiar with exactly how it works, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that others who are not so familiar with the product will be able to figure things out.

If a user clicks on something and nothing happens, or they can't figure out what to do next, you will have identified a valuable opportunity to fix the problem before the service is launched. Test users are much more forgiving than paying customers, and if something doesn't work right after a customer has purchased your product, then you had better believe it will be detrimental to your business.

4. UX research identifies areas of improvement.

After you have had test users engage with your product, you now have the opportunity to survey them again to find out what they liked and what they didn't like. This is one of the most important phases of the UX research process and is one that should never be skipped.

It may well be the case that your test user will have no problem figuring out how to use your service. They may say it was easy to use and everything seemed to work perfectly, but when you ask them if they would buy the product or service in the future, they say "no, not at all," why?

By getting direct feedback from your test users,' you will be able to identify what you need to add, change, or remove in order to make the product as attractive as possible to people.

5. UX research identifies areas of untapped potential.

Maybe your product was designed to do a certain very specific thing, but after conducting UX research, you realize that people are actually using it to do something totally different or could be using it to do something else as well. This, in turn, can inform your marketing strategy and allows you to implement features, bells, and whistles that your competition may have entirely overlooked, giving you a competitive advantage.

We have been speaking about UX research in very broad general terms, but there are actually several different types of UX research. Let's go over the two main types of UX research so that you can determine when and how to use each type.

The Different types of UX Research

Quantitative UX research

Within UX research, quantitative research is employed to give you an understanding of what is happening when your users engage (or don’t) with a product or feature. This type of research relies on hard data such as numbers and statistics. For example, the surveys we discussed would be an example of quantitative research. By polling a diverse group of different users and comparing their responses, you can derive useful statistics and determine the overall efficacy of your product or service, at least in its current state.

A common example of quantitative UX research is user- and event-based analytics. Google Analytics, for example, is used to determine how people find, interact with, and ultimately behave on a website. By looking at this sort of data, businesses can identify what's working, what isn't, and what should be added or removed from a site in order to increase revenue and grow their brand.

Qualitative UX research

On the other side of the spectrum is qualitative UX research. The difference between quantitative and qualitative research is quite simple. If quantitative research tells you what is happening, qualitative research shows you how and why it is happening.

This sort of research relies on observation to infer insight and inform your design process. When you allow test users to actually try out your product and you watch how they engage with it, you are conducting qualitative UX research. Conducting personal follow-up interviews, field studies, and usability tests are other widely employed qualitative UX research methods.

Generally speaking, many UX-ers prefer qualitative research to quantitative research; there are a number of good reasons for this. Qualitative research is much easier to understand; instead of analyzing and extracting the data, you can get it first-hand. It is much easier to figure out what the end-user thinks of your product by asking them directly rather than making an informed guess based on statistics or analyzing numbers.

For some companies whose product analytics are not up to scratch, qualitative UX research can also be less expensive and quicker than quantitative research. Relying one external parties to conduct quantitative research is both time-consuming and expensive, whereas setting up some usability tests and user interviews can be a quick and easy way to gain the user insights you need.

At the end of the day, it isn’t a matter of choosing between quantitative and qualitative research. It's still well worth it to conduct both as they can work together to offer you a full picture of who your users are, what they need and how they behave with regards to your product.

Moving beyond the different types of UX research, let's discuss the various UX research methods and some techniques that should constitute an effective UX research process.

Top UX Research Methods & Techniques

There are many different UX research methods, and each has its own advantages and limitations. Let's examine the top ten UX research techniques so that you can determine which ones will be most helpful for you in any given situation.

1. Interviews

Conducting interviews or having one-on-one follow-up conversations with your users allows you to glean a ton of information about who they are, what motivates them to undertake certain actions, and how they engage with products or services like your own. With remote working experience being ubiquitous nowadays, it is easier than ever to interview customers and gain insights rapidly. 

2. Focus Groups

Focus groups are basically group interviews. Rather than speaking with one individual, you might be speaking with 15 or 20, or however many people have tested your product or service on any given day. One advantage of conducting focus group sessions rather than individual interviews is that you get a greater volume of data to work with, which can help avoid certain biases and yields less speculative data than a one-on-one interview would.

3. Surveys

Sending out surveys is another step up from a focus group. Instead of interviewing 15 people in person, you can send out a survey to hundreds or even thousands of people, which can give you the most amount of feedback and data compared to interviews and focus groups. Surveys can certainly still be conducted in person, but they can also be conducted online, over the phone, or through email, which is a more cost-effective method that requires less of your time. The downside of surveys of course is that you will never go off-script, which in interviews and focus groups can sometimes lead to insights you would never have expected. Sourcing unbiased respondents for surveys can also be difficult and expensive. 

4. Prototyping

A prototype is a preliminary design. To use the example of a website again, you might create a mock-up and then ask users what they think, how they like the design, what could be improved, etc. It's much less expensive to fix a design before the product or service is actually coded, built, or developed than it is afterward, and so prototyping is a valuable stage in any design process.

5. Usability Testing

This is when you allow the test users to interact with your product in a specific way. So, you might say "do X," and after they accomplish the task, you would ask them follow-up questions, and then you would say, "okay, now do Y," and so on. This allows you to get real-time feedback on how easy your product is to use and identify how a user is feeling while using the service.

6. First Click Testing

A specific use case for apps, websites, software, and user interfaces, first click testing is conducted the very first time you allow users to test your product. This type of UX research allows you to see how users will behave with the product, what they click first, how they navigate the service, and gain other insights of that nature.

7. Expert Review

Having everyday people test your product is essential as, in most cases, these are the types of people who will be using the service and make up the vast majority of your potential customers. That said, having an expert review your product can yield a different type of valuable feedback. Experts know exactly what they are looking for and will be able to rank and compare your product against industry standards and your competition.

8. Parallel Design

One excellent way of coming up with the perfect design is to have various different designers draft a design for the same product or service independently with no correspondence between each other. This allows you to see what they each did in common and incorporate the very best elements of each design into one excellent design. Parallel design is an excellent method for drafting a preliminary design, prototype, or mock-up.

9. Card Sorting

Card sorting is a common method used by UX researchers to determine the best arrangement for informational structures and optimize navigation if applicable. The idea is that users test and then sort elements into how they think they should be organized, which can inform your design and IT structures.

10. Task Analysis

Task analysis is a specific type of research that involves learning about your end-users' goals, motivations, and desires so that you can implement the features that would attract them to your product or service. Furthermore, task analysis allows you to understand how users want to engage with your product and similar products if there are any.

The Best UX Research Tools

There are many UX research tools available, but they are not all created equally. Let's take a look at the top 5 best UX research tools, what they do, and how to use them.

1. UsabilityHub

UsabilityHub is a remote user research platform that helps you validate designs in real time. There are many tools online that allow you to conduct interviews with people all over the world, but if you’re looking for a cost-effective way to get rapid insights on specific pages and features, UsabilityHub is a great solution. 

2. Hotjar

Hotjar is a tool that offers heatmaps and behavior analytics for both websites and applications. If you’re doing UX research, you probably have used Hotjar before. It is a great way to gain quick, real-time insights without having to invest too much time into the research process.

3. SurveyMonkey

We mentioned surveys before and if you’re looking for a powerful all-in-one surveying tool, the SurveyMoney is the way to go. Not only can you easily craft surveys that meet your research needs, but you can easily source respondents to make sure those surveys garner the responses you need.

4. Amplitude

If you’re dealing with websites, Google Analytics is most likely going to be your go-to for all of your quantitative analytics. However, if you’re working with a digital product like a SaaS application, Amplitude is a great solution for proper events-based tracking. The product isn’t cheap, but there is a very expansive free plan that allows you to work with one of the best tools available until you can afford to pay more. Amplitude allows you to cross-reference user attributes with their in-app behavior like no other tool. 

5. Reveall

All the research in the world is worth nothing if you don’t have a clear place to gather, organize and share your insights. We created Reveall because we now how difficult that can be. Our platform allows you to bring together all your research findings in one platform so that you can turn data into actionable insights and share them between teams. Reveall supports you throughout your user research and helps make the most out of it. 

Other notable tools we enjoy include Typeform, Usabilla, Zoom and Mixpanel.

How to establish a UX research process

UX research is typically done in four distinct stages. There are different versions and namings for this process and it is always good to tailor it to your company’s needs, but most good UX research processes follow the same general outline that was originally created by the Nielsen Norman Group. 


Stage 1 – Discovery

This is when you conduct preliminary interviews, market research, consult with experts, and get a general sense of what the design should encompass and what sorts of features should be included. This phase may also involve researching your competitors to see what they have done right and wrong.

Stage 2 – Exploration

The next phase involves prototyping, parallel design, task analysis, card sorting, and these types of tasks; the goal is to improve upon the insights that you gained during the discovery stage. The goal of this stage is to finalize a preliminary design and get ready for development.

Stage 3 – Testing

The next step is actually building a working model of the product or service and then testing that service out with different users to see how they interact with it. During this phase, you might want to conduct usability tests, first click tests, and conduct qualitative research with a platform, such as Reveall, to see how customers are interacting with the product and gain all of the customer insights you need in order to finalize the design and prepare for the final version to launch.

Stage 4 – Feedback

The last and most important phase of UX research is the feedback phase. This is your opportunity to query testers on how they liked the service, what they enjoyed, what they didn't much care for, and ask what should be included or removed to make the product easier to use and more attractive for other potential customers.

There are a lot of different UX research processes out there to explore, so it's always good to explore, get inspired and build a process that works for you.

UX Research Books & Resources

A quick google search for "UX research" will yield an overwhelming amount of resources, but knowing which to trust isn't always straightforward, and sorting through the information can be complicated and time-consuming. Below is a list of resources that are really fantastic at explaining the ins and outs of UX research in an easily digestible manner.

UX Research Books

  1. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability by Steve Krug
  2. UX Research: Practical Techniques for Designing Better Products by Brad Nunnally and David Farkas.
  3. UX For Lean Startups: Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design by Laura Klein

Other UX Research Resources

  1. UX Mastery - YouTube Channel

A great YouTube channel with everything from the educational to the inspirational, with a number of videos dedicated to UX research.

  1. UX Booth - Newsletter

A leading UX blog that also offers a great newsletter for all those interested in the latest trends in UX research and design. 

  1. Nielsen Norman Group

NN/g doesn’t need an introduction and not much needs to be said other than that they regularly publish awesome articles on UX research.

And of course if you’re looking for a place to stay up to date on the latest trends and related to UX research, you can always check out the Reveall Blog.

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