HOW TO

How to Conduct User Research That Matters

Bansi Mehta | 6 min read

User research is what gives a solid foundation to good design output. Lack of intelligent research inputs result in a product that may be easy on the eyes but falls short of satisfying user needs. In the absence of research inputs, designers diving head first into design have only their instincts and some lucky guesses to go on – needless to say, that a product based on guesswork hardly wins hearts and minds.

Investing resources and time on user research is vital, be it a fresh project, or an upgrade job. It is often seen that stakeholders tend to focus on providing business, operational, or technical requirements in the design brief, whereas user needs are hardly, if ever, considered. It is important to get the right kind of information that ends up being useful. The most commonly used UX research methods are face-to-face interviews, user surveys and questionnaires, card sorting, concept testing, focus groups, and usability testing.

Any well-designed product is the direct result of thorough research and intelligent application of that data. The energy and tact applied in conducting UX research reveals deep and diverse information about user trends, resulting in an in-depth understanding of the problem areas, and thus, may even manage to fulfill unsaid expectations.

Obtain the Right Results with Your Research

If your research findings aren’t up to the mark, you’d rather throw them out of the window. Here’s what to keep in mind to ensure that your data remains instrumental in driving the design forward.

A Person Conducting User Research Interview

The Design Process Begins with UX Research

Work on the design can never, and should never begin before obtaining UX research data. When the design process begins with research, the data gained is used to pick the most logical and sensible design direction. Thus, it is more or less ensured that the end product remains user-focused throughout its development journey and does not throw up nasty surprises later.

In fact, user research comes in handy at every stage of the development process, since timely feedback helps in avoiding mistakes.

Pick Your Research Method Wisely

The Nielsen Norman Group recommends picking each method considering a 3-dimensional framework with the following axes – attitudinal vs behavioral; qualitative vs quantitative; and context of use.

Pick Your Research Method Wisely

The attitudinal vs behavioral dimension helps to understand the differences between what people say and what they actually end up doing. Attitudinal research helps define the user’s beliefs and mental models, and reveal how they would behave in certain contexts.

Behavioral research methods, by contrast, actually observe the user in action.

In the other dimension, qualitative research methods reveal why the user behaves in a certain way, whereas quantitative methods provide voluminous data in the form of concrete numbers and statistics to work with.

It is vital that the research method is chosen appropriately, depending upon the nature and scale of the project to ensure that the results turn out to be very effective.

Specifics count above all else

Findings that lack precision only end up confusing the designers and lead them to use their imagination. And that is exactly what they shouldn’t be doing. For instance, here are 2 inputs to the question, ‘How did the users find the navigation?’ –

“The users found the navigation tough…”

“The users left the registration process mid-way…”

This kind of feedback sheds little to no light on the actual problem. Therefore, researchers must frame their questions in a manner which elicit detailed responses. Here are 2 instances –

“Why was the navigation tough?” – “Because the back button was not easy to spot on the interface.”

“At what point did the users generally abandon the registration?” – “The drop-down list of state codes was malfunctioning, therefore I could not finish entering my address.”

Answers to these questions can help designers understand the problem areas specifically.

By identifying specifics like the exact point in the design, UI, or flow which caused the problem can help build richer solutions.

A Bad User Doesn’t Exist

… but a bad product/ system does.

Yes, you’re conducting user research, but in fact, you’re actually testing the system and not the user. Your job again is to help refine the product and not the user. Therefore, the findings that you make must also be system-specific. Instead of noting that “Four users could not enter their state code correctly”, try to identify the problem they faced with the drop-down list of state codes.

While working with users in a research session, it always helps to assure them that the process is being tested, and not the users themselves. By doing so, you’re also helping the users give their feedback more freely as they lose their inhibitions and any complex they might have.

Prioritize Your Findings

Being a part of a UX research team, it is tempting to treat each of your findings as a ground-breaking discovery that will alter the course of the design direction. The reality always tells otherwise. It is the research team’s job to study the findings well before they submit them to the design team and arrange them in the correct order of priority from the usability perspective.

It is recommended that the findings on sections be grouped together, and further be ranked as per severity. For instance, issues with navigation on the registration form can be clubbed together, and not mixed with those found on the bookings page. Depending on the project, the team must find a logical system of grouping and ranking the findings so that the design team knows what needs to be addressed and in what order of priority.

An important aspect to note here is that positive findings must also be listed in order for designers to know which areas ought to be left untouched.

As a final reminder, you must keep in mind that though a design project always commences with research, it continues to play an important role throughout the process. Continuous observations and learning from those observations are an integral part of the UX researcher job description. It is necessary to keep the discussion actively alive with your users to be tuned in to their ever-evolving needs.

More Resources:

UX Research Matters – Getting Your Stakeholders to Say it too

How Can User Interfaces Make or Break Touchpoints

7 Alternative User Research Methods


About Author:

With an experience of over a decade in User Experience, Bansi Mehta is the Founder & CEO of Koru UX Design. Collectively, her team provides exceptional UX for enterprise applications and complex systems, working with clients ranging from healthcare giants to boutique investment banks.


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