Unlock the potential of your digital product and create user-centered designs by understanding the ins and outs of user research. Our ultimate guide covers why it matters, key terms, pros and cons, history, working with specialists, and getting buy-in from stakeholders.


As a Product Manager, it can be tempting to prioritize velocity over all else. After all, without a steady stream of output, a product can fall into stagnation and revenue loss. However, it is important to remember that in the long run, quality of output led by prioritizing user needs (and what they are willing to give you money for) ultimately creates a stronger, more profitable product. User experience research (UXR) is a critical component of product development, as it helps to ensure that products meet the needs and expectations of users. However, different UX research methods can have varying impacts on product roadmaps. In this post, we will explore the different UX research methods and how they can impact the product development process with a touch of personality and emphasis on the importance and history of user research.

What is User Research (and Why Does it Matter)?

User research is the process of studying and understanding the needs, behaviors, and attitudes of the users of a product or service. It involves gathering data and feedback from users through various methods such as surveys, interviews, and usability testing. The goal of user research is to gain insights into user needs and preferences, which can be used to inform the design and development of a product or service.

User research is important because it helps to ensure that products and services are designed and developed with the user in mind. By understanding the needs, behaviors, and attitudes of users, designers and developers can create products and services that are user-centered and easy to use. This can lead to increased user satisfaction and engagement, which can ultimately drive business success.

User research can also help to identify usability issues and pain points early on in the design and development process. This allows designers and developers to make adjustments and improvements before the product or service is launched, which can save time and resources.

Additionally, user research can also help to validate assumptions and hypotheses about the users, their needs, and their behaviors. This can be critical in making product design and development decisions that align with the goals and objectives of the business.

The History of User Research

The history of user research can be traced back to the early days of industrial design and engineering, where user feedback was collected in the form of customer complaints and observations. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that user research began to be formalized as a distinct discipline, with the advent of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and the field of user-centered design.

The origins of modern user research can be traced to the work of researchers and practitioners such as Donald Norman, who popularized the concept of user-centered design in his 1988 book "The Design of Everyday Things". Norman's work emphasized the importance of understanding user needs and behaviors in the design process, and laid the foundation for the modern field of user research.

In the 1990s, the field of user research began to expand, as more companies and organizations recognized the value of understanding their users. The rise of the internet and digital technologies also led to an increased focus on user-centered design and user research, as these technologies became more complex and difficult to use.

In recent years, user research has become an increasingly important field, with more companies and organizations recognizing the value of understanding their users. The rise of user research has been driven by advances in technology, and the growing complexity of digital products and services, which has led to an increased focus on user-centered design and user research.

In today's world, user research is a crucial part of the product development process, as it allows businesses and organizations to gain insights into user needs and preferences, and design products and services that are user-centered and easy to use. User research methodologies have evolved to include a wide range of techniques such as ethnography, usability testing, surveys, interviews, and more.

Terms to Know

Here are some key terms to know for user experience research:

  • User research: The process of studying and understanding the needs, behaviors, and attitudes of users of a product or service.
  • User-centered design: A design approach that puts the needs, wants, and limitations of the user at the center of the design process.
  • Usability testing: A method of evaluating a product or service by having users perform tasks and evaluating their performance and satisfaction.
  • User interviews: A method of gathering qualitative data by conducting one-on-one conversations with users.
  • Surveys: A method of gathering quantitative data by asking users a set of predefined questions.
  • Personas: A fictional representation of a specific user group, based on research and data.
  • User scenarios: A description of a user's goals and tasks, used to understand the user's needs and context.
  • Wireframes: A visual representation of a product's layout and content, used to communicate design ideas and gather feedback.
  • User journey maps: A visual representation of the steps a user takes to accomplish a specific task or achieve a goal.
  • A/B testing: A method of comparing two versions of a product or design to determine which is more effective.
  • Heuristic evaluation: A method of evaluating a product or service by comparing it to established usability principles and guidelines.
  • Accessibility: The practice of making a product or service usable by people with disabilities.
  • User feedback: Data and insights gathered from users about their experiences with a product or service.

It's important to note that this list is not exhaustive and there are other terms that are commonly used in user experience research. Understanding these terms will give you a good foundation in understanding and conducting user experience research.

The Pros and Cons of User Research

Pros of UX research include:
  • Improved user satisfaction: By understanding user needs and behaviors, designers can create products that better meet those needs and are more intuitive to use.
  • Increased conversion rates: A better user experience can lead to increased conversion rates on e-commerce sites or increased engagement on social media platforms.
  • Reduced development costs: Identifying usability issues early in the design process can save money on development and redesign costs.
  • Increased ROI: A better user experience can lead to increased revenue and return on investment.
Cons of UX research include:
  • Time and cost: Conducting user research can be time-consuming and expensive.
  • Limited sample size: Depending on the research method used, the sample size may be limited, which can affect the generalizability of the findings.
  • Bias: It can be hard to avoid bias when conducting user research, especially when working with small sample sizes.
  • Difficulty in measuring: It can be difficult to measure the impact of UX research on business metrics.

How to Choose the Right UXR Method

Choosing the right method of UX research depends on several factors, including the goals of the research, the resources available, and the target audience. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a research method:

  • Goals: What specific information do you hope to gather from the research? Different research methods are better suited to gathering different types of information. For example, if you want to understand how users navigate a website, a usability test may be more appropriate than a survey.
  • Resources: Consider the resources available to you, such as time, budget, and staff. Some research methods, such as lab-based usability testing, require more resources than others, such as surveys or online card sorting.
  • Audience: Who are your users and where can you find them? Some research methods, such as in-person interviews or usability testing, require access to a specific group of users, while others, such as surveys or online research, can reach a larger audience.
  • Context: What is the context in which the research is conducted? Some methods like diary studies or ethnographic research are conducted in natural environment and are useful when the goal is to understand the user context and behavior.
  • Combining methods: Combining different research methods can provide a more comprehensive understanding of user needs and behaviors. For example, conducting a survey to gather general information about users' needs and behaviors, followed by a usability test to observe how users interact with a product, can provide a more complete picture of the user experience.

It's important to note that no single method will give you the whole picture of user experience. Combining different methods will give you a more complete picture.

Working With Specialists

Hiring an agency to conduct UX research has several benefits. Here are a few:

  • Experience and expertise: Agencies that specialize in UX research have a wealth of experience and expertise in conducting research studies. They have a deep understanding of the different research methods and can help you choose the most appropriate method for your needs. They also have experience in analyzing the data and presenting the findings in a meaningful way.
  • Objectivity: Agencies that specialize in UX research are able to provide an objective perspective on your product or service. They are not emotionally invested in the project and can provide unbiased feedback on the user experience.
  • Resources: Agencies have the resources to conduct research studies on a larger scale. They can recruit participants, conduct the research, and analyze the data. This can save time and money for your company.
  • Access to a wider range of users: Agencies often have a larger pool of participants to draw from, meaning you can reach a wider range of users.
  • Specialization: Agencies specialize in UX research and conduct a wide range of research projects, which means they have experience in different industries and contexts. They can bring best practices and lessons learned from other projects to your research.
  • Flexibility: Agencies can provide flexibility in terms of project scope, budget, and timeline. They can adapt their approach to meet your specific needs.

In summary, hiring an agency to conduct UX research can provide you with the experience, expertise, resources, and objectivity you need to gain a deep understanding of your users and improve the user experience of your product or service.

Take a look at our process to conducting user research.

If a product team doesn't know how to conduct user research, there are several steps they can take to learn:

  • Read about user research methods: There are many books and online resources that provide an overview of different user research methods and how to conduct them. It's a good idea to start with an overview of the different methods and then focus on the methods that are most relevant to your research goals.
  • Attend workshops or conferences: Many organizations and universities offer workshops or conferences on user research methods. These can be a great way to learn from experts and gain hands-on experience.
  • Take a course: There are many online courses and certifications available in user research. These can be a great way to gain a deeper understanding of the methods and best practices.
  • Talk to other researchers: Reach out to other researchers in your organization or in your industry. They may be willing to share their knowledge and experience with you.
  • Collaborate with research agencies: If resources are available, consider partnering with a research agency to conduct user research. They can provide guidance, expertise and support throughout the research process.
  • Practice: As with any skill, the best way to learn how to conduct user research is to do it. Start small and practice with a simple research project. As you gain experience, you can gradually increase the complexity of your research projects.

It's important to keep in mind that user research is an ongoing process that should be integrated into the product development cycle. Start small and learn as you go, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. The most important thing is to keep user's needs and feedback at the center of the development process.

Getting Buy-In

Selling the value of UX research to stakeholders can be challenging, but it's important to communicate the benefits in a way that speaks to their interests and priorities. Here are a few ways to sell the value of UX research to stakeholders:

  • Show the ROI: Demonstrate how UX research can lead to increased revenue, reduced development costs, and improved customer satisfaction. Use data and case studies to support your argument.
  • Highlight the risks: Explain the risks of not conducting UX research, such as low adoption rates, high abandonment rates, and poor customer satisfaction.
  • Address pain points: Identify the specific pain points that stakeholders are facing and explain how UX research can help address them. For example, if stakeholders are concerned about low conversion rates, explain how user research can help identify the reasons for this and provide solutions to improve the user experience.
  • Involve stakeholders in the research process: Invite stakeholders to participate in the research process. This will give them a firsthand understanding of the value of UX research and the insights that can be gained from it.
  • Share the results: Share the results of UX research with stakeholders in a way that is easy to understand and actionable. Use visual aids and real-life examples to help stakeholders understand the insights and how they can be applied to improve the product or service.
  • Show the benefits for the end-users: Make sure to stress the benefits for the end-users, such as better usability, better user experience, and more efficient product or service.
  • Show the competitive advantage: Emphasize how UX research can help your organization stand out from the competition by providing a better user experience.

Ultimately, the key is to communicate the value of UX research in a way that aligns with the stakeholders' interests and priorities. By demonstrating the benefits of UX research in terms of financial return, risk reduction and improved user satisfaction, you will increase the chances of getting buy-in and support for your research initiatives.

Scenic West Design Team
We're your on-demand team of Product Strategists and UX/UI Designers that create user-centered product experience that scale for B2B SaaS and E-commerce companies.
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