What is UX Research?

UX research is the process of discovering how users perceive their interactions with a product, service, or organization. UX research is best practiced as a disciplined system that reliably gathers data about the positive and negative aspects of users’ experiences, leading to insights and changes to products, services, or processes. 

UX research is the first—and often most crucial—step in the UX design process, which in its totality is key to the success of many companies. Customers will only be fully satisfied with products or services if they are well-designed and give customers positive emotions while also fulfilling their needs. With UX research, you can discover what is working well for customers, as well as what isn’t. You and your team can then translate this data into insights that can lead to positive changes, better sales, and customer satisfaction scores. 

The UX Research Process

Research is not about a particular method or deliverable. It is a way of investigating the world, and it will be embedded throughout your design process. When we describe approaching the UX research process, we use a form of the Research Learning Spiral, originally created by Erin Sanders at Frog Design, which includes these steps:

  • Define Objectives: These are the questions you’re trying to answer. What do you need to know at this point in the design process? What are the knowledge gaps you need to fill?
  • Outline Hypotheses: These are what you believe you already know. What are your team’s assumptions? What do you think you understand about your users, in terms of both their behaviors and your potential solutions to their needs?
  • Select Methods: These address how you plan to fill the gaps in your knowledge. Based on the time and people available, what methods should you select?
  • Conduct Research: Gather data and observations through the methods you’ve selected.
  • Synthesize Findings: Answer your research questions, and support or disprove your hypothesis. Make sense of the data you’ve gathered to discover what opportunities and implications exist for your design efforts.

Types of UX Research

There are 2 main types of UX research you can carry out: 

  • Qualitative Research: This includes methods of gathering general feedback from users. Researchers might interview customers or focus groups to understand their needs, feelings, and motivations. They might also observe users testing a product and seeing how delighted or stressed they become. These results are referred to as “qualitative” because they are not measured in strictly numerical terms. Instead, UX researchers will gather written comments, video recordings, and verbal opinions and thoughts from users.
  • Quantitative Research: These are results that can be expressed in the form of data. Researchers can test hypotheses they formed from their qualitative research. Instead of asking open-ended questions, they can ask questions that require precise answers, such as the number of hours used to complete a task. If data is gathered from a large group of users, patterns can be discovered to inform the next stage of the design process.

UX research can also be thought of as finding users’ attitudes, expressed by what they say in surveys and interviews, and their actual behaviors, which may be observed or reported. UX researchers use tools such as interviews, surveys, and usability tests to gather both types of data to form insights that can improve their organizations’ UX design.

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