UX Research

Your constantly-updated definition of UX Research and collection of topical content and literature


What is UX Research?

UX (user experience) research is the systematic investigation of users and their requirements, in order to add context and insight into the process of designing the user experience. UX research employs a variety of techniques, tools, and methodologies to reach conclusions, determine facts, and uncover problems, thereby revealing valuable information which can be fed into the design process.

UX research aims to gather information from users by way of a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods, including interviews, contextual inquiries, diary studies, personas, card sorting, and usability testing. The focus is on the systematic approach to gathering and interpreting collected data. Due to this, UX research demands the structured and methodical selection and application of the most appropriate tools for information gathering. Activities can take place at the generative (ideation) and the evaluative (validation) stages of a development process. UX research helps a design team inform the design of products and services, validate its assumptions, and—ultimately—reduce the cost of delivering a successful product.

In comparison to user research, UX research does not necessarily assume an iterative process. Thus, it can be considered “applied research”— i.e., it is geared around analyzing real-life phenomena in order to furnish detailed facts, instead of aiming to understand underlying abstract principles or to generate or improve a theory.

Literature on UX Research

Here’s the entire UX literature on UX Research by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Featured article

15 Guiding Principles for UX Researchers

15 Guiding Principles for UX Researchers

We’ve found that a lot of first time UX researchers have similar questions and concerns when they start working in UX design. So, we thought we’d round up and tackle some of the most common questions to form a set of useful principles for UX researchers. Of course, this isn’t a complete guide to UX research (there are some fairly weighty tomes out there which do that) but it’s a good starting place to answer some of those nagging UX questions.

The best researchers don’t use a single tool to do their research. They take a host of different methods, tools, etc. and then mix them together. This gives you a much greater chance of finding the actual issues and then being able to fix them.

Mix It Up

It’s Easier To Find “You Got it Wrong”

Research can quickly help us work out when we’ve got something wrong. If you add a new feature and your first five research participants hate it – there’s probably a problem. However, a hundred people can use something without comment and it may still not work.

You Can’t Standardize Sample Sizes For All Your Research

Sorry, but sample sizes need to be calculated based on the risks you’re willing to assume in any given piece of research and based on the type of research you’re carrying out. Don’t try and use a single size for all of your research – it’s a flawed approach.

Testing With Just One User is Not Pointless

Imagine you’re creating a new word-processing package and you sit down with your first user and they try to save a document and you see that the process is broken. How many more users do you need to test that with? None, right? Some problems are universal and it only takes one user to point them out.

Author/Copyright holder: Luca Mascaro. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Increase Sample Sizes for Better Accuracy

The bigger your sample size, the more likely your data is to be accurate. There’s a general rule of thumb that says to double the accuracy you have to increase the sample size by a factor of four!

Randomizing Can Overcome Research Design Flaws

If you can change the order of questions, responses, process flow, etc. then do it. The more random the path you take – the more likely it is that you’re going to get consistency and minimize experimental design flaws.

Research Results Belong to No-One

All that data you’re collecting? It’s not yours. It’s not your team’s. It’s the company’s. The more you get your user experience research out into the company as a whole – the more likely it is that your company will start focusing on user needs as a priority. Don’t create a UX silo in your business; let the data flow and reap the rewards.

Scale Ratings In Questions Aren’t That Important

Sure, there are plenty of arguments about whether an x-point scale is more accurate than a y-point scale and whether you should have a neutral rating or not. None of them are important enough to spend more than 5 minutes worrying over – pick a scale and do the research already.

Participants Need to Reflect Personas

Not everyone is a user or even likely user of your product. Not every user fits your target market. Get your user personas out and recruit to the persona – that way you have the most chance of getting results that actually work for your target users. You can’t please all the people all of the time and UX professionals shouldn’t even try to.

Author/Copyright holder: Nicolas Nova. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

What They Say vs. What They Do

It’s often said that what people do is what matters and not what they say. We don’t agree. You need to measure both what people say and what they do. Then you can explore the reasons for the disconnection between the two positions. Sometimes people really do want what they say they want and sometimes they don’t. Knowing when those things are true matters to the user experience.

Keep Growing Your Toolkit

There are going to be new ideas and methods floating out there for a long time to come. Don’t dismiss them without trying them. Even if they suck, you’ll have learned that they suck rather than assuming it. In many cases even the worst tools can offer reasonable insights if they’re adapted properly.

Usability – A Polite Fiction?

It is impossible to measure usability. What we can measure is when something is not usable. Those measures are fluid – they change from product to product, user to user and UX researcher to UX researcher. That’s OK, finding problems is part of what research is about. We already know it’s much harder to show there is no problem than to find a problem.

Keep Reports Short

Sure, the method was amazing and innovative and the results were incredible but… you don’t need to write a book to get that across. If you want your research to have wide value in the organization keep your reports to a minimum. However, don’t let that stop you from creating more detailed work as a learning tool within your own environment or from writing that book if you intend to publish it commercially.

Be Aware that Observers Observe Differently

There’s a reason police treat eyewitness testimony with a certain healthy scepticism. People see what they’re going to see and rarely will witnesses see the same things. That’s not a major problem; in fact, it means that adding observers may increase the overall success of research – if you all identify different problems, that’s better for the users (as long as you intend to fix all those problems, of course).

And don’t forget that the act of observation may also change the results that you get.

Cults of Personality Suck

There are a ton of UX gurus out there. Some will be highly trendy today and treated with contempt tomorrow or vice-versa. There’s no one “right” way to be a UX researcher; ignore the name attached to UX ideas and focus on the underlying idea instead and treat everything with a healthy dose of scepticism and interest.

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: Zeke Franco. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Learn more about UX Research

Take a deep dive into UX Research with our course Become a UX Designer from Scratch.

If you want to join one of the most rapidly growing fields in design, then look no further—this is the course for you. Through covering the ins and outs of the role, and throwing the doors wide open to the exciting world of UX design, “Become a UX Designer from Scratch” will take things right back to the beginning; it will offer a ‘hard reset’ in order to show you how to embark on a new career in UX design.

All products, whether digital or otherwise, must deliver a high-quality user experience (UX) or risk losing users to competitors—after all, a product is useless without its users! Products with good UX sell better; in fact, design-centric businesses have consistently outperformed the industry average by more than double, according to the Design Management Institute. Demand for UX designers is therefore higher than ever before; they are already prevalent in tech companies, and there is a growing need for them within other industries. UX impacts UI design, web design, and graphic design, and understanding the field of UX will improve your efforts within all of those areas.

Through this course, you will learn all the skills you need to assist companies in delivering the right UX for their products. All techniques included in the teaching are tried-and-tested industry standards, which will equip you with the very best knowledge to start you off on your new professional path. You will learn how to create various UX deliverables from the beginning of a UX project right to the end, ranging from customer journey maps to paper prototypes and even heuristic evaluations. You will also take your first steps towards creating a UX portfolio—something that will truly make an impact on your UX job applications.

You will also find a number of optional exercises and home assignments that build on one another and follow a design process—from the first idea, right through to the point where you can start testing your prototype. We highly recommend that you take up the challenge and complete all the exercises involved, because not only will you get hands-on experience with UX design but, by the end, you will also have a design case study that you can include in your portfolio.

In “Become a UX Designer from Scratch”, you will gain access to interviews with senior UX hirers and experts from companies such as SAP and Google. Through these interviews, you will understand what hirers and senior designers look out for when hiring a new member of the team—all so that you can gain an advantage over fellow candidates. We have also filmed a series of interviews with members who have successfully landed a UX job. These will provide you with inspiration for your own career prospects, as well as invaluable advice about how to transition into a career in UX and what daily life as a UX professional really looks like.

Wait no longer to begin your professional UX career!

All literature

7 Great, Tried and Tested UX Research Techniques

7 Great, Tried and Tested UX Research Techniques

Thinking about conducting some user research? Wondering which techniques are most likely to provide useful results? Then look no further. We’ve compiled a list of 7 excellent techniques which are tried and tested and have been proven to deliver real value in UX projects. Let’s take a look at each technique and see what it is and why it works: T...

  • 1 year ago
Shadowing in User Research - Do You See What They See?

Shadowing in User Research - Do You See What They See?

The idea of shadowing someone to see what they are doing is not new. It is a technique that is widely implemented in user research. The idea is simple; the researcher accompanies the user and observes how they use the product or service within their natural environment. Shadowing also takes place in other fields of business and in particular in...

  • 8 months ago
15 Guiding Principles for UX Researchers

15 Guiding Principles for UX Researchers

We’ve found that a lot of first time UX researchers have similar questions and concerns when they start working in UX design. So, we thought we’d round up and tackle some of the most common questions to form a set of useful principles for UX researchers. Of course, this isn’t a complete guide to UX research (there are some fairly weighty tomes o...

  • 1 year ago

Ch 31: Ethnography

The concern to balance detailed documentation of events with insights into the meaning of those events is the enduring hallmark of ethnography. (Fielding 1994: 154) [The] immortal ordinary society ... is only discoverable. It is not imaginable. It cannot be imagined but is only actually found out, and just in any actual case. The way it is done...

Book chapter
Contextual Interviews and How to Handle Them

Contextual Interviews and How to Handle Them

The exact history of the contextual interview in user research is a little murky. It was first alluded to in a paper by Whiteside, Bennet and Holtzblatt in 1988 which examined the use of qualitative research in design projects. However, the first complete description of the method was almost certainly proposed in 1990 by Wixon, Holtzblatt and Kn...

  • 5 months ago
The Ultimate Guide to Understanding UX Roles and Which One You Should Go For

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding UX Roles and Which One You Should Go For

UX design roles are confusing. You might know what a “UX designer” does, but what about a “visual designer”, “product designer” or “UX unicorn”? Well, worry no more, because we’ll put an end to any confusion you may have. Here, we’ll analyze 6 common UX roles through how they contribute to the design process, and shine a light through the fog of...

  • 2 weeks ago
Action Research

Ch 33: Action Research

Technology and action are two elements that define what it is to be human. It is technology that has made Homo sapiens such a successful species, and it is the actions enabled by technology that will ensure that we continue to be successful à or meet our doom. No technological development has any value without action. Action Research (AR) is all...

Book chapter
Ideas for Conducting UX Research with Children

Ideas for Conducting UX Research with Children

One of the most challenging realms to conduct user research with is when you have to conduct research with children. There are, obviously, stringent ethical and legal protocols to be kept to if you work with children but it’s not just the moral aspect of this world. Children are not miniature adults and the way we develop and design research wil...

  • 2 months ago
Laddering Questions Drilling Down Deep and Moving Sideways in UX Research

Laddering Questions Drilling Down Deep and Moving Sideways in UX Research

Laddering questions help you direct your research in order to get the most valuable information from interview subjects. This can help you expand the remit of the research or to focus it to where the roots of problems really lay.Laddering questions are a variant of the “5 Whys” principle. The idea is to use questions that begin with “why” to eli...

  • 3 years ago
Confirmation Bias – It’s Not What We Think We Know That Counts

Confirmation Bias – It’s Not What We Think We Know That Counts

Confirmation bias is a pernicious form of bias which can cause real problems in both UX research and our own lives. Learning to recognize and eliminate confirmation bias leads to better decision making, better research and ultimately better products and user experiences.One of the most famous, and flawed, social anthropology studies of all time ...

  • 3 years ago
Remote Research Methods for Mobile Applications

Remote Research Methods for Mobile Applications

Mobile app user research in the lab may not be as effective as remote research. Users of mobile apps are going to face continued distractions when using their smartphones and there’s no better simulation for these distractions than monitoring the user in their ordinary environment. There is a strong business case for remote research for mobile a...

  • 2 weeks ago
Porter’s 5 Forces Model - Design in Context, Understand the Market

Porter’s 5 Forces Model - Design in Context, Understand the Market

Before you start to implement Porter’s 5 Forces Model, it is important to understand the context in which it is used. It is most valuable when applied to an entire market (either national or global) rather than to a sub-section of a market (e.g. you and a handful of direct competitors). It is very much a high-level strategic tool to understand y...

  • 3 years ago
How to Get More Honest Feedback in User Testing

How to Get More Honest Feedback in User Testing

Many years ago, I was delivering a training course on products that would be introduced for commercial sale in a telecoms environment. The information for that course had been developed and provided by the product management team.Taking this information on good faith, I went and delivered the course that they had requested. Unfortunately for me,...

  • 3 years ago
6 Tips for Better International UX Research

6 Tips for Better International UX Research

The whole world is coming online. Even here in Cambodia there’s internet available in nearly every town and village and Cambodia is one of the world’s “least developed nations”. Then there’s the fact that globally there are dozens of emerging economies starting to grow impressively the BRICs nations and MINT nations in particular.Accessibility a...

  • 1 year ago
Adding Quality to Your Design Research with an SSQS Checklist

Adding Quality to Your Design Research with an SSQS Checklist

An SSQS (A semi-structured qualitative study) refers to research methods with qualitative rather than quantitative outputs. There are many types of SSQS research such as ethnography, interviews, observations, etc. For them, it can be useful to have a checklist to ensure that you’re making the most of the research techniques and delivering the ma...

  • 4 years ago