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What is UX Research?

UX Research is a fundamental pillar of the human-centred design process

UX/UI Design
5 minute read

In 2005, Cheetos launched a ‘cheesy’ flavoured lip balm. The company assumed that people who loved Cheetos would want a product that smelt and tasted like cheese that could solve dry lips and satisfy their cravings all at once. While I love Cheetos, I couldn't think of anything worse than smearing a cheese-flavoured balm on my lips, and it turns out I’m not alone! After failing to meet sales expectations and truckloads of bad consumer reviews, one year after its launch, the product was officially pulled from shelves.

Cheetos’ lip balm is a great example of what happens when you fail to understand the needs and wants of consumers (or users) and the problems they are trying to solve with a product. Whether it’s lip balm or digital products, conducting research with consumers/users is a crucial step in the design and development process of any product. In this post, I am going to discuss what User Experience (UX) Research is and the main ways it’s conducted to help you design banging products that not only look great but are also loved.

What is UX Research?

UX Research is a fundamental pillar of the human-centred design process. In a nutshell, it’s the systematic process of collecting data on the behaviours, needs, wants, and pain points of users, potential or existing, to identify insights that can be leveraged to make product design decisions. Ultimately, it’s about more deeply understanding users to build products that are better suited to their needs. There is an almost endless number of reasons why you should conduct UX Research, but here are a few to consider:

  • It allows you to test internal assumptions and understand whether they match or align with the actual motivations and behaviours of the target audience/users. Think back to the earlier example…imagine the amount of money and time Cheetos could have saved by researching to understand whether people actually wanted a cheesy lip balm.
  • Through a better understanding of the target audience/users, you can uncover new opportunities for product features or new products altogether. Understanding the world from the eyes of a user can be an incredibly enlightening experience and identify things not seen from the perspective of a designer.
  • As UX Research can be conducted at any stage of the development process, it can be used to collect feedback on early designs and prototypes before they are moved into production. This is super helpful as it allows you to test different ideas and ensure that your design resonates with the target audience/users. It’s much easier, and cheaper, to identify issues during the design phase when you can do something about it vs. in post-production.
  • And finally, UX Research can help you understand all the different interactions that a user has with the product and develop a better understanding of a user’s journey.


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Types of research

When it comes to UX Research or any type of research for that matter, there are two main methodologies: Quantitative and Qualitative.

The choice of which methodology to use depends on the desired outcome of the research. Sometimes you might only have to use one method to answer the research question, whereas some questions might require the use of both. So let’s dig a little deeper into each.

Qualitative Research

The focus of qualitative research is to discover the ‘why’ behind a target audience’s attitudes, motivations and opinions. By digging deeper into the intrinsic motivations behind a user’s behaviour, we can develop a better understanding of why they behave the way they do. This is why qualitative research is sometimes referred to as ‘attitudinal’.

Qualitative research questions are typically anchored in stories or past experiences and sound like this:

  • What does trust mean to you when it comes to online security?
  • Tell me about the last time you split a restaurant bill with a friend/family member. How did you go about this? What happened?

There are several ways to conduct qualitative research, but the most common technique is interviewing. Whether it’s a one-on-one interview between a researcher and a user or in a larger group setting with several users, known as a Focus Group, interviews are fantastic for developing a deep understanding of a particular topic. Unlike a written survey, interviews provide the flexibility to dig deeper into areas of interest that organically come up in conversation to uncover new and unthought-of areas of interest.

With its focus on discovery and understanding, the number of people required to conduct qualitative research is much smaller than quantitative research. However, the time spent with each person is much higher to understand their ‘why’.

Quantitative Research

On the other hand, Quantitative research uses quantifiable information to identify patterns and trends to make predictions and/or generalise results to a larger group of people. With this type of research, the focus is on validation and leveraging different sources of data to better understand behaviours.

Quantitative questions are direct and are typically anchored in a specific unit of measurement. Here are a few examples:

  • What was the main reason why you didn't sign-up to the premium subscription once your free-trial had ended?
  • How difficult did you find it to sign-up to the App?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied were you with the check-out experience?

In the digital age that we live in, quantitative data is like The Force in Star Wars. It surrounds all living things, but it's most powerful when it’s used and harnessed by the few who properly understand it. That’s why a key focus of quantitative studies is on observing behaviour through analytics and usability testing. In UX, this could be things like time spent on a page, error rates, app store reviews or conversion rates.

However, not all questions can be answered simply from observations. Sometimes dedicated research is required and that’s where surveys come in. Surveys are a great hybrid that provides both quantitative and qualitative information and helps you understand the attitudes and behaviours of the target audience/users at scale.

With quantitative research, the goal is to capture as many data points as possible. The more data points you have, such as survey responses, the higher the statistical reliability of your data and the less likely the results are going to be skewed by outliers (i.e. interesting individuals who act outside of the norm). The higher the reliability of your dataset, the more likely you are to get to the actual truth.

Wrapping Up

Regardless of the type of product you’re working on or where in the design process it is, research is fundamental to achieving ongoing success. At the end of the day, if our products don't resonate with users and help them solve their problems, they will find another alternative that does.

If you’d like to learn more about all things UX Research, head over to Memorisely’s website and check out the UX Research Bootcamp. This five-week program will teach you everything you need to know to get out there and help companies better understand their users and build better products.