What Actually Is UX Research and How Is It Done?

Starting a new career is like jumping into deep waters. You feel small and vulnerable, probably because you know so little about the path you set off.

UX research is among popular career paths as technology takes up much more space in our lives.

If you are one of those who feel like a small fish in the big sea of UX research, I promise you will gather your confidence at the end of this instructive article.

TL;DR

  • UX research is the study of the needs and desires of the end users to improve and develop a product or service.
  • Types of user research include:
    • Remote usability testing
    • Diary studies
    • Card sorts
    • Surveys
    • Interviews
  • User research matters because it helps you understand your users, have valuable insights and design your product accordingly.
  • UX research process consists of the following:
    • Setting research goals.
    • Choosing a method.
    • Discovery.
    • Exploring more.
    • Iterating and testing.
    • Analyzing and presenting the results.
  • UX researcher is a part of the UX design team to collect and analyze data to help the design process systematically.
  • The core skills a UX researcher must have are:
    • Communication
    • Empathy
    • Design thinking
    • Problem-solving
    • Curiosity
    • Collaboration
  • The annual salary of UX researchers in the US ranges between $88,457 and $134,782.
  • For example, to design an app to manage house chores, you need to follow the UX research steps.

Let’s start with the basics…

What Is UX Research?

UX (user experience) research is the study of the needs and desires of the end users to improve and develop a product or service.

Yeah, it was the boring definition.

A better one would be like this:

UX research is an act of falling in love with your users over and over again.

As Dana Chisnell puts it: if you want your users to fall in love with your designs, you should fall in love with them.

And falling in love takes time; you should know more and more about them to feel it. Observe them, listen to them and understand them. How do they react to things, what are their automatic behaviors, what motivates them, what sucks off their energy and causes them trouble, and how does their mind work?

UX research is going after the answers to these questions so that you can get one step closer to the best version of your product.

For that, there are several types of user research you can use for collecting this kind of data, such as:

Remote usability testing

As its name suggests, remote usability testing is conducted remotely by recording users’ screens while using your product/service in their natural environment.

Diary studies

It collects daily user feedback about pain points, general behaviors, or reactions while using the product over a long period.

Card sorts

Card sorting is virtually or literally presenting users with several cards with distinct concepts or items written to be grouped by the users. It is mostly conducted to design the navigation panels of websites or products via building information architecture.

Surveys

Surveys are a set of questions asked to the users about the products or services. It is a way of collecting quantitative or qualitative data from your users’ feedback in the survey.

Interviews

User interviews are scheduled meetings with the users to ask open-ended questions. The qualitative data you get from them can be verbal and non-verbal feedback on the product.

Why does UX research matter?

In order to develop a design strategy, user research helps you with the foundations. Here are the main reasons why:

  • See how users interact with your product
  • Explore users’ needs and expectations to create opportunities for your business benefits
  • Develop your product with direct feedback from users
  • Segment and know your users better
  • Collect the data necessary to get better than your competitors

All of them are beneficial to your users, product, and business. Real users engage more with your product when it meets their needs, bringing about user satisfaction and the development of the product and the business.

UX Research Process Explained

Let’s understand how to conduct UX research:

1. Set research goals.

Before setting off, think about what you want to learn and formulate hypotheses based on your point of departure in the design process.

Where are you currently, and where do you want to arrive with the research? Did you realize a feature is lacking in your product? Did you get feedback from the users in product demos about a pain point they experienced?

Be as specific as you can while setting your goals with the ideas and information at hand. Go on with formulating related questions to use in the research.

Then, check if your goals align with the organization’s overall goal. How will the answers contribute to reaching the business goals, such as increasing revenue or decreasing churn rates?

When you are done with this ideation step, let everyone involved in the product development process know about them within the organization. Share your ideas and goals with as many people as possible to discover new ways of looking at them.

2. Choose a method.

As I listed above, there are various user experience research methods. Each of them focuses on different aspects of the user experience and differs based on the type of data it helps to collect, such as qualitative and quantitative or attitudinal and behavioral.

While behavioral research depends on the observation of the users while interacting with the product, attitudinal research focuses on the expressions of thoughts and feelings about the product.

While deciding on the method, the best way is to utilize a combination of both

3. Start discovering.

It is the point you come into contact with your users.

Listen to and empathize with them to understand their wishes and problems clearly. Ask them open-ended questions and observe their words, body language, etc.

Here, while conducting the research, the most important thing is to get rid of your biases. Biase in UX research is pre-conceptions about users that interfere with the ways to achieve accurate results. You can check this informative article about bias in UX research.

4. Explore more.

In this step, try to understand the data you collected from users about your research. It is more like interpreting data in line with the initial research goals.

Make inferences based on the answers to your research questions and formulate key insights. Also, it is the best time to create user personas to think of more concrete characteristics. It helps you turn your abstract user community into more real people.

In parallel, start creating prototypes of your product and see what might be the end result. Prototypes in UX design are the most basic version of your design created in the light of the design solutions you come up with.

5. Iterate and test.

When the prototype turns into a working modal, it is high time you test how your solution works with the users.

Via testing and user research, you can see if your design meets the needs of your users and find out what is missing or needs improvement.

6. Present the results.

So far, you have tried to collect the most accurate data and utilized that data to see if that works for your design.

Now you can turn that data into palpable information to share with your organization to implement across teams.

For that, create a narrative with the evidence and present the results as clearly as possible.

Who Is a UX Researcher?

The user experience researcher is a part of the UX design team to collect and analyze data to help the design process systematically.

Their role is to understand the user behaviors, needs, and motivations to deliver the best design decisions with valuable insights. They create the logic behind the design process based on accurate data.

UX Researcher Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a UX designer vary depending on the project they work on. However, we can summarize them like this:

  • Working together with the other members of the design team to find out research goals.
  • Putting down research questions and deciding the method of the research.
  • Financial and logistical planning of the research.
  • Recruiting research participants.
  • Turning research results into understandable pieces of information and coming up with insights.
  • Presenting and sharing research insights with design and development teams.

UX Researcher Skills

To be a UX researcher, you need to have some skills and knowledge. The core skills you should have are:

  • Communication: UX research involves lots of communication with the design team and the research participants. You need to be able to listen to others actively and express yourself openly.
  • Empathy: It is the key element of UX research. To create a user-centered design, you must empathize with users. However, it is important not to use the term empathy with sympathy interchangeably. Sympathy includes showing concern and compassion for the feelings of others, while empathy means understanding and feeling their emotions without compassion.
  • Design thinking: The design thinking process is the totality of the steps you follow during a design process, and it consecutively consists of empathizing, ideating, prototyping, and testing-iterating.
  • Problem-solving: Being solution-oriented is the main skill UX researchers have. For that, you should understand the problem and come up with possible solutions.
  • Curiosity: You should genuinely wonder what users want and think in order to reach your research goals. And it should be an insatiable curiosity driving you to the results.
  • Collaboration: UX research is not a lone ranger’s work. You need to be in touch with other team members across your organization and work with them.

UX Researcher Salary

On average, a UX researcher in the US makes between $88,457 and $134,782 yearly, depending on the experience, location, and sector.

A Quick UX Research Example

So far, I’ve talked about many details of UX research jobs. Now is the time to give you mock- UX research so that you can better understand how it is done.

Let’s say I’m going to design an app to manage house chores, and I want to conduct UX research before doing it.

1. Set research goals.

I need to find my aim in creating that product. My goals include the following:

  • To understand how housewives/husbands manage their house-related tasks daily.
  • To see the pain points of managing and completing house chores in a shared house.
  • To explore how people living alone prefer organizing and doing their daily house chores.

These are the initial goals I want to achieve at the end of the research.

2. Choose a method.

I want to conduct my research with qualitative methods because what I want to achieve is subjective and varies from person to person.

For that, I prefer conducting surveys with people with different characteristics, including gender identity, national origin, and sexual orientation, such as:

  • Between 18-65 years old
  • Married or single women/men/others
  • Prefers doing house chores themselves instead of hiring someone
  • Born and lives in Turkey
  • Defines themselves as neat or disorganized
  • Works from home, doesn’t work or works from the office

I need to write down survey questions to have this information and reach the research goals. They look something like this:

  • Can you describe how you organize and execute your house chores in a day?
  • What is the hardest part of organizing and doing house chores?
  • Do you share the responsibilities of house chores with someone else? If so, how?
  • How do you imagine the best experience of organizing your house? (please don’t refrain from expressing your dreams even if it impossible or unrealistic)

3. Start discovering.

Now, I need to think about how to ask these questions to the users. I can arrange 1:1 interviews with the users, organize a focus group, or direct these questions to them in an online survey.

As I have limited time and budget, the best solution is to use an online platform like LinkedIn or Facebook to find my target users to answer questions. I prefer using Google Forms to do it, but you can choose any other survey tools, such as Survey Monkey.

4. Explore more.

Let’s assume I’ve found 100 people to answer my questions. Now I need to analyze and synthesize the results to find solutions to my design problems.

Based on the answers, I can create two user personas like this:

  • Housy Mikey/Mary

When I’m finished with the personas, I need to explain them to the product team to find the solutions to my design problems and create a prototype accordingly.

5. Iterate and test.

After creating a working prototype, it is time again to ask users how they feel about the product or observe them using the prototype, which is called user testing.

Analyze these results, develop new design ideas, and repeat this process.

6. Present the results.

At the end of this research process, I will share key results and my actionable insights about them across the organization in a meeting. For that, I need to prepare a presentation with clear information and answer any questions from the team members about them.

Voila! I’m done with the research, and it is my other teammates to utilize these goals and build the product. And don’t forget that I must keep conducting research almost in every part of the user-centered design process, which is called iteration.

Long story short,

UX researcher is the one who tries to understand the users more and feed the design and other teams with necessary information about them.

To be a UX researcher, you need to improve your skills in communication, empathy, design thinking, and many more.

And to conduct research, from the goal-setting phase to sharing the results, you should keep your curiosity alive.

Regarding the technical side of the work, you should follow a roadmap to make informed decisions and keep doing it to reach your goals.

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Ece Cakanel

Ece Cakanel

Ece is a Creative Content Writer at UserGuiding. She writes extensive guides and articles about product and design for the UserGuiding blog. Outside work, she likes doodling, and she is a heavy sleeper 😴