A Guide to User Research Process for Your UX Design | 2023 Edition

Fiha Febiala
March 15, 2023

So many user feedback to think of for the design process?

But what should you do to understand the needs and wants of your users?

Will the UX research process take so long?

How can the key findings help your design team?

Oh, my God! So many unclear questions!

But, then, can you just jump to the design process and skip these questions?

Meme of designers who got stuck in research learning spiral with a dialogue "Somebody get me outta here!"

Stuck no more - that's why we created this quick guide for you!

You know that it's important to do user research before you start making a product.

So, this post will help you see the value of user research for you as a designer, so you can help make the process easier for both you and your clients.

We will discuss what user research is, how to conduct it, the different UX research methods, the best UX research tools to use, and a few other topics to give you the big picture.

If you prefer video, you can also watch Estie Choi's Youtube video, which we love, because it's so concise yet cute at the same time. In her video below, she used user interviews as her UX research method.

Estie Choi's Youtube video screenshot on her 9-step UX research

TLDR about the user research process

  • It is used in UX product design to identify end-user needs, desires, and expectations. To gather data, you can conduct user interviews and surveys, and observe how they use items or a few other UX research types.
  • The importance of user research makes sense from design and business perspectives as well.
  • There are 6 steps to the UX research process: plan your research,

What is user research and why do you need it?

What it is?

User research is a process that helps you understand what people want and need when you're making something for them, like a website or app.

Side note: Is UX research and user research the same?

The terms can be used interchangeably. UX research stands for 'user experience research' which conveys the same meaning as 'user research'.

To relate to user experience design, this UX research is an integral study prior to the design process as it would help designers understand.

“A person's perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service"

(UX design intro by Interaction Design Foundation)

as defined by ISO 9241-210, Ergonomics of human-system interaction—Part 210: Human-centered design for interactive systems.

So, this information can then be used to inform your design process, as a better-informed design would better meet their needs.

So, why do you need user research?

Design POV

It is important as you can make sure that the things you design are not only what your client wants and has clearly conveyed to you, but also what the people who will be using them want and need.

With that information, you can design the best user experience for your site or apps.

Business POV

UX research helps you make sense from a business POV too. 

It's important for you and your client to be clear about the business's goals and objectives because if the product is actually not needed, the business cannot make a profit and will not be sustainable. 

A lousy or not-friendly website can also expose businesses to losing customers as well.

So, what can help you design-wise and business-wise? Conducting user research methods.

Types of user research methods (with some best UX design examples)

Now, let's look at the different types of UX research you can conduct.

(You can scroll down to check out the cheat sheet on how to pick the best UX research type for you in this section)

The UX research process comes in many forms. You would need to use different types of research that could give you different kinds of information.

A diagram showing different research methods mapped according to their category
UX research methods in a chart by Nielsen

This process is crucial because, as you're trying to make a product that your users will love, clarifying your assumptions is needed. 

So, it's important to know how to get inside their heads and hearts with the right method.

Generally, there are 2 types of UX research: qualitative and quantitative methods.

From quantitative data, you can learn a lot about what's going on, what's happened, how your products and services are being utilized, how people feel about those products and services, how well things are going, and how poorly they're going.

Yet it fails to explain why.

This is when qualitative information comes in handy. 

You can do qualitative research to find out more about your users and what drives them. Furthermore, you can also know the origins of their beliefs and values.

Other than qualitative and quantitative types, Don Norman, the father of UX, also added that UX research can either be attitudinal or behavioral.

The attitudinal type is where you pay attention to what other people say (e.g., in interviews), while the behavioral type is where you observe their actions through observational research.

You can save the quick guide below to help you choose the best UX research type.

A cheatsheet table to help you choose UX research methods
Cheatsheet for picking the right UX research method based on Stephanie Marsh (2021)

Here are some of the most common types of UX research that designers use. To elucidate the points better, we'll use some real UX designs as examples. 

Method #1: Survey

This is a simple and cheap method of gathering extensive data from a lot of people in a shorter time. All you have to do is develop the questionnaire to clarify what the target users need and send the surveys to them.

Mailchimp is one company that conducts user surveys for this purpose. They always survey their users to learn what they like and dislike about their product and how to improve it.

You can use survey to ask your research questions to your research participants

Method #2: Interviews

You can conduct interviews if you require deeper insights and qualitative information. Mailchimp and Zendesk may sometimes invite their users for phone calls and does interviews with them to understand their experiences better and gather specific feedback.

This method requires more manpower and a longer time, but it's more insightful as the questions you ask can be changed during the research sessions.

Method #3: Observations

In designing digital products, observing may be a bit limited, but with user heat tracking, we can now gain data on how users use an interface - whether they skip certain items or linger too long at certain sections.

Based on Interaction-Design Foundation, observations are great for usability testing too.

These are just a few examples of the types of UX research that can be done to help create the best possible user experience. There are also:

Method #4: Analytics

If you or your clients have been gathering prior tracking of their users' behaviors and trends before, these data points can be used too.

One example of analytics used in UX research is the website heatmap tool, which helps track what people do on a website page.

Picture shows website heat map by Hotjar as one of the UX research methods

Method #5: Accessibility evaluations

You can use this method to test how accessible the design is for a wide spectrum of people in the community.

Example of short guide to designing for users with anxiety — A list of do’s and don’ts
Design guide for users with anxiety by UXDesign which can help in your research plan

Method #6: Card sorting

Another famous UX research tool where normally invites users to think about and correlate things, by moving and grouping cards together on the board.

This is useful when building or revising the layout of a website, such as determining what information is closely linked and should thus be grouped together and labeled.

Card sorting is a famous UX research method to gather data and identify patterns

By using a variety of research methods, you can learn more about your users as a whole and meet their real expectations. 

This way, you will also design based on real user behavior and key insights, instead of making assumptions. Check out our article on why data-driven design is important.

Hence, you will be able to create a product that both parties will love.

Steps & processes to conduct user research

So, how do you do this research? Getting to know your users can seem like a daunting task, but it's actually a lot of fun, especially when you know how!

Let's break it down into manageable pieces:

6 steps in UX research process based on Lean UX framework (just sample)
6-step process to do user research

Step #1: Plan your research

Be clear on what your UX research is for and about. What kind of information about your customers do you seek?

The question is, "What are your goals for this study?" or "What are the knowledge gaps we need to fill?"

Having a plan in place to achieve your research goals is essential.

Step #2: Find out who you're trying to reach

Where do you wish to look for information?

You may need to break down the huge group into smaller, more manageable portions.

You won't get very far if you try to cover everyone and everything in your research.

For this to work, you may need to do some screening and recruitment briefs as well.

Step #3: Pick a strategy

UX research can be conducted in a variety of ways, as we have briefly shared above.

You’d also need to decide on what kind of data/ insight management to collect all the data. 

Step #4: Carry out the research process

After settling on a strategy, you may begin your UX research.

Do not forget to be clear with the legal parts, too - to inform the respondents about the use of their data, their consent, and their privacy.

Step #5: Analyze your research insights

After you have gathered all of your data, it is time to analyze it.

You would need to find actionable insights.

What you've learned (data/ information) becomes actionable insight when you apply it to the specific UX research focus you're working on right now.

Depending on what you try to accomplish, you may need to do some user testing to further validate your findings.

A flow to help designers manage research insights from the research study done
A method you can use to help find actionable insight from UX research

Step #6: Share your findings (UX Storytelling)

As a final step, report your findings to your team and your clients.

Clearly and persuasively present your findings, and let them guide your design choices.

UX research process may seem big, but with a little creativity and a lot of hard work, you'll be amazed at what you can learn about your users and how that knowledge can inform and improve your design decisions

What are the best UX research tools?

It’s great to do all the UX research naturally.

But, as this research can be time-consuming, here are a few of our recommended freemium UX research tools you can use for the process.

Screenshot of some of the tools and UX research you can do in Optimal Workshop.
Sneak peek inside our recommended tools from Optimal Workshop

Tool #1: Holistic UX research tool

If you are keen to populate and manage your UX research from 1 platform, you can try Optimal Workshop.

We personally love how their cute clean UI and most importantly, the many UX researches this tool can help us with.

It comes with a free plan with no requirement to upgrade, so you can comfortably use this as a start.

Typeform screenshot where you can use for surveys to ask your research questions
Sneak peek inside our recommended survey tool from Typeform

Tool #2: For surveys

We recommend: Typeform

Of course, you can use Google Forms for surveys but if you're thinking of delighting your respondents with a great UI for the surveys and sleek movement from one question to another, you should check out Typeform. After you've distributed your survey, you may view replies and completion rates and produce shareable results.

Screenshot of Figma for card sorting
Card sorting in Figma can help your UX research process

Tool #3: For card sorting:

We recommend Figma.

Figma is a versatile tool - you can create your own board from Figma templates or start from scratch.

*For an extensive review of UX research tools, you can check out recommendations from the UX Design Institute and Grain.

You can also look at UserInterview's UX Research Tools Map below for larger perspective.

Maps of tools you can use to help with UX research process and managing your research findings
UX research tools map by UserInterview to help you with your UX research process

It maps a lot more tools in the ecosystem, from doing research to managing many types of insights.

What should you expect from the user research?

So, now that you know what, why, and how, what should you anticipate from this process? Here's what you should expect:

Unexpected insights

UX research is full of surprises. We put this on top of the list because even after so many years in the field, research outcome will still surprise us. Be open about the process and most of the time, 

A deeper insight about your users

When done correctly, you'll learn about your user behaviors, needs, wants, and desires, and put them in your design at the right place.

Improved design decisions

As you dig deeper into your users, you'll be able to make more informed design decisions. You'll know what features to include, what features to leave out, and how to create a product that people will love.

Picture showing our Popmeal apps which we designed in Zensite after consulting actual users

Increased confidence

As this UX research helps you to understand your users, you'll feel more confident in your design decisions. You'll know that you're making choices that are based on real data and real insights.


So, that's a wrap!

You've just taken a quick dive into the world of UX research, as well as a crash course on how to conduct it. 

We hope that this quick guide has been a helpful introduction to your design research.

Contact Zensite right away to find out more about how we can help you come up with a UX research strategy that will improve your product's user experience.

Below, we've added some extra FAQs for you to explore.

Extra FAQs (in accordion)

Who should not conduct UX research process?

UX research is an important part of UX design, but not every project or situation needs or calls for it. Some scenarios where UX research may not be needed include:

  1. When creating a product that is an exact copy of an existing product, the user's needs and behaviors are already well established.
  2. When creating a product with a very limited target audience, the stakeholders already have a deep understanding of their needs and behaviors.
  3. When creating internal tools for a company, the end-users are already known and well-defined.

It's important to look at each project's specific needs and limitations to decide if UX research is needed. In general, skipping user research should only be done with caution and only in specific cases where it is deemed unnecessary.

When should we conduct UX research?

All the time. 

UX research is needed when you want to learn more about your users and make sure that your design meets their needs. 

We love how Usability.gov helps classify when we should conduct different types of UX research based on the needs we have. Below is a snippet of the table:

Table to help you know what UX research method to pick

You can use this table from Usability.gov tells you when to use which UX research methods accordingly.

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