Understanding how people work and the context in which they work is the key to designing meaningful experiences accessible to everyone. Research is the first step of the UX design process. It helps you to create an optimal product for users. The types of user research you can or should perform will depend on the type of site, system, or app you are developing, your timeline, and your environment.
But why UX research is so important?
Despite lacking the financial resources needed to conduct in-depth user experience research, UX research is a must, even for small companies and startups. Probably even more important for these small players, as they need to find innovative ways to level the playing field, allowing them to remain competitive in the face of strong competition from bigger companies. User research provides an essential foundation for design strategy. User research also helps you to identify early adopters who would use your product. Most importantly, you'll have the data to back your strategy and design decisions.
User experience research is one of the most misunderstood yet critical steps in UX design. Sometimes treated as an afterthought or an unaffordable luxury, UX research, and user testing should inform every design decision.
The main goal of design research is to gather information from users. That should focus on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies. Countless people will engage our creations in an unpredictable environment over which designers have no control. UX research is the key to grounding ideas in reality and improving the odds of success. It’s about enhancing the entire experience people have while interacting with a product and making sure they find value, satisfaction, and delight.
"Supposing is good, but finding out is better." - Mark Twain
Top UX Research Methods and When to Use Them
The types of user research you can or should perform will depend on the type of site, system, you are developing, your timeline, and your environment. The chart below describes UX methods and activities available in various project stages.
The diagram lists potential UX research methods and activities that can be done as projects move through stages of design. Image from NN Group, graphic by Sarah Gibbons.
What Results Can I Expect from UX Research?
Some of the results generated through UX research confirm that improving the usability of a site or app will:
Increase conversion rates
Increase NPS (net promoter score)
Increase customer satisfaction
Increase purchase rates
Boost loyalty to the brand
Reduce customer service calls
Additionally, and aside from benefiting the overall user experience, the integration of UX research into the development process can:
Minimize development time
Reduce production costs
Uncover valuable insights about your audience
Give an in-depth view of users’ mental models, pain points, and goals
Understand the Return on Investment (ROI) of Your UX Design
After something is made, after people using your product, you are looking back and you are trying to find how effective what you have done is and how the product is performing. This last research allows you to learn about the effectiveness of your UX efforts also in terms of sales, conversion rates, and other metrics. If you can show that the changes you made in the design generated more sales, resulted in a larger number of customers, or made work processes more efficient, you have a much stronger case for investing in UX. User studies to measure the effectiveness of your design are mostly quantitative and can take different forms. You can do A/B tests during development that compare different versions of your design, or you can do studies after your product is released to measure differences in use patterns. With apps and webpages, you often build in different types of analytics to inform you of different user patterns.
So to sum up, effective user research helps designers to design products that are different from its competitors’, are engaging, and serve the purpose they’re meant to serve. To conclude, I strongly believe user research is what drives UX design-forward, as, without research, engagement with the product is impossible. As the industry-leading Nielsen Norman Group said, “UX without user research is not UX.”