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Blog > UX design > What Is UX Research? The Ultimate Guide You Shouldn't Miss! (2021 updated)

What Is UX Research? The Ultimate Guide You Shouldn't Miss! (2021 updated)

Mar 10, 2019

UX research - the starting point of a web or mobile app design project- helps us understand more about the audience and build better products and services with the help of data.

However, as a product designer or developer, how much do you know about UX research?

Why should you never skip the UX research process? What common methods should you use to quickly start your product design workflow?

Look no further. Here is a complete guide for you to learn about the basics of UX research. What is UX research, UX research types, why do you need UX research and how to do UX research and more are covered in this guide.

The relevant UX research tools, books, online courses and other free resources are also followed at the end of this guide to help you start your UX research and design project as soon as possible.

Table of Contents:

  • What is UX research?

  • Two types of UX research

  • UX research VS market research

  • Why do you need UX research?

  • When to do UX research?

  • How to conduct UX research?

  • Common UX research methods & when to use

  • More UX research resources - tools, books & courses

What is UX research?

UX research, also known as "design research", is the process of researching target users and trying to understand their needs, behaviors, pain points and motivations by using a range of effective research and analysis methods. It plays an essential role in helping designers and product teams create a website or mobile app that target users really love and will remember well.

UX Research

Two types of UX research

To understand the needs of target users, you will often use two types of UX research:

  • Quantitative research: Quantitative research refers to any research (like a user survey) that can be presented in numbers, giving direct answers to questions having words "how much", "how many" or "how often", such as "how many users clicked the CTA button" or "how many users prefer to leave a comment". This type of research often explains what is happening on a website or app, and is very important for designers to understand the user behaviors or use contexts.

Quantitative research vs Qualitative research

  • Qualitative research: Qualitative research uses interviews, conversations or other non-numerical methods to investigate users and explain why they do something on your website or app, like "why they missed a CTA button" or "why they did not leave a comment". This type of research helps designers better understand users' motivations, pain points, goals and more. 

To create a user-centered product, UX researchers often choose all possible research methods, including both the quantitative and qualitative research methods, to collect as much user information as possible to simplify their design and development process.

UX research VS market research

To increase sales, companies focus heavily on market research, thinking that’s enough to create a product that users love. But, that's not true.

UX research and mark research both have different focuses and place different impact on the later product design-and-development workflow:

  • Market research: Market research aims to collect information to increase the sales of a product, focusing on identifying the potential users and development opportunities, positioning products, monitoring marketing performance and analyzing product revenues. All research behaviors are motivated by the product sales, not the users.

  • UX research: UX research tries to collect information to fit the user's needs, wants and abilities. It focuses on the users, not the sales, though the final goal of doing UX research is to increase product sales. UX research emphasizes the usability and accessibility of the product to the users.

So, both of them play an important role in helping you create a valuable and effective product.

Why do you need UX research?

Here are reasons why you should not skip the UX research:

  • It helps create a product that truly help users solve problems

  • It helps increases page conversation rates and purchase rates

  • It helps speed up the product development process

  • It helps build a stronger user loyalty to your brand

  • It helps decrease the app learning curve

  • It helps you save time and money

Why do you need UX research?

Being taken as the starting point of a product design project, UX research helps design teams better understand the target audience and gather more valuable insights to the product design process. It will keep your team away from wasting time and money on unnecessary things.

When to do UX research?

In brief, UX research should be conducted continuously throughout your entire product design lifecycle.

A comprehensive and deep UX research, at the very beginning of your design process, gives you a better understanding of the users, markets and challenges that you may face. Your findings and insights gathered from real users and customers will also provide a great impact on your later design process, helping you craft more valuable solutions and features.

When interacting on your project with your team at all later design stages, proper UX research will refresh your design insights, letting you create the most up-to-date product. The research result is useful in  timely evaluating your design concepts and seeing whether they all are beneficial.

So, UX research should be done at all stages of your product design workflow.

How to conduct UX research?

Here are five steps you should take to start UX research:

How to conduct UX research?

Step1. Figure out your objectives

Before you get started with your web or app project, you should spare some time thinking about your purposes of doing UX research. Try to list out all questions you want to answer through UX research, such as:

  • Who are your target users?

  • What will they often do with your web or app?

  • When or in what situation will they choose to use your web or app?

  • What features will they prefer to use when using your web or app?

  • How will your web or app meet the needs of users?

With all these questions in mind, you will do everything orderly and purposely, not blindly.

Step2. Find out what you already know

After figuring out what you want to know about the user and the market, you should then find out what you already know.  No matter the type of website or app you are building, you may have early assumptions about how you want it to be built.

You can just write down or sketch out whatever in your mind to see whether they can be used in your later design draft. Even when the research results prove to be different from your thinking, you may also get chances to update your knowledge, right? Needless to say, in some cases, the differences may bring you new yet fascinating design ideas.

Step3. Select the right research methods

Now you are supposed to select the right research methods based on your deadline, project type and research team size. Divide your researching process into different stages according to your purposes and select the right research methods for each stage.

Step4. Conduct UX research

And then, follow your plan to conduct the design research, trying to gather as much data as possible through the research methods you've selected.

Step5. Analyze the research data

Gathering the user data is not the end of the design research. To know what the end users want, you need to carefully analyze the data. Remember to record all user feedback and research data in a structured manner so that you and your team can freely check and track what you've got later.

Common UX research methods & when to use

Nowadays, there are many UX research methods that you can take to find out what you want, such as interviews, card sorts, user surveys, questionnaires, usability tests, A/B tests and so on. How can you use them to streamline your design process?

Let's look at five common UX research methods and see when to use them:

1).User interviews

User interviews are one-to-one interviews between the end users or stakeholders and the UX researcher. This research method is an essential qualitative UX research method that research teams take to get detailed information about the end users' personality, experiences, attitudes, desires and pain points.

UX researchers can simply invite a group of users and directly ask questions to get answers they want to know. To make sure that every question is valid, UX researchers simulate their interviews and write down or outline their questions in advance.

User Interviews

As remote design collaboration rises its popularity among designers and product teams, remote user interviews are also becoming more popular these days.

When to use:

Since user interviews are the fastest ways to get user feedback. This research method is brought into the design workflow very early, such as the early design stage before you start to design a project.

Additionally, some product teams use it with other forms of research methods during the entire product design lifecycle.

2).Card sorts

Card sorting is a qualitative research method that allows users to organize the web or app content in their own logical structure. UX research often first creates a set of cards that present all relevant design concepts or items and lets users sort them according to their needs and experiences. This gives deep insights into the website or app’s navigation.

When to use:

This research method is often used to decide on the navigation or the site's information architecture throughout the product design process.

Card sorts

3).User surveys and questionnaires

User surveys and questionnaires are quite similar UX research methods. Both of them require product teams to first craft a series of questions to ask users of your website to learn more about the users and get their feedback. To gain quality and helpful user feedback, you should also spend much time crafting the right questions and get the right group of users to answer these questions.

Thanks to some handy user survey or questionnaire tools, such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms, it is quite easy to adopt this research method.

When to use:

You can feel free to select this method throughout your product design lifecycle.

4).Diary studies

Diary studies are another qualitative UX research method that asks target users to record their experience in a diary, so UX researchers can analyze the diaries to learn more about user behaviors and needs for far more in depth insights.

For example, when working on a food delivery app, let users try an existing delivery app and ask them to write a diary about the experience on the app to gain insights, including information such as what they enjoy most and what pain points they identify.

5).Create user personas and user stories

Personas are a series of representative user models created based on the data that you've gathered through user interviews, surveys or other methods. They help you present the main general groups of your target users. User stories describe how the end user will use your website or app, helping you better understand the user situations and scenarios.

Building user personas and user stories is essential for product teams to know the target users, analyze their needs, and evaluate whether a feature or solution resolves their problems. When to use:

Product teams create user personas or user stories after they've gathered enough user information at the basic UX research phrases, like the interviews, surveys or questionnaires, when they can then create these user personas from the data they have accumulated.

6).Usability tests

Usability tests mean to ask potential or target users to directly test the app ( often the website or app prototypes or sketches) and gather their feedback to see whether the app features work as well as the product team thinks. So, to conduct this research method, product teams should also first create a clickable prototype or early idea sketches to start the testing.

Test with Prototypes

When to use:

You can choose this research method after you've got a testable web or mobile app prototype.

7).A/B testing

A/B testing is a great method to help product teams choose the better version from two options or solutions that help users resolve problems.

For example, when you don't know whether a link or a button is better to redirect users to the product detail page when working on a commercial website. A/B testing would be a good option to help you get valuable user feedback to make the right decision. 

If users testing the A version click through 40% of the time but the users testing version B click through 65% of the time, you know instantly which version to use.

When to use:

A/B testing is the best option when you need to decide which of the two designs should be adopted.

More UX research resources you should know

Best UX research tools

  • Lookback - a simple user interview app that allows you to do a live user interview, record and share the whole experience with your team.
  • Dscout - a qualitative remote research platform for capturing the thoughts, reactions and behaviors of users in moments as they happen.
  • Mockplus - an all-in-one product design platform that allows your entire team to prototype websites or apps, collaborate, test and iterate together in one shareable cloud place.
  • UserTesting - a usability testing and research tool that helps you get remote or in-person feedback from your target users and improve your user experience.

Best UX research books

This book provides a real-world perspective on research and shares advice about how user research can be done cheaply and quickly.

This book provides a useful guide on how to use statistics to solve common quantitative problems in user research.

UX Research Books

This book provides invaluable interviewing techniques and tools to help you conduct informative interviews with anyone.

This book provides a comprehensive guide on the five major user research methods.

This book introduces a range of research approaches and shares tools and insights to help you do more with less.

There are also Top 10 Books about UX Research to help you further delve into design research.

Best UX research courses

This online course integrates the basics of UX research and UX design and would help you lay a solid design foundation.

From this UX course, you will learn major survey methods in UX research and see how you can gain UX insights from a large number of users, how to analyze data and how to do A/B tests and more.

This 4-week online course is perfect for design beginners to learn the basics of user-centered design and how to create key components of any customer research process.

Best UX research survey templates

This template would help you evaluate the level of user satisfaction with the interface of your product.

This website shares a wide range of survey templates, including the website survey templates, user testing survey templates, user experience survey templates and more.

This post collects 10 user experience survey templates that you try to do your UX research quickly.

You may also like:

1.Design research examples - good design research questions

2.Examples of UX Research portfolios

3.The Research Question in Social Research: What is its Role?

4.137 questions in Design Research


Design is a big job, and to achieve long-term success is an even bigger challenge. Every step, every tiny detail must be tended to throughout the user experience design process. Design research is an inevitability when starting a design project. Once you complete it, you will find that its value is beyond your imagination.

We hope that this answers the question of "what is design research", and the next time you are asked about it, you will not shake your head and ask again what design research is.

Trista Liu

In-house UX copywriter. She is passionate about UX design, always bursting with energy and full of new ideas.

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