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How to conduct user research: A step-by-step guide

How to conduct user research - step by step guide

This is part one of a guide to User research.

Continue with part two: How to conduct user research: A Step-by-step guide

Continue with part three: What is exploratory research and why is it so exciting?

What user research did you conduct to reveal your ideal user?

Uh-oh. Not this question again. We both know the most common answer and it’s not great.

“Uhm, we talked to some users and had a brainstorming session with our team. It’s not much, but we don’t have time to do anything more right now. It’s better than nothing.”

Let’s be brutally honest about the meaning of that answer and rephrase it:

“ We don’t have time to get to know our actual user and maximize our chances of success. We’ll just assume that we know what they want and then wonder why the product fails at a later stage.”

If that sounds super bad, it’s because IT IS. You don’t want to end up in this situation. And you won’t.

After reading this guide, you’ll know exactly how to carry out the user research that will become your guiding star during product development.

On this page

Why is user research so important?

Step #1: define research objectives.

Go ahead – create that fake persona

Step #2: Pick your methods

Qualitative methods – the why, quantitative methods – the what, behavioral and attitudinal methods, step #3: find your participants, how to recruit participants, how many participants, step #4: conduct user research.

Focus groups

Competitive analysis

Field studies

What’s next?

User research can be a scary word. It may sound like money you don’t have, time you can’t spare, and expertise you need to find. That’s why some people convince themselves that it’s not that important.

Which is a HUGE mistake.

User research is crucial – without it, you’ll spend your energy, time and money on a product that is based around false assumptions that won’t work in the real world.

Let’s take a look at Segway, a technologically brilliant product with incredible introductory publicity. Although it’s still around, it simply didn’t reach initial expectations. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • It brought mockery, not admiration. The user was always “that guy”, who often felt fat or lazy.
  • Cities were not prepared for it. Neither users nor policemen knew if it should be used on the road or on the sidewalk.
  • A large segment of the target market comprised of postal and security workers. However, postal workers need both hands while walking, and security workers prefer bikes that don’t have a limited range.

Segway mainly fell short because of issues that could’ve been foreseen and solved by better user research.

Tim Brown, the CEO of the innovation and design firm IDEO, sums it up nicely:

“Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.”

? Bonus material Download User research checklist and a comparison table

Never forget – you are not your user.

You require proper user research to understand your user’s problems, pain points, needs, desires, feelings and behaviours.

Let’s start with the process!

Before you get in touch with your target users, you need to define why you are doing the research in the first place. 

Establish clear objectives and agree with your team on your exact goals – this will make it much easier to gain valuable insights. Otherwise, your findings will be all over the place.

Here are some sample questions that will help you to define your objectives:

  • What do you want to uncover?
  • What are the knowledge gaps that you need to fill?
  • What is already working and what isn’t?
  • Is there a problem that needs to be fixed? What is that problem?
  • What will the research bring to the business and/or your customers?

Once you start answering questions like these, it’s time to make a list of objectives. These should be specific and concise .

Let’s say you are making a travel recommendation app. Your research goals could be:

  • Understand the end-to-end process of how participants are currently making travel decisions.
  • Uncover the different tools that participants are using to make travel decisions.
  • Identify problems or barriers that they encounter when making travel decisions.

I suggest that you prioritize your objectives and create an Excel table. It will come in handy later.

Go ahead, create that fake persona

A useful exercise for you to do at this stage is to write down some hypotheses about your target users.

Ask yourself:

What do we think we understand about our users that is relevant to our business or product?

Yes, brainstorm the heck out of this persona, but keep it relevant to the topic at hand.

Here’s my empathy map and empathy map canvas to really help you flesh out your imaginary user.

Once you’re finished, research any and every statement , need and desire with real people.

It’s a simple yet effective way to create questions for some of the research methods that you’ll be using.

However, you need to be prepared to throw some of your assumptions out of the window. If you think this persona may affect your bias, don’t bother with hypotheses and dive straight into research with a completely open mind.

Alright, you have your research goals. Now let’s see how you can reach them.

Here’s the main question you should be asking yourself at this step in the process:

Based on our time and manpower, what methods should we select?

It’s essential to pick the right method at the right time . I’ll delve into more details on specific methods in Step #4. For now, let’s take a quick look at what categories you can choose from.

Qualitative research tells you ‘why’ something occurs. It tells you the reasons behind the behavior, the problem or the desire. It answers questions like: “ Why do you prefer using app X instead of other similar apps?” or “What’s the hardest part about being a sales manager? Why?” .

Qualitative data comes in the form of actual insights and it’s fairly easy to understand.

Most of the methods we’ll look at in Step #4 are qualitative methods.

Quantitative research helps you to understand what is happening by providing different metrics.

It answers questions such as “What percentage of users left their shopping cart without completing the purchase?” or “Is it better to have a big or small subscription button?”.

Most quantitative methods come in handy when testing your product, but not so much when you’re researching your users. This is because they don’t tell you why particular trends or patterns occur.

There is a big difference between “what people do” and “what people say”.

As their names imply, attitudinal research is used to understand or measure attitudes and beliefs, whereas behavioral research is used to measure and observe behaviors.

Here’s a practical landscape that will help you choose the best methods for you. If it doesn’t make sense now, return to it once you’ve finished the guide and you’ll have a much better understanding.

what to do after user research

Source: Nielsen Norman Group

I’ll give you my own suggestions and tips about the most common and useful methods in Step #4 – Conducting research.

In general, if your objectives are specific enough, it shouldn’t be too hard to see which methods will help you achieve them.

Remember that Excel table? Choose a method or two that will fulfill each objective and type it in the column beside it.

It won’t always be possible to carry out everything you’ve written down. If this is the case, go with the method(s) that will give you most of the answers. With your table, it will be easy to pick and choose the most effective options for you.

Onto the next step!

what to do after user research

This stage is all about channeling your inner Sherlock and finding the people with the secret intel for your product’s success.

Consider your niche, your objectives and your methods – this should give you a general idea of the group or groups you want to talk to and research further.

Here’s my advice for most cases.

If you’re building something from the ground up, the best participants might be:

  • People you assume face the problem that your product aims to solve
  • Your competitors’ customers

If you are developing something or solving a problem for an existing product, you should also take a look at:

  • Advocates and super-users
  • Customers who have recently churned
  • Users who tried to sign up or buy but decided not to commit

what to do after user research

There are plenty of ways to bring on participants, and you can get creative so long as you keep your desired target group in mind.

You can recruit them online – via social media, online forums or niche community sites.

You can publish an ad with requirements and offer some kind of incentive.

You can always use a recruitment agency, too. This can be costly, but it’s also efficient.

If you have a user database and are changing or improving your product, you can find your participants in there. Make sure that you contact plenty of your existing users, as most of them won’t respond.

You can even ask your friends to recommend the right kind of people who you wouldn’t otherwise know.

With that said, you should always be wary of including friends in your research . Sure, they’re the easiest people to reach, but your friendship can (and probably will) get in the way of obtaining honest answers. There are plenty of horror stories about people validating their “brilliant” ideas with their friends, only to lose a fortune in the future. Only consider them if you are 100% sure that they will speak their mind no matter what.

That depends on the method. If you’re not holding a massive online survey, you can usually start with 5 people in each segment . That’s enough to get the most important unique insights. You can then assess the situation and decide whether or not you need to expand your research.

Finally! Let’s go through some of the more common methods you’ll be using, including their pros and cons, some pro tips, and when you should use them.

Engaging in one-on-one discussions with users enables you to acquire detailed information about a user’s attitudes, desires, and experiences. Individual concerns and misunderstandings can be directly addressed and cleared up on the spot.

Interviews are time-consuming, especially on a per participant basis. You have to prepare for them, conduct them, analyze them and sometimes even transcribe them. They also limit your sample size, which can be problematic. The quality of your data will depend on the ability of your interviewer, and hiring an expert can be expensive.

  • Prepare questions that stick to your main topics. Include follow-up questions for when you want to dig deeper into certain areas.
  • Record the interview . Don’t rely on your notes. You don’t want to interrupt the flow of the interview by furiously scribbling down your answers, and you’ll need the recording for any potential in-depth analysis later on.
  • Conduct at least one trial run of the interview to see if everything flows and feels right. Create a “playbook” on how the interview should move along and update it with your findings.
  • If you are not comfortable with interviewing people, let someone else do it or hire an expert interviewer. You want to make people feel like they are talking to someone they know, rather than actually being interviewed. In my experience, psychologists are a great choice for an interviewer.

Interviews are not really time-sensitive, as long as you do them before the development process.

However, they can be a great supplement to online surveys and vice-versa. Conducting an interview beforehand helps you to create a more focused and relevant survey, while conducting an interview afterwards helps you to explain the survey answers.

Surveys are generally conducted online, which means that it’s possible to gather a lot of data in a very short time for a very low price . Surveys are usually anonymous, so users are often more honest in their responses.

It’s more difficult to get a representative sample because it’s tough to control who takes part in the survey – especially if you post it across social media channels or general forums. Surveys are quite rigid and if you don’t account for all possible answers, you might be missing out on valuable data. You have to be very careful when choosing your questions – poorly worded or leading ones can negatively influence how users respond. Length can also be an issue, as many people hate taking long surveys.

  • Keep your surveys brief , particularly if participants won’t be compensated for their time. Only focus on what is truly important.
  • Make sure that the questions can be easily understood. Unclear or ambiguous questions result in data on which you can’t depend. Keep the wording as simple as possible.
  • Avoid using leading questions. Don’t ask questions that assume something, such as “What do you dislike about X?”. Replace this with “What’s your experience with X?”.
  • Find engaged, niche online communities that fit your user profile. You’ll get more relevant data from these.

Similar to interviews. It depends on whether you want to use the survey as a preliminary method, or if you want a lot of answers to a few, very focused questions.

Design Strategy Focus groups icon

Focus Groups

Focus groups are moderated discussions with around 5 to 10 participants, the intention of which is to gain insight into the individuals’ attitudes, ideas and desires.

As focus groups include multiple people, they can quickly reveal the desires, experiences, and attitudes of your target audience . They are helpful when you require a lot of specific information in a short amount of time. When conducted correctly, they can act like interviews on steroids.

Focus groups can be tough to schedule and manage. If the moderator isn’t experienced, the discussion can quickly go off-topic. There might be an alpha participant that dictates the general opinion, and because it’s not one-on-one, people won’t always speak their mind.

  • Find an experienced moderator who will lead the discussion. Having another person observing and taking notes is also highly recommended, as he or she can emphasize actionable insights and catch non-verbal clues that would otherwise be missed.
  • Define the scope of your research . What questions will you ask? How in-depth do you want to go with the answers? How long do you want each discussion to last? This will determine how many people and groups should be tested.
  • If possible, recruit potential or existing users who are likely to provide good feedback, yet will still allow others to speak their mind. You won’t know the participants most of the time, so having an experienced moderator is crucial.

Focus groups work best when you have a few clear topics that you want to focus on.

Competitive Analysis

A competitive analysis highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing products . It explores how successful competitors act on the market. It gives you a solid basis for other user research methods and can also uncover business opportunities. It helps you to define your competitive advantage , as well as identify different user types.

A competitive analysis can tell you what exists, but not why it exists. You may collect a long feature list, but you won’t know which features are valued most by users and which they don’t use at all. In many cases, it’s impossible to tell how well a product is doing, which makes the data less useful. It also has limited use if you’re creating something that’s relatively new to the market.

  • Create a list or table of information that you want to gather – market share, prices, features, visual design language, content, etc.
  • Don’t let it go stale. Update it as the market changes so that you include new competitors.
  • If you find something really interesting but don’t know the reason behind it, conduct research among your competitor’s users .
  • After concluding your initial user research, go over the findings of your competitive analysis to see if you’ve discovered anything that’s missing on the market .

It can be a great first method, especially if you’re likely to talk to users of your competitors’ products

what to do after user research

Field Studies

Field studies are research activities that take place in the user’s context, rather than at your company or office. Some are purely observational (the researcher is a “fly on the wall”), others are field interviews, and some act as a demonstration of pain points in existing systems.

You really get to see the big picture –  field studies allow you to gain insights that will fundamentally change your product design . You see what people actually do instead of what they say they do. A field study can explain problems and behaviours that you don’t understand better than any other method.

It’s the most time-consuming and expensive method. The results rely on the observer more than any of the other options. It’s not appropriate for products that are used in rare and specific situations.

  • Establish clear objectives. Always remember why you are doing the research. Field studies can provide a variety of insights and sometimes it can be hard to stay focused. This is especially true if you are participating in the observed activity.
  • Be patient. Observation might take some time. If you rush, you might end up with biased results.
  • Keep an open mind and don’t ask leading questions. Be prepared to abandon your preconceptions, assumptions and beliefs. When interviewing people, try to leave any predispositions or biases at the door.
  • Be warm but professional. If you conduct interviews or participate in an activity, you won’t want people around you to feel awkward or tense. Instead, you’ll want to observe how they act naturally.

Use a field study when no other method will do or if it becomes clear that you don’t really understand your user. If needed, you should conduct this as soon as possible – it can lead to monumental changes.

We started with a user persona and we’ll finish on this topic, too. But yours will be backed by research 😉

A persona outlines your ideal user in a concise and understandable way. It includes the most important insights that you’ve discovered. It makes it easier to design products around your actual users and speak their language. It’s a great way to familiarize new people on your team with your target market.

A persona is only as good as the user research behind it. Many companies create a “should be” persona instead of an actual one. Not only can such a persona be useless, it can also be misleading.

  • Keep personas brief. Avoid adding unnecessary details and omit information that does not aid your decision making. If a persona document is too long, it simply won’t be used.
  • Make personas specific and realistic. Avoid exaggerating and include enough detail to help you find real people that represent your ideal user.

Create these after you’ve carried out all of the initial user research. Compile your findings and create a persona that will guide your development process.

Now you know who you are creating your product for – you’ve identified their problems, needs and desires. You’ve laid the groundwork, so now it’s time to design a product that will blow your target user away! But that’s a topic for a whole separate guide, one that will take you through the process of product development and testing 😉

PS. Don’t forget -> Here is your ? User Research Checklist and comparison table

About the author

Romina Kavcic profile image

Oh hey, I’m Romina Kavcic

I am a Design Strategist who holds a Master of Business Administration. I have 14+ years of career experience in design work and consulting across both tech startups and several marquee tech unicorns such as, Outfit7, Databox, Xamarin, Chipolo, Singularity.NET, etc. I currently advise, coach and consult with companies on design strategy & management, visual design and user experience. My work has been published on Forbes, Hackernoon, Blockgeeks, Newsbtc, Bizjournals, and featured on Apple iTunes Store.

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UX Research Cheat Sheet

Portrait of Susan Farrell

February 12, 2017 2017-02-12

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User-experience research methods are great at producing data and insights, while ongoing activities help get the right things done. Alongside R&D, ongoing UX activities can make everyone’s efforts more effective and valuable. At every stage in the design process, different UX methods can keep product-development efforts on the right track, in agreement with true user needs and not imaginary ones.

In This Article:

When to conduct user research.

One of the questions we get the most is, “When should I do user research on my project?” There are three different answers:

  • Do user research at whatever stage you’re in right now . The earlier the research, the more impact the findings will have on your product, and by definition, the earliest you can do something on your current project (absent a time machine) is today.
  • Do user research at all the stages . As we show below, there’s something useful to learn in every single stage of any reasonable project plan, and each research step will increase the value of your product by more than the cost of the research.
  • Do most user research early in the project (when it’ll have the most impact), but conserve some budget for a smaller amount of supplementary research later in the project. This advice applies in the common case that you can’t get budget for all the research steps that would be useful.

The chart below describes UX methods and activities available in various project stages.

A design cycle often has phases corresponding to discovery, exploration, validation, and listening, which entail design research, user research, and data-gathering activities. UX researchers use both methods and ongoing activities to enhance usability and user experience, as discussed in detail below.

Each project is different, so the stages are not always neatly compartmentalized. The end of one cycle is the beginning of the next.

The important thing is not to execute a giant list of activities in rigid order, but to start somewhere and learn more and more as you go along.

When deciding where to start or what to focus on first, use some of these top UX methods. Some methods may be more appropriate than others, depending on time constraints, system maturity, type of product or service, and the current top concerns. It’s a good idea to use different or alternating methods each product cycle because they are aimed at different goals and types of insight. The chart below shows how often UX practitioners reported engaging in these methods in our survey on UX careers.

The top UX research activities that practitioners said they use at least every year or two, from most frequent to least: Task analysis, requirements gathering, in-person usability study, journey mapping, etc., design review, analytics review, clickable prototype testing, write user stories, persona building, surveys, field studies / user interviews, paper prototype testing, accessibility evaluation, competitive analysis, remote usability study, test instructions / help, card sorting, analyze search logs, diary studies

If you can do only one activity and aim to improve an existing system, do qualitative (think-aloud) usability testing , which is the most effective method to improve usability . If you are unable to test with users, analyze as much user data as you can. Data (obtained, for instance, from call logs, searches, or analytics) is not a great substitute for people, however, because data usually tells you what , but you often need to know why . So use the questions your data brings up to continue to push for usability testing.

The discovery stage is when you try to illuminate what you don’t know and better understand what people need. It’s especially important to do discovery activities before making a new product or feature, so you can find out whether it makes sense to do the project at all .

An important goal at this stage is to validate and discard assumptions, and then bring the data and insights to the team. Ideally this research should be done before effort is wasted on building the wrong things or on building things for the wrong people, but it can also be used to get back on track when you’re working with an existing product or service.

Good things to do during discovery:

  • Conduct field studies and interview users : Go where the users are, watch, ask, and listen. Observe people in context interacting with the system or solving the problems you’re trying to provide solutions for.
  • Run diary studies to understand your users’ information needs and behaviors.
  • Interview stakeholders to gather and understand business requirements and constraints.
  • Interview sales, support, and training staff. What are the most frequent problems and questions they hear from users? What are the worst problems people have? What makes people angry?
  • Listen to sales and support calls. What do people ask about? What do they have problems understanding? How do the sales and support staff explain and help? What is the vocabulary mismatch between users and staff?
  • Do competitive testing . Find the strengths and weaknesses in your competitors’ products. Discover what users like best.

Exploration methods are for understanding the problem space and design scope and addressing user needs appropriately.

  • Compare features against competitors.
  • Do design reviews.
  • Use research to build user personas and write user stories.
  • Analyze user tasks to find ways to save people time and effort.
  • Show stakeholders the user journey and where the risky areas are for losing customers along the way. Decide together what an ideal user journey would look like.
  • Explore design possibilities by imagining many different approaches, brainstorming, and testing the best ideas in order to identify best-of-breed design components to retain.
  • Obtain feedback on early-stage task flows by walking through designs with stakeholders and subject-matter experts. Ask for written reactions and questions (silent brainstorming), to avoid groupthink and to enable people who might not speak up in a group to tell you what concerns them.
  • Iterate designs by testing paper prototypes with target users, and then test interactive prototypes by watching people use them. Don’t gather opinions. Instead, note how well designs work to help people complete tasks and avoid errors. Let people show you where the problem areas are, then redesign and test again.
  • Use card sorting to find out how people group your information, to help inform your navigation and information organization scheme.

Testing and validation methods are for checking designs during development and beyond, to make sure systems work well for the people who use them.

  • Do qualitative usability testing . Test early and often with a diverse range of people, alone and in groups. Conduct an accessibility evaluation to ensure universal access.
  • Ask people to self-report their interactions and any interesting incidents while using the system over time, for example with diary studies .
  • Audit training classes and note the topics, questions people ask, and answers given. Test instructions and help systems.
  • Talk with user groups.
  • Staff social-media accounts and talk with users online. Monitor social media for kudos and complaints.
  • Analyze user-forum posts. User forums are sources for important questions to address and answers that solve problems. Bring that learning back to the design and development team.
  • Do benchmark testing: If you’re planning a major redesign or measuring improvement, test to determine time on task, task completion, and error rates of your current system, so you can gauge progress over time.

Listen throughout the research and design cycle to help understand existing problems and to look for new issues. Analyze gathered data and monitor incoming information for patterns and trends.

  • Survey customers and prospective users.
  • Monitor analytics and metrics to discover trends and anomalies and to gauge your progress.
  • Analyze search queries: What do people look for and what do they call it? Search logs are often overlooked, but they contain important information.
  • Make it easy to send in comments, bug reports, and questions. Analyze incoming feedback channels periodically for top usability issues and trouble areas. Look for clues about what people can’t find, their misunderstandings, and any unintended effects.
  • Collect frequently asked questions and try to solve the problems they represent.
  • Run booths at conferences that your customers and users attend so that they can volunteer information and talk with you directly.
  • Give talks and demos: capture questions and concerns.

Ongoing and strategic activities can help you get ahead of problems and make systemic improvements.

  • Find allies . It takes a coordinated effort to achieve design improvement. You’ll need collaborators and champions.
  • Talk with experts . Learn from others’ successes and mistakes. Get advice from people with more experience.
  • Follow ethical guidelines . The UXPA Code of Professional Conduct is a good starting point.
  • Involve stakeholders . Don’t just ask for opinions; get people onboard and contributing, even in small ways. Share your findings, invite them to observe and take notes during research sessions.
  • Hunt for data sources . Be a UX detective. Who has the information you need, and how can you gather it?
  • Determine UX metrics. Find ways to measure how well the system is working for its users.
  • Follow Tog's principles of interaction design .
  • Use evidence-based design guidelines , especially when you can’t conduct your own research. Usability heuristics are high-level principles to follow.
  • Design for universal access . Accessibility can’t be tacked onto the end or tested in during QA. Access is becoming a legal imperative, and expert help is available. Accessibility improvements make systems easier for everyone.
  • Give users control . Provide the controls people need. Choice but not infinite choice.
  • Prevent errors . Whenever an error occurs, consider how it might be eliminated through design change. What may appear to be user errors are often system-design faults. Prevent errors by understanding how they occur and design to lessen their impact.
  • Improve error messages . For remaining errors, don’t just report system state. Say what happened from a user standpoint and explain what to do in terms that are easy for users to understand.
  • Provide helpful defaults . Be prescriptive with the default settings, because many people expect you to make the hard choices for them. Allow users to change the ones they might need or want to change.
  • Check for inconsistencies . Work-alike is important for learnability. People tend to interpret differences as meaningful, so make use of that in your design intentionally rather than introducing arbitrary differences. Adhere to the principle of least astonishment . Meet expectations instead.
  • Map features to needs . User research can be tied to features to show where requirements come from. Such a mapping can help preserve design rationale for the next round or the next team.
  • When designing software, ensure that installation and updating is easy . Make installation quick and unobtrusive. Allow people to control updating if they want to.
  • When designing devices, plan for repair and recycling . Sustainability and reuse are more important than ever. Design for conservation.
  • Avoid waste . Reduce and eliminate nonessential packaging and disposable parts. Avoid wasting people’s time, also. Streamline.
  • Consider system usability in different cultural contexts . You are not your user. Plan how to ensure that your systems work for people in other countries . Translation is only part of the challenge.
  • Look for perverse incentives . Perverse incentives lead to negative unintended consequences. How can people game the system or exploit it? How might you be able to address that? Consider how a malicious user might use the system in unintended ways or to harm others.
  • Consider social implications . How will the system be used in groups of people, by groups of people, or against groups of people? Which problems could emerge from that group activity?
  • Protect personal information . Personal information is like money. You can spend it unwisely only once. Many want to rob the bank. Plan how to keep personal information secure over time. Avoid collecting information that isn’t required, and destroy older data routinely.
  • Keep data safe . Limit access to both research data and the data entrusted to the company by customers. Advocate for encryption of data at rest and secure transport. A data breach is a terrible user experience.
  • Deliver both good and bad news . It’s human nature to be reluctant to tell people what they don’t want to hear, but it’s essential that UX raise the tough issues. The future of the product, or even the company, may depend on decisionmakers knowing what you know or suspect.
  • Track usability over time . Use indicators such as number and types of support issues, error rates and task completion in usability testing, and customer satisfaction ratings, to show the effectiveness of design improvements.
  • Include diverse users . People can be very different culturally and physically. They also have a range of abilities and language skills. Personas are not enough to prevent serious problems, so be sure your testing includes as wide a variety of people as you can.
  • Track usability bugs . If usability bugs don’t have a place in the bug database, start your own database to track important issues.
  • Pay attention to user sentiment . Social media is a great place for monitoring user problems, successes, frustrations, and word-of-mouth advertising. When competitors emerge, social media posts may be the first indication.
  • Reduce the need for training . Training is often a workaround for difficult user interfaces, and it’s expensive. Use training and help topics to look for areas ripe for design changes.
  • Communicate future directions . Customers and users depend on what they are able to do and what they know how to do with the products and services they use. Change can be good, even when disruptive, but surprise changes are often poorly received because they can break things that people are already doing. Whenever possible, ask, tell, test with, and listen to the customers and users you have. Consult with them rather than just announcing changes. Discuss major changes early, so what you hear can help you do a better job, and what they hear can help them prepare for the changes needed.
  • Recruit people for future research and testing . Actively encourage people to join your pool of volunteer testers. Offer incentives for participation and make signing up easy to do via your website, your newsletter, and other points of contact.

Use this cheat-sheet to choose appropriate UX methods and activities for your projects and to get the most out of those efforts. It’s not necessary to do everything on every project, but it’s often helpful to use a mix of methods and tend to some ongoing needs during each iteration.

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Successfully turn user data into user interfaces. Learn how to create, maintain and utilize personas throughout the UX design process.

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what to do after user research

Always Pilot Test User Research Studies

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User Research

What is user research.

User research is the methodic study of target users—including their needs and pain points—so designers have the sharpest possible insights to make the best designs. User researchers use various methods to expose problems and design opportunities and find crucial information to use in their design process.

Discover why user research is a crucial part of the design process.

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User Research – Get to know your Users, and What They want

To call user research a crucial part of an interaction design process might seem overly obvious. Indeed, it’s the only way to discover exactly what these users need, having first found out precisely who they are. To set out to generate these facts, you must gather data from your users through a structured approach . First, you must choose methods that 1) suit your research’s purpose and 2) will yield the clearest information. Afterwards—to get the insights you want—you’ll need to interpret your findings from all that data, which can be tricky . You can apply user research anytime during the design process. Typically, researchers begin with qualitative measures, to discover users’ needs and motivations . They might later test their results by using quantitative measures .

“Research is creating new knowledge.” – Neil Armstrong, the First person to walk on the Moon

User research essentially splits into two subsets:

Qualitative research – Ethnographic field studies and interviews are examples of methods that can help you build a deep understanding of why users behave the way they do (e.g., why they leave a website so quickly). For instance, you can interview a small number of users and get sharp insights into their shopping habits by asking them open-ended questions. Usability testing is another dimension of this type of research (e.g., examining users’ stress levels when they use a certain design). Qualitative research requires great care. As it involves collecting non-numerical data (e.g., opinions), your own opinions might influence findings.

Quantitative research – With more-structured methods such as surveys, you gather measurable data about what users do and test assumptions you developed from qualitative research. An example is to use an online survey to ask users questions about their shopping habits (e.g., “Approximately how many items of clothing do you buy online per year?”). You can use this data to find patterns within a large user group. In fact, the larger the sample of representative test users is, the more likely you’ll have a statistically reliable way of assessing the target user population. Regardless of the method, with careful research you can gather objective and unbiased data. Nevertheless, quantitative data alone cannot expose deeper human insights.

We can also split user research into two approaches:

Attitudinal – you listen to users’ words (e.g., in interviews).

Behavioral – you watch their actions through observational studies.

Usually, you can get the sharpest view of a design problem when you apply a mixture of both quantitative and qualitative research as well as a mixture of attitudinal and behavioral approaches.

Two Approaches to User Research

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Leverage User Research Methods throughout Development

Industry-leading user experience consulting organization the Nielsen Norman Group names appropriate user research methods for you to use during your project’s four stages . Here are key methods:

Discover – Determine what’s relevant for users.

Diary studies – Have users log their performance of activities or record their daily interactions with a design.

Contextual inquiries – Interview suitable users in their own environment to find out how they perform the task/s in question.

Explore – See how to address all users’ needs.

Card sorting – On cards, write words and phrases and then let participants organize these in the most meaningful way and label categories to ensure your design is logically structured.

Customer journey maps – Create user journeys to reveal potential pitfalls and crucial moments.

Test – Evaluate your designs.

Usability testing – Make sure your design is easy to use.

Accessibility evaluations – Test your design to ensure everyone can use it.

Listen – Put issues in perspective, uncover any new problems and spot trends.

Analytics – Gather analytics/metrics to chart (e.g.) website traffic and generate reports.

Surveys/Questionnaires – Track how users’ feel about your product/design via these.

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However you approach user research, always consider the pros and cons of each technique . Card sorting is cheap and easy, for example, but may prove time-consuming when you proceed to analysis. Moreover, it might not provide in-depth contextual meaning. The resources available to you are another constraint. These will decide when, how much and which type of user research you can actually do. Therefore, carefully choose only the most relevant method/s for your research . Also, get stakeholders from your organization involved early on . They can reveal precious insights and help keep your research on track regarding business goals. Overall, user research is a valuable way to validate the assumptions the design team makes concerning users in the field , cut the expense of the best deliverables and keep your product’s demand high and ahead of competitors’ in the marketplace.

User Research Methods - from natural observation to laboratory experimentation

User research methods have various pros and cons and involve activities ranging from observations of users in context to controlled experiments in lab settings.

Learn More about User Research

For a fuller grasp of user research, take our course here .

See the Nielsen Norman Group’s list of user research tips .

Find an extensive range of user research considerations , discussed in Smashing Magazine.

Here’s a convenient and example-rich catalogue of user research tools.

User Research

Questions related to User Research

User Research is a fulfilling career for individuals driven to comprehend user behaviors and work collaboratively with teams. As a User Researcher, you're instrumental in steering teams towards crafting user-centric solutions. If you're intrigued by a career that combines both analytical and creative insights, consider delving into this field. For a comprehensive understanding, explore the User Researcher Learning Path on our platform.

User Researchers are seeing competitive pay in the industry. On average, they can earn from $92,000 to $146,000 annually. In some smaller firms, user research duties might be combined with a broader UX role. To understand how salaries can differ by region or delve into a broader perspective on UX-related pay, check out this detailed guide on UI UX Designer Salaries for 2023 or Glassdoor's breakdown of User Experience Researcher salaries .

While both are integral to the user experience, User Research and UX Design serve different purposes. User Research delves deep into understanding user preferences and needs, paving the way for informed design strategies. In contrast, UX Design is about sculpting a product based on that insight, ensuring it's both user-centric and aesthetically pleasing. 

Sometimes, especially in compact teams, the roles might blur with a designer handling research. Want a comprehensive insight? Dive into User Experience: The Beginner's Guide to explore their interconnected dynamics.

Yes, there is! Think of UX research as a subset of user research. While both focus on understanding users, user research casts a broader net, examining topics like pricing or delivery preferences. UX research, meanwhile, zeroes in on how users interact with a product and their experience doing so. In short, user research looks at broader interactions, while UX research specifically studies product use. To dive deeper, check out our course on User Research Methods and Best Practices .

User research utilizes varied techniques such as usability testing, A/B tests, surveys, card sorting, interviews, analytics analysis, and ethnographic studies. Every approach brings unique insights and is ideal for specific situations. It's essential to choose the proper technique based on your research goals and your audience. Discover these techniques further in 7 Great, Tried and Tested UX Research Techniques . 

For a comprehensive understanding of usability testing, a popular user research method, check out our course on User Research Methods and Best Practices .

While a related degree can be beneficial, it's not strictly required to become a user researcher. Many successful user researchers have degrees in diverse fields like psychology, design, anthropology, statistics, or human-computer interaction. What's crucial is a mix of relevant education, hands-on experience, and continuous learning. Even if some employers might favor candidates with a bachelor's degree, it can be in something other than a UX-focused area. Only some degrees specifically target user research. To strengthen your knowledge, consider courses like Data-Driven Design: Quantitative Research for UX or User Research Methods and Best Practices .

While each user research project is unique, some standard steps guide most endeavors:

Determine the research question.

Choose the proper research technique.

Find participants.

Execute the research.

Evaluate the gathered data.

Share the results.

For a thorough understanding of these steps and more, check out User Research – Methods and Best Practices .

There's a wide array of user research tools to pick from, tailored to your research goals, organizational size, and project specifics. Some popular choices include:

For surveys: Typeform or Google Forms.

Card sorting: Tools like Optimal Workshop, Maze or Trello.

Analyzing user activity: HotJar or CrazyEgg for heatmaps.

Usability evaluations: Platforms like Userlytics or Lookback.

Analyzing qualitative data: Miro or Lucidchart for affinity diagramming.

Crunching numbers: Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel for quantitative insights.

Usability testing on prototypes: Tools like Adobe XD or Figma.

Presenting findings: Use Google Slides, PowerPoint, or Prezi.

These tools often boast extra features to amplify your research.

Dive deeper into their applications with User Research – Methods and Best Practices .

User research is paramount in creating products that align with users' genuine needs and preferences. Instead of basing designs on assumptions, it provides factual insights into how users feel and interact with products. By engaging in user research, designers can spot usability challenges, collect feedback on design ideas, and validate their design decisions. For businesses, this not only refines product offerings but also strengthens brand loyalty and reputation. A standout user experience gives a company a competitive edge and lowers the chances of product setbacks. Dive deeper into the significance of user research in design with Data-Driven Design: Quantitative Research for UX and User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide .

Literature on User Research

Here’s the entire UX literature on User Research by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about User Research

Take a deep dive into User Research with our course User Research – Methods and Best Practices .

How do you plan to design a product or service that your users will love , if you don't know what they want in the first place? As a user experience designer, you shouldn't leave it to chance to design something outstanding; you should make the effort to understand your users and build on that knowledge from the outset. User research is the way to do this, and it can therefore be thought of as the largest part of user experience design .

In fact, user research is often the first step of a UX design process—after all, you cannot begin to design a product or service without first understanding what your users want! As you gain the skills required, and learn about the best practices in user research, you’ll get first-hand knowledge of your users and be able to design the optimal product—one that’s truly relevant for your users and, subsequently, outperforms your competitors’ .

This course will give you insights into the most essential qualitative research methods around and will teach you how to put them into practice in your design work. You’ll also have the opportunity to embark on three practical projects where you can apply what you’ve learned to carry out user research in the real world . You’ll learn details about how to plan user research projects and fit them into your own work processes in a way that maximizes the impact your research can have on your designs. On top of that, you’ll gain practice with different methods that will help you analyze the results of your research and communicate your findings to your clients and stakeholders—workshops, user journeys and personas, just to name a few!

By the end of the course, you’ll have not only a Course Certificate but also three case studies to add to your portfolio. And remember, a portfolio with engaging case studies is invaluable if you are looking to break into a career in UX design or user research!

We believe you should learn from the best, so we’ve gathered a team of experts to help teach this course alongside our own course instructors. That means you’ll meet a new instructor in each of the lessons on research methods who is an expert in their field—we hope you enjoy what they have in store for you!

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A Guide to User Research Analysis

Zack Naylor

When designers perform user interviews, field observations, or usability tests, they gather tons of notes and data to help inform design decisions and recommendations. But how do they make sense of so much qualitative data? Talking to customers is great, but most people walk away feeling overwhelmed by the sense of more information than they know what to do with. Learning how to properly analyze UX research helps turn raw data into insights and action.

What Is User Research Analysis?

User research analysis is a vital part of any research process because it is the very act of making sense of what was learned so that informed recommendations can be made on behalf of customers or users.

As researchers conduct analysis, they’re spending time categorizing, classifying, and organizing the data they’ve gathered to directly inform what they’ll share as outcomes of the research and the key findings.

Why Should Researchers Spend Time on Analysis?

Our natural instinct is to believe we can remember everything we heard or saw in an interview. But following impulsive decisions made from raw notes and data can be misleading and dangerous. Recommendations based on a single data point can lead a team down the path of solving the wrong problem.

Further, doing so is simply reacting to data, not making sense of it. This can cause companies to focus on incremental improvements only and miss important opportunities to serve customers in more meaningful, innovative ways.

A great example of this is when we see teams sharing research findings like, “6 out of 10 people had difficulty signing in to our application.” On the surface, a reasonable recommendation could be to redesign the sign-in form. However, proper research analysis and finding the meaning behind what that data represents is when the real magic happens. Perhaps the reason people had trouble signing in was due to forgotten passwords. In this case, redesigning the sign in form wouldn’t necessarily solve this problem.

Performing the necessary analysis of user research data is an act of asking “why” the “6 out of 10 people had difficulty signing into the application.” Analysis transforms the research from raw data into insights and meaning.

Consider what Slack did with their sign-in process. Slack allows a user to sign in by manually typing their password or having a “magic link” sent to their email which the person simply needs to click from their inbox.  They get signed in to their Slack team and get started.

black and white message with a button offering to email a user a magic sign in link

Slack offers a magic link instead of asking users to type their password.

clip of the magic sign in link email that slack sends instead of typing a password

Slack emails a magic link within seconds that saves the user typing their password.

This decision wasn’t an accident; it came from a deep understanding of a customer pain point. That deep understanding came from making sense of user research data and not simply jumping to a conclusion. Slack’s example demonstrates the power of spending time in analyzing user research data to go beyond reacting to a single observation and instead understanding why those observations occurred.

When to Do Research Analysis

Before the research begins.

Great analysis starts before research even begins. This happens by creating well-defined goals for the project, research, and product. Creating clear goals allows researchers to collect data in predefined themes to answer questions about how to meet those goals. This also allows them to create a set of tags (sometimes known as “codes”) to assign to notes and data as they conduct their research, speeding up analysis dramatically.

Before any research session begins, craft clear goals and questions that need to be answered by the research. Then brainstorm a list of tags or descriptors for each goal that will help identify notes and data that align to the goals of the research.

During the Research

Researchers often tag or code data they gather in real time. This can be done multiple ways using spreadsheets, document highlighting or even a specialized research tool like Aurelius.

When taking notes in a spreadsheet, tags can be added to individual notes in an adjacent column and later turned into a “ rainbow spreadsheet .”

For teams physically located in the same space, an affinity diagram with sticky notes on the wall works well. Here, each note can be added to an individual sticky note with top level tags or themes grouped physically together.

silhouette of a person standing in front of a whiteboard covered in sticky notes

A student stands in front of an affinity exercise on a whiteboard. Photo via Wikimedia

There are also software tools like Aurelius that help researchers tag and organize notes as they’re taken which also makes for quick viewing and analysis of those tags later.

screenshot of a tool showing text notes and a tag ranking system

View of analyzing notes and tags in Aurelius.

It’s also useful for teams to have a short debrief after each research participant or session to discuss what they learned. This keeps knowledge fresh, allows the team members to summarize what they’ve learned up to that point, and often exposes new themes or tags to use in collecting data from the remaining research sessions.

When the Research Is Done

This is where most of the analysis happens. At this point researchers are reviewing all the notes they’ve taken to really figure out what patterns and insights exist. Most researchers will have a good idea of which tags, groups, and themes to focus on, especially if they’ve done a debrief after each session. It then becomes a matter of determining why those patterns and themes exist in order to create new knowledge and insight about their customers.

How to Analyze User Research

Tag notes and data as you collect it.

Tagging notes and data as they’re collected is a process of connecting those tags to research questions and the research questions back to the project or research goals. This way you can be confident in the tags and themes being created in real time. Here’s how to make the connection between tags, research questions and project goals.

Imagine the research goals for the project are:

  • Increase the number of people signing up for our product free trial
  • Increase the number of people going from free trial to a paid account
  • Educate trial customers about the value of our product prior to signing up for a paid account

From there, research questions can be formed such as:

  • “Does the website communicate the right message to share the value of a free trial?”
  • “Is it easy for a new customer to sign up?”
  • “Are new customers easily able to start a free trial and begin using the product?”

From those questions, we can extract topics and themes. Since we’re researching the free trial, sign up process and general usability of that process, they become clear choices for tags. Also, since the research is meant to answer a question about whether or not potential customers understand the value of our product and free trial, this too provides a clear topic and tag we can use. So, useful tags based on those questions would be:

  • #free-trial
  • #value-prop
  • #signup-reason
  • #signup-process
  • #onboarding

As the team conducts the research, they can tag notes and observations according to those themes that align to the high level goals and questions for the project. All of this highly increases the ease and effectiveness of research analysis later.

Analysis After Each Session

A common user research practice is for the team to debrief after each interview, usability test, or field study to discuss what was learned or observed. Doing this while also reviewing the notes and observations helps researchers hear the same information from a new perspective.

Let’s imagine the team found the following patterns while conducting their research:

  • Potential customers visited the product page, free trial sign-up page, and went back to the product page several times prior to starting a free trial.
  • Some people had multiple browsers open with competitor sites pulled up while signing up for the free trial.
  • Potential customers mentioned waiting for the “right time” to start their free trial on several occasions.

This may help the researchers create new tags (or codes) for remaining sessions, such as:

  • #right-time
  • #competitor-review
  • #feature-comparison

Using these new tags adds another dimension to analysis and provides deeper meaning to patterns the team is finding. You can see how the combination of these tags and themes already begin to paint a picture of customer needs without any detailed notes!

Here are some good tips for knowing when to tag or code a note:

  • It aligns directly to a project/research goal.
  • The participant specifically said or implied that something is very important.
  • Repetition – a thing is said or heard multiple times.
  • Patterns – when certain observations are related or important to other tags and themes already established in the project goals or research.

Steps for Analyzing Research Once It’s Done

Once all the research is done, it’s time to dig in to find patterns and frequency across all the data gathered .

Step 1 – Review the notes, transcripts, and data for any relevant phrases, statements, and concepts that align to the research goals and questions.

Step 2 – Tag and code any remaining data that represents key activities, actions, concepts, statements, ideas and needs or desires from the customers who participated in the research.

Step 3 – Review those tags and codes to find relationships between them. A useful tip for this is to pay close attention to tags that have notes with multiple other tags. This often indicates a relationship between themes. Create new tags and groups where appropriate to review more specific subsets of the data. Continue this process until meaningful themes are exposed. Once that happens, ask questions like:

  • Why do these patterns or themes exist?
  • Why did participants say this so many times?
  • Does the data help answer the research questions?
  • Does the data inform ways to meet the research goals?
  • Does one tag group or theme relate to another? How? Why?

Sharing Key Insights from User Research

A key insight should answer one or more of your research questions and directly inform how to meet one or more of the established business goals. When sharing key insights, be sure to make a clear connection between one of the business goals, research questions and why the key insight is relevant to both. The most effective way of turning research into action is by helping teams make a connection between key insights and business outcomes.

3 Parts to a Key Insight

There are three parts to creating a key insight from user research :

  • Statement of what you learned
  • Tags that describe the insight (often used from the analysis, but can also be new tags entirely)
  • Supporting notes, data, and evidence that give further context to the key insight and support the statement of what was learned

A key insight from the example project might be:

“Prospective customers are worried they might not have enough time to review our product during the free trial.” #right-time #signup-process #free-trial

This represents the pattern observed of customers mentioning the “right time” to sign up for a free trial and comparing the product to competitors. It also goes beyond sharing the quantitative data that those things occurred and offers a qualitative explanation of why they happened. All of this leads to clearer recommendations and the ability for other teams to take action on the research findings.

Creating key insights from the research in this way allows for the most effective sharing and reuse later. By providing supporting notes to each insight, stakeholders and others consuming the research findings can learn more detail about each key insight if they so choose.

Next Steps for User Research Analysis

Conducting detailed analysis of user research data helps teams clearly share what was learned to provide more actionable recommendations in design and product development.

Here are some tips for making user research analysis faster and easier on upcoming projects:

  • Begin the user research by creating well defined questions and goals.
  • Create tags based on each goal.
  • Tag research notes and data as it’s collected to speed up analysis later.
  • Debrief after each research session.
  • Review the data once research is finished to find patterns, frequency, and themes.
  • Make statements about each pattern or theme that was uncovered, describing what it means and why it’s important (aka: create key insights).
  • Share the key insights!
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A designer sitting across from two people, conducting user research

What Is User Research, and What Is Its Purpose?

what to do after user research

User research, or UX research, is an absolutely vital part of the  user experience design process.

Typically done at the start of a project, it encompasses different types of research methodologies to gather valuable data and feedback. When conducting user research, you’ll engage with and observe your target users, getting to know their needs, behaviors, and pain points in relation to the product or service you’re designing.

Ultimately, user research means the difference between designing based on guesswork and assumptions, and actually creating something that solves a real user problem. In other words: Do not skip the research phase!

If you’re new to user research, fear not. We’re going to explain exactly what UX research is and why it’s so important. We’ll also show you how to plan your user research and introduce you to some key user research methods .

We’ve divided this rather comprehensive guide into the following sections. Feel free to skip ahead using the menu below:

  • What is user research?
  • What is the purpose of user research?
  • How to plan your user research.
  • An introduction to different research methods—and when to use them.

Ready? Let’s jump in.

1. What is user research?

User experience research is the systematic investigation of your users in order to gather insights that will inform the design process. With the help of various user research techniques, you’ll set out to understand your users’ needs, attitudes, pain points, and behaviors (processes like task analyses look at how users actually navigate the product experience —not just how they should or how they say they do). 

Typically done at the start of a project—but also extremely valuable throughout—it encompasses different types of research methodology to gather both qualitative and quantitative data in relation to your product or service.

Before we continue, let’s consider the difference between qualitative and quantitative data .

Qualitative vs. Quantitative data: What’s the difference?

Qualitative UX research results in descriptive data which looks more at how people think and feel. It helps to find your users’ opinions, problems, reasons, and motivations. You can learn all about in-depth in this video by professional UX designer Maureen Herben:

Quantitative UX research , on the other hand, generally produces numerical data that can be measured and analyzed, looking more at the statistics. Quantitative data is used to quantify the opinions and behaviors of your users.

User research rarely relies on just one form of data collection and often uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods together to form a bigger picture. The data can be applied to an existing product to gain insight to help improve the product experiences, or it can be applied to an entirely new product or service, providing a baseline for UX, design, and development.

From the data gathered during your user research phase, you should be able to understand the following areas within the context of your product or service:

  • Who your users are
  • What their needs are
  • What they want
  • How they currently do things
  • How they’d like to do them

As you consider the  why  of user research, remember that it’s easier than you might realize to overlook entire groups of users. It’s important to ensure that you’re conducting inclusive UX research and that starts in the earliest stages!

2. What is the purpose of user research?

The purpose of user research is to put your design project into context. It helps you understand the problem you’re trying to solve; it tells you who your users are, in what context they’ll be using your product or service, and ultimately, what they need from you, the designer! UX research ensures that you are designing with the user in mind, which is key if you want to create a successful product.

Throughout the design process, your UX research will aid you in many ways. It’ll help you identify problems and challenges, validate or invalidate your assumptions, find patterns and commonalities across your target user groups, and shed plenty of light on your users’ needs, goals, and mental models.

Why is this so important? Let’s find out.

Why is it so important to conduct user research?

Without UX research, you are essentially basing your designs on assumptions. If you don’t take the time to engage with real users, it’s virtually impossible to know what needs and pain-points your design should address.

Here’s why conducting user research is absolutely crucial:

User research helps you to design better products!

There’s a misconception that it’s ok to just do a bit of research and testing at the end of your project. The truth is that you need UX research first, followed by usability testing and iteration throughout.

This is because research makes the design better. The end goal is to create products and services that people want to use. The mantra in UX design is that some user research is always better than none .

It’s likely at some point in your UX career that you will come across the first challenge of any UX designer—convincing a client or your team to include user research in a project.

User research keeps user stories at the center of your design process.

All too often, the user research phase is seen as optional or merely “nice-to-have”—but in reality, it’s crucial from both a design and a business perspective. This brings us to our next point…

User research saves time and money!

If you (or your client) decide to skip the research phase altogether, the chances are you’ll end up spending time and money developing a product that, when launched, has loads of usability issues and design flaws, or simply doesn’t meet a real user need. Through UX research, you’ll uncover such issues early on—saving time, money, and lots of frustration!

The research phase ensures you’re designing with real insights and facts — not guesswork! Imagine you release a product that has the potential to fill a gap in the market but, due to a lack of user research, is full of bugs and usability issues. At best, you’ll have a lot of unnecessary work to do to get the product up to scratch. At worst, the brand’s reputation will suffer.

UX research gives the product a competitive edge. Research shows you how your product will perform in a real-world context, highlighting any issues that need to be ironed out before you go ahead and develop it.

User research can be done on a budget

There are ways that you can conduct faster and less costly user research , utilizing Guerrilla research outlined later on in this article (also handy if budget and time are an issue). Even the smallest amount of user research will save time and money in the long run.

The second challenge is how often businesses think they know their users without having done any research. You’ll be surprised at how often a client will tell you that user research is not necessary because they know their users!

In a 2005 survey completed by Bain, a large global management consulting firm, they found some startling results. 80% of businesses thought they knew best about what they were delivering. Only 8% of those businesses’ customers agreed.

The survey may be getting old, but the principle and misperception still persist.

The value gap between what companies believe they provide and what they actually provide

In some cases, businesses genuinely do know their customers and there may be previous data on hand to utilize. However, more often than not, ‘knowing the users’ comes down to personal assumptions and opinions.

“It’s only natural to assume that everyone uses the Web the same way we do, and—like everyone else—we tend to think that our own behavior is much more orderly and sensible than it really is.” (Don’t Make Me Think ‘Revisited’, Steve Krug, 2014.) A must on every UX Designer’s bookshelf!

What we think a user wants is not the same as what a user thinks they want. Without research, we inadvertently make decisions for ourselves instead of for our target audience. To summarize, the purpose of user research is to help us design to fulfill the user’s actual needs, rather than our own assumptions of their needs.

In a nutshell, UX research informs and opens up the realm of design possibilities. It saves time and money, ensures a competitive edge, and helps you to be a more effective, efficient, user-centric designer.

3. How to plan your user research

When planning your user research , it’s good to have a mix of both qualitative and quantitative data to draw from so you don’t run into issues from the value-action gap, which can at times make qualitative data unreliable.

The value-action gap is a well-known psychology principle outlining that people genuinely don’t do what they say they would do, and is commonly referred to as what people say vs. what people do.

More than 60% of participants said they were “likely” or “very likely” to buy a kitchen appliance in the next 3 months. 8 months later, only 12% had. How Customers Think, Gerald Zaltman, 2003

When planning your user research, you need to do more than just User Focus Groups—observation of your users really is the key. You need to watch what your users do.

Part of being a great user researcher is to be an expert at setting up the right questions and getting unbiased answers from your users.

To do this we need to think like the user.

Put yourself in your user’s shoes without your own preconceptions and assumptions on how it should work and what it should be. For this, we need empathy (and good listening skills) allowing you to observe and challenge assumptions of what you already think you know about your users.

Be open to some surprises!

4. When to use different user research methods

There’s a variety of different qualitative and quantitative research methods out there. If you’ve been doing the CareerFoundry UX Design course , you may have already covered some of the list below in your course.

It isn’t an exhaustive list, but covers some of the more popular methods of research. Our student team lead runs through many of them in the video below.

Qualitative Methods:

  • Guerrilla testing: Fast and low-cost testing methods such as on-the-street videos, field observations, reviews of paper sketches, or online tools for remote usability testing.
  • Interviews: One-on-one interviews that follow a preset selection of questions prompting the user to describe their interactions, thoughts, and feelings in relation to a product or service, or even the environment of the product/service.
  • Focus groups: Participatory groups that are led through a discussion and activities to gather data on a particular product or service. If you’ve ever watched Mad Men you’ll be familiar with the Ponds’ cold cream Focus Group !
  • Field Studies: Heading into the user’s environment and observing while taking notes (and photographs or videos if possible).
  • In-lab testing: Observations of users completing particular tasks in a controlled environment. Users are often asked to describe out loud their actions, thoughts, and feelings and are videoed for later analysis
  • Card sorting : Used to help understand Information Architecture and naming conventions better. Can be really handy to sort large amounts of content into logical groupings for users.

Quantitative Methods:

  • User surveys: Questionnaires with a structured format, targeting your specific user personas. These can be a great way to get a large amount of data. Surveymonkey is a popular online tool.
  • First click testing: A test set up to analyse what a user would click on first in order to complete their intended task. This can be done with paper prototypes, interactive wireframes or an existing website.
  • Eye tracking: Measures the gaze of the eye, allowing the observer to ‘see’ what the user sees. This can be an expensive test and heatmapping is a good cheaper alternative.
  • Heatmapping: Visual mapping of data showing how users click and scroll through your prototype or website. The most well-known online tool to integrate would be Crazyegg.
  • Web analytics: Data that is gathered from a website or prototype it is integrated with, allowing you to see the demographics of users, page views, and funnels of how users move through your site and where they drop off. The most well-known online tool to integrate would be Google Analytics .
  • A/B testing: Comparing two versions of a web page to see which one converts users more. This is a great way to test button placements, colors, banners, and other elements in your UI.

Further reading

Now you know what user research is and why it’s so important. If you’re looking for a way to get trained in this particular discipline, there’s good news—owing to demand and popularity, there’s a growing number of UX research bootcamps out there.

If you’d like to learn more about UX research, you may find the following articles useful:

  • What Does A UX Researcher Actually Do? The Ultimate Career Guide
  • How to Conduct User Research Like a Professional
  • How to Build a UX Research Portfolio (Step-by-Step Guide)

User research is the process of understanding the needs, behaviors, and attitudes of users to inform the design and development of products or services. It involves collecting and analyzing data about users through various methods such as surveys, interviews, and usability testing.

2. How to conduct user research?

User research can be conducted through various methods such as surveys, interviews, observations, and usability testing. The method chosen depends on the research goals and the resources available. Typically, user research involves defining research objectives, recruiting participants, creating research protocols, conducting research activities, analyzing data, and reporting findings.

3. Is user research the same as UX?

User research is a part of the broader UX (User Experience) field, but they are not the same. UX encompasses a wide range of activities such as design, testing, and evaluation, while user research specifically focuses on understanding user needs and behaviors to inform UX decisions.

4. What makes good user research?

Good user research is characterized by clear research goals, well-defined research protocols, appropriate sampling methods, unbiased data collection, and rigorous data analysis. It also involves effective communication of research findings to stakeholders, as well as using the findings to inform design and development decisions.

5. Is user research a good career?

User research is a growing field with many opportunities for career growth and development. With the increasing importance of user-centered design, there is a high demand for skilled user researchers in various industries such as tech, healthcare, and finance. A career in user research can be fulfilling for those interested in understanding human behavior and designing products that meet user needs.

what to do after user research

6 User Research Methods & When To Use Them

Learn more about 6 common user research methods and how they can be used to strengthen your UX design process.

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User research is the process of understanding user needs and desires through observation and feedback. 

It's one of the most important aspects of UX design, and it's used to inform all aspects of the design process, from initial sketches to the final product. Through user research, we can answer important questions about our design, such as Who are our users? and What do they need?

In this blog post, we will discuss six common user research methods, what they are, when to use them, and some common challenges associated with each one.

Let’s get started …

What is User Research?

Why is user research integral to the ux process, 6 common user research methods, how to get started with user research in ux design projects, key takeaways.

User research is a process of gathering data about users in order to design better products that meet their needs . 

It's used in every part of the design process, from the initial market research and concepting stages, through the final interface design testing and iteration stages.

The goal: to gather data that will allow you to make informed decisions as you create design solutions.

White text against a dark background with the words: User research is a process of gathering data about users in order to design better products that meet their needs.

Term Check: User Research vs. UX Research

Depending on what you read, you might come across the terms user research , UX research , or simply design research —all used interchangeably. 

While they all tend to refer to the process of collecting user-centric data, there is some distinction that can be applied:

The term user research is often used when you want to learn more about the target audience for a product or service; who they are, how they think, what their goals are, etc.

UX research , on the other hand, tends to be used when you’re conducting research that focuses on how users interact with a product or service. 

In this article, we’ll be looking at user research holistically, whether specifically talking about the users themselves, or learning more about how they interact with and experience your design work.

User research is an integral part of the design process: it ensures you have enough data and insights to make informed decisions about the design work you produce, reducing the risk of making assumptions and creating something no one truly wants.

Successful UX design requires a deep understanding of the people who will be using your product and how they interact with it. No matter how experienced you are as a designer, there is no way to validate your assumptions about design solutions without data. And the only way to acquire this understanding is by collecting data from the users themselves.

There are a variety of user research methods, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Here are 6 common methodologies that are easy to incorporate into your UX design process.

1. User Interviews

Interviews are a type of user research method in which the researcher talks with participants to collect data. This method is used to gather insights about people's attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. Interviews are a great way to gather in-depth, qualitative data from users. 

Interviews are best conducted in a live conversation, whether that takes place in person, on a video call, or even on the phone. They can be structured or unstructured, depending on what best fits your research needs:

  • Structured interviews follow a set list of questions
  • Unstructured interviews are intended for more open-ended conversation


When deciding whether to use interviews as a user research method, it is important to consider the goals of the research, the target audience, and the availability of resources. Interviews are extremely time-consuming, both for the interviewer and the interviewee. However, if the goal of the research is to observe behavior in a natural setting, or if the target audience is not available to participate in interviews, then another user research method may be more appropriate.

Surveys are a user research method in which participants are asked to answer a series of questions, usually about a specific topic. Surveys are well suited for collecting data that can be quantified, but they are not as well suited for collecting qualitative data, since answers are often nuanced and lack appropriate context.

Surveys are best used when …

Since surveys can be easily distributed to a large number of people, they’re often a good choice for gathering information from people who might not be able—or willing—to participate in other types of user research (such as usability testing). 

Since surveys rely on self-reported data, it’s important to avoid phrases or words that might influence the users’ answers. Furthermore, this type of user research often provides data without context, since you aren’t able to follow up and understand some of the nuances of the responses.

3. Focus Groups

Focus groups are a type of user research method in which a group of people are brought together to discuss a product, service, or experience. Focus groups provide an opportunity for users to discuss their experiences and opinions with each other in a guided setting. When done correctly, focus groups can provide valuable insights that can help shape both product design and marketing strategies.

Focus groups are best used when … 

Focus groups can help uncover user needs and perspectives that may not be apparent through individual interviews or surveys.

Tips to make it work:

To get the most out of a focus group, it is important to carefully select participants that are representative of the target audience, as well as those who represent various accessibility needs, which might otherwise be overlooked or receive less consideration. The moderator should also be skilled in leading discussions and facilitating group dynamics to avoid participants from influencing each other.

4. A/B Testing

A/B testing is a user research method in which two versions of a design are created, then tested against each other to determine which is more effective. 

These versions can be identical except for one small change, or they can be completely different. Once the two versions have been created, they are then assigned to users at random. The results of the test are then analyzed to see which version was more successful. 

A/B testing is best used when …

You can incorporate A/B testing at any stage of the design process, but you might find you get the most helpful insights when you’re in a state of refinement, or are at a crossroads and need some data to help you decide which route to take. 

Once you have your design variations ready to test, it’s up to the developers (or an A/B testing software program) to make the test live to users. It’s important to let the test run long enough so that any statistical significance is steady and repeatable. (If the test does not provide statistically significant results, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and try out a different variation.)

5. Card Sorting

Card sorting is a user research method that can be used to help understand how people think about the items in a given category. Card sorting involves providing users with a set of cards, each of which contains an item from the category, and asking them to sort the cards into groups. The groups can be based on any criteria that the users choose, and the sorted cards can then be analyzed to identify patterns in the way that the users think about the items. Card sorting can be used with both small and large sets of items, making it a versatile tool for user research.

Card sorting is best used when …

You are looking for insight into categorical questions like how to structure the information architecture of a website.

For example, if you were designing a website for a library, you might use card sorting to understand how users would expect the website's content to be organized.

Like the other research methods mentioned so far, a successful card sorting exercise requires a significant amount of thought and setup ahead of time. You might use an open sorting session , where the users create their own categories, if you want insight into the grouping logic of your users. In a closed sorting session , the categories are already defined, but it’s up to the participants to decide where to file each card. 

6. Tree Test

Tree testing is a user research method that helps evaluate the findability and usability of website content. It is often used as a follow-up to card sorting, or when there are large amounts of website content, multiple website navigation structures, or changes to an existing website.

To conduct a tree test, participants are asked to find specific items on a website, starting from the home page. They are not told what the navigation options are, but are given hints if they get stuck. This helps researchers understand how users find and interact with the website content.

Tree testing is best used when ...

This method is most effective when combined with other user research methods, such as interviews, surveys, and focus groups. This is because it’s really a way to finesse the user’s experience at the end of the design process, rather than a method of collecting the preliminary data that’s needed to arrive at this point.

Tree testing can be a challenging method to conduct, as it requires specific instructions and data collection methods for each test. In addition, participants may not use the same navigation paths that you intended, making it difficult to analyze the results. To account for this, it’s important to have a large enough sample size to be able to differentiate between outliers and general trends.

User research is a critical part of any project or product development process. It helps you to understand the needs and expectations of your target users, and ensures that your final product meets their requirements. 

There are many different ways to conduct user research, but the most important thing is to start early and to continually iterate throughout the development process.

For this, you’ll need to make sure that you have enough resources to incorporate the research successfully, which includes:

  • A budget that accounts for the various expenses incurred during the research process, whether that’s subscribing to a user research tool or compensating participants for their time.
  • An awareness of your own personal biases, and how they might affect the data you collect and the interpretation of results.
  • Time for research and analysis , since you might need to adjust the research method, or number of participants, that you were initially planning on including.
  • Buy-in from stakeholders , since the results might be jarring and contradict some of the assumptions that the project was built on.

Finally, it is important to be aware of your own personal biases. Despite these challenges, user research is an essential tool for designers, as it provides insights into how people interact with products and what their needs and wants are. 

  • User research is essential for designing products that meet the needs of your target audience.
  • By understanding your users, you can design better products that meet user needs and improve the overall user experience.
  • Getting started with user research can be daunting, but there are a few common methods that are easy to learn and incorporate into your design process.
  • By being aware of the challenges involved in conducting user research, you can create a research plan that minimizes potential problems and maximizes the chances of obtaining valuable insights.
  • Once you have collected your data, it is important to analyze and interpret it so that you can use it to improve your product or design process. 
  • User research can be challenging, but by following best practices and being prepared for common challenges, you can conduct successful user research studies that will help you create better products.

To learn more about establishing a UX design practice rooted in research and user-centered data, check out UX Academy Foundations , an introductory course that teaches design fundamentals with practical, hands-on projects and 1:1 mentorship with a professional designer.

Learn more user research methods with UX Academy

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What is UX Research: The Ultimate Guide for UX Researchers

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11 Key UX research methods: How and when to use them

After defining your objectives and planning your research framework, it’s time to choose the research technique that will best serve your project's goals and yield the right insights. While user research is often treated as an afterthought, it should inform every design decision. In this chapter, we walk you through the most common research methods and help you choose the right one for you.

ux research methods illustration

What are UX research methods?

A UX research method is a way of generating insights about your users, their behavior, motivations, and needs. You can use methods like user interviews, surveys, focus groups, card sorting, usability testing to identify user challenges and turn them into opportunities to improve the user experience.

More of a visual learner? Check out this video for a speedy rundown. If you’re ready to get stuck in, jump straight to our full breakdown .

The most common types of user research

First, let’s talk about the types of UX research. Every individual research method falls under these types, which reflect different goals and objectives for conducting research.

Here’s a quick overview:

ux research methods

Qualitative vs. quantitative

All research methods are either quantitative or qualitative . Qualitative research focuses on capturing subjective insights into users' experiences. It aims to understand the underlying reasons, motivations, and behaviors of individuals. Quantitative research, on the other hand, involves collecting and analyzing numerical data to identify patterns, trends, and significance. It aims to quantify user behaviors, preferences, and attitudes, allowing for generalizations and statistical insights.

Qualitative research also typically involves a smaller sample size than quantitative research (40 participants, as recommended by Nielsen Norman Group ).

Attitudinal vs. behavioral

Attitudinal research is about understanding users' attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs. It delves into the 'why' behind user decisions and actions. It often involves surveys or interviews where users are asked about their feelings, preferences, or perceptions towards a product or service. It's subjective in nature, aiming to capture people's emotions and opinions.

Behavioral research is about what users do rather than what they say they do or would do. This kind of research is often based on observation methods like usability testing, eye-tracking, or heat maps to understand user behavior.

Generative vs. evaluative

Generative research is all about generating new ideas, concepts, and insights to fuel the design process. You might run brainstorming sessions with groups of users, card sorting, and co-design sessions to inspire creativity and guide the development of user-centered solutions.

On the other hand, evaluative research focuses on assessing the usability, effectiveness, and overall quality of existing designs or prototypes. Once you’ve developed a prototype of your product, it's time to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. You can compare different versions of a product design or feature through A/B testing—ensuring your UX design meets user needs and expectations.

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11 Best UX research methods and when to use them

There are various UX research techniques—each method serves a specific purpose and can provide unique insights into user behaviors and preferences. In this section, we’ll highlight the most common research techniques you need to know.

Read on for an at-a-glance table, and full breakdown of each method.

User interviews

User interviews are a qualitative research method that involves having open-ended and guided discussions with users to gather in-depth insights about their experiences, needs, motivations, and behaviors.

Typically, you would ask a few questions on a specific topic and analyze participants' answers. The results you get will depend on how well you form and ask questions, as well as follow up on participants’ answers.

“As a researcher, it's our responsibility to drive the user to their actual problems,” says Yuliya Martinavichene , User Experience Researcher at Zinio. She adds, “The narration of incidents can help you analyze a lot of hidden details with regard to user behavior.”

That’s why you should:

  • Start with a wide context : Make sure that your questions don’t start with your product
  • Ask questions that focus on the tasks that users are trying to complete
  • Invest in analysis : Get transcripts done and share the findings with your team

Tanya Nativ , Design Researcher at Sketch recommends defining the goals and assumptions internally. “Our beliefs about our users’ behavior really help to structure good questions and get to the root of the problem and its solution,” she explains.

It's easy to be misunderstood if you don't have experience writing interview questions. You can get someone to review them for you or use our Question Bank of 350+ research questions .

When to conduct user interviews

This method is typically used at the start and end of your project. At the start of a project, you can establish a strong understanding of your target users, their perspectives, and the context in which they’ll interact with your product. By the end of your project, new user interviews—often with a different set of individuals—offer a litmus test for your product's usability and appeal, providing firsthand accounts of experiences, perceived strengths, and potential areas for refinement.

Field studies

Field studies are research activities that take place in the user’s environment rather than in your lab or office. They’re a great method for uncovering context, unknown motivations, or constraints that affect the user experience.

An advantage of field studies is observing people in their natural environment, giving you a glimpse at the context in which your product is used. It’s useful to understand the context in which users complete tasks, learn about their needs, and collect in-depth user stories.

When to conduct field studies

This method can be used at all stages of your project—two key times you may want to conduct field studies are:

  • As part of the discovery and exploration stage to define direction and understand the context around when and how users interact with the product
  • During usability testing, once you have a prototype, to evaluate the effectiveness of the solution or validate design assumptions in real-world contexts

3. Focus groups

A focus group is a qualitative research method that includes the study of a group of people, their beliefs, and opinions. It’s typically used for market research or gathering feedback on products and messaging.

Focus groups can help you better grasp:

  • How users perceive your product
  • What users believe are a product’s most important features
  • What problems do users experience with the product

As with any qualitative research method, the quality of the data collected through focus groups is only as robust as the preparation. So, it’s important to prepare a UX research plan you can refer to during the discussion.

Here’s some things to consider:

  • Write a script to guide the conversation
  • Ask clear, open-ended questions focused on the topics you’re trying to learn about
  • Include around five to ten participants to keep the sessions focused and organized

When to conduct focus groups

It’s easier to use this research technique when you're still formulating your concept, product, or service—to explore user preferences, gather initial reactions, and generate ideas. This is because, in the early stages, you have flexibility and can make significant changes without incurring high costs.

Another way some researchers employ focus groups is post-launch to gather feedback and identify potential improvements. However, you can also use other methods here which may be more effective for identifying usability issues. For example, a platform like Maze can provide detailed, actionable data about how users interact with your product. These quantitative results are a great accompaniment to the qualitative data gathered from your focus group.

4. Diary studies

Diary studies involve asking users to track their usage and thoughts on your product by keeping logs or diaries, taking photos, explaining their activities, and highlighting things that stood out to them.

“Diary studies are one of the few ways you can get a peek into how users interact with our product in a real-world scenario,” says Tanya.

A diary study helps you tell the story of how products and services fit into people’s daily lives, and the touch-points and channels they choose to complete their tasks.

There’s several key questions to consider before conducting diary research, from what kind of diary you want—freeform or structured, and digital or paper—to how often you want participants to log their thoughts.

  • Open, ‘freeform’ diary: Users have more freedom to record what and when they like, but can also lead to missed opportunities to capture data users might overlook
  • Closed, ‘structured; diary: Users follow a stricter entry-logging process and answer pre-set questions

Remember to determine the trigger: a signal that lets the participants know when they should log their feedback. Tanya breaks these triggers down into the following:

  • Interval-contingent trigger : Participants fill out the diary at specific intervals such as one entry per day, or one entry per week
  • Signal-contingent trigger : You tell the participant when to make an entry and how you would prefer them to communicate it to you as well as your preferred type of communication
  • Event-contingent trigger : The participant makes an entry whenever a defined event occurs

When to conduct diary studies

Diary studies are often valuable when you need to deeply understand users' behaviors, routines, and pain points in real-life contexts. This could be when you're:

  • Conceptualizing a new product or feature: Gain insights into user habits, needs, and frustrations to inspire your design
  • Trying to enhance an existing product: Identify areas where users are having difficulties or where there are opportunities for better user engagement

Although surveys are primarily used for quantitative research, they can also provided qualitative data, depending on whether you use closed or open-ended questions:

  • Closed-ended questions come with a predefined set of answers to choose from using formats like rating scales, rankings, or multiple choice. This results in quantitative data.
  • Open-ended question s are typically open-text questions where test participants give their responses in a free-form style. This results in qualitative data.

Matthieu Dixte , Product Researcher at Maze, explains the benefit of surveys: “With open-ended questions, researchers get insight into respondents' opinions, experiences, and explanations in their own words. This helps explore nuances that quantitative data alone may not capture.”

So, how do you make sure you’re asking the right survey questions? Gregg Bernstein , UX Researcher at Signal, says that when planning online surveys, it’s best to avoid questions that begin with “How likely are you to…?” Instead, Gregg says asking questions that start with “Have you ever… ?” will prompt users to give more specific and measurable answers.

Make sure your questions:

  • Are easy to understand
  • Don't guide participants towards a particular answer
  • Include both closed-ended and open-ended questions
  • Respect users and their privacy
  • Are consistent in terms of format

To learn more about survey design, check out this guide .

When to conduct surveys

While surveys can be used at all stages of project development, and are ideal for continuous product discovery , the specific timing and purpose may vary depending on the research goals. For example, you can run surveys at:

  • Conceptualization phase to gather preliminary data, and identify patterns, trends, or potential user segments
  • Post-launch or during iterative design cycles to gather feedback on user satisfaction, feature usage, or suggestions for improvements

6. Card sorting

Card sorting is an important step in creating an intuitive information architecture (IA) and user experience. It’s also a great technique to generate ideas, naming conventions, or simply see how users understand topics.

In this UX research method, participants are presented with cards featuring different topics or information, and tasked with grouping the cards into categories that make sense to them.

There are three types of card sorting:

  • Open card sorting: Participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them and name those categories, thus generating new ideas and names
  • Hybrid card sorting: Participants can sort cards into predefined categories, but also have the option to create their own categories
  • Closed card sorting: Participants are given predefined categories and asked to sort the items into the available groups

You can run a card sorting session using physical index cards or digitally with a UX research tool like Maze to simulate the drag-and-drop activity of dividing cards into groups. Running digital card sorting is ideal for any type of card sort, and moderated or unmoderated sessions.

Read more about card sorting and learn how to run a card sorting session here .

When to conduct card sorting

Card sorting isn’t limited to a single stage of design or development—it can be employed anytime you need to explore how users categorize or perceive information. For example, you may want to use card sorting if you need to:

  • Understand how users perceive ideas
  • Evaluate and prioritize potential solutions
  • Generate name ideas and understand naming conventions
  • Learn how users expect navigation to work
  • Decide how to group content on a new or existing site
  • Restructure information architecture

7. Tree testing

During tree testing a text-only version of the site is given to your participants, who are asked to complete a series of tasks requiring them to locate items on the app or website.

The data collected from a tree test helps you understand where users intuitively navigate first, and is an effective way to assess the findability, labeling, and information architecture of a product.

We recommend keeping these sessions short, ranging from 15 to 20 minutes, and asking participants to complete no more than ten tasks. This helps ensure participants remain focused and engaged, leading to more reliable and accurate data, and avoiding fatigue.

If you’re using a platform like Maze to run remote testing, you can easily recruit participants based on various demographic filters, including industry and country. This way, you can uncover a broader range of user preferences, ensuring a more comprehensive understanding of your target audience.

To learn more about tree testing, check out this chapter .

When to conduct tree testing

Tree testing is often done at an early stage in the design or redesign process. That’s because it’s more cost-effective to address errors at the start of a project—rather than making changes later in the development process or after launch.

However, it can be helpful to employ tree testing as a method when adding new features, particularly alongside card sorting.

While tree testing and card sorting can both help you with categorizing the content on a website, it’s important to note that they each approach this from a different angle and are used at different stages during the research process. Ideally, you should use the two in tandem: card sorting is recommended when defining and testing a new website architecture, while tree testing is meant to help you test how the navigation performs with users.

8. Usability testing

Usability testing evaluates your product with people by getting them to complete tasks while you observe and note their interactions (either during or after the test). The goal of conducting usability testing is to understand if your design is intuitive and easy to use. A sign of success is if users can easily accomplish their goals and complete tasks with your product.

There are various usability testing methods that you can use, such as moderated vs. unmoderated or qualitative vs. quantitative —and selecting the right one depends on your research goals, resources, and timeline.

Usability testing is usually performed with functional mid or hi-fi prototypes . If you have a Figma, InVision, Sketch, or prototype ready, you can import it into a platform like Maze and start testing your design with users immediately.

The tasks you create for usability tests should be:

  • Realistic, and describe a scenario
  • Actionable, and use action verbs (create, sign up, buy, etc)

Be mindful of using leading words such as ‘click here’ or ‘go to that page’ in your tasks. These instructions bias the results by helping users complete their tasks—something that doesn’t happen in real life.

Product tip ✨

With Maze, you can test your prototype and live website with real users to filter out cognitive biases, and gather actionable insights that fuel product decisions.

When to conduct usability testing

To inform your design decisions, you should do usability testing early and often in the process . Here are some guidelines to help you decide when to do usability testing:

  • Before you start designing
  • Once you have a wireframe or prototype
  • Prior to the launch of the product
  • At regular intervals after launch

To learn more about usability testing, check out our complete guide to usability testing .

9. Five-second testing

In five-second testing , participants are (unsurprisingly) given five seconds to view an image like a design or web page, and then they’re asked questions about the design to gauge their first impressions.

Why five seconds? According to data , 55% of visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a website, so it;s essential to grab someone’s attention in the first few seconds of their visit. With a five-second test, you can quickly determine what information users perceive and their impressions during the first five seconds of viewing a design.

Product tip 💡

And if you’re using Maze, you can simply upload an image of the screen you want to test, or browse your prototype and select a screen. Plus, you can star individual comments and automatically add them to your report to share with stakeholders.

When to conduct five-second testing

Five-second testing is typically conducted in the early stages of the design process, specifically during initial concept testing or prototype development. This way, you can evaluate your design's initial impact and make early refinements or adjustments to ensure its effectiveness, before putting design to development.

To learn more, check out our chapter on five-second testing .

10. A/B testing

A/B testing , also known as split testing, compares two or more versions of a webpage, interface, or feature to determine which performs better regarding engagement, conversions, or other predefined metrics.

It involves randomly dividing users into different groups and giving each group a different version of the design element being tested. For example, let's say the primary call-to-action on the page is a button that says ‘buy now’.

You're considering making changes to its design to see if it can lead to higher conversions, so you create two versions:

  • Version A : The original design with the ‘buy now’ button positioned below the product description—shown to group A
  • Version B : A variation with the ‘buy now’ button now prominently displayed above the product description—shown to group B

Over a planned period, you measure metrics like click-through rates, add-to-cart rates, and actual purchases to assess the performance of each variation. You find that Group B had significantly higher click-through and conversion rates than Group A. This indicates that showing the button above the product description drove higher user engagement and conversions.

Check out our A/B testing guide for more in-depth examples and guidance on how to run these tests.

When to conduct A/B testing

A/B testing can be used at all stages of the design and development process—whenever you want to collect direct, quantitative data and confirm a suspicion, or settle a design debate. This iterative testing approach allows you to continually improve your website's performance and user experience based on data-driven insights.

11. Concept testing

Concept testing is a type of research that evaluates the feasibility, appeal, and potential success of a new product before you build it. It centers the user in the ideation process, using UX research methods like A/B testing, surveys, and customer interviews.

There’s no one way to run a concept test—you can opt for concept testing surveys, interviews, focus groups, or any other method that gets qualitative data on your concept.

*Dive into our complete guide to concept testing for more tips and tricks on getting started. *

When to conduct concept testing

Concept testing helps gauge your audience’s interest, understanding, and likelihood-to-purchase, before committing time and resources to a concept. However, it can also be useful further down the product development line—such as when defining marketing messaging or just before launching.

Which is the best UX research type?

The best research type varies depending on your project; what your objectives are, and what stage you’re in. Ultimately, the ideal type of research is one which provides the insights required, using the available resources.

For example, if you're at the early ideation or product discovery stage, generative research methods can help you generate new ideas, understand user needs, and explore possibilities. As you move to the design and development phase, evaluative research methods and quantitative data become crucial.

Discover the UX research trends shaping the future of the industry and why the best results come from a combination of different research methods.

How to choose the right user experience research method

In an ideal world, a combination of all the insights you gain from multiple types of user research methods would guide every design decision. In practice, this can be hard to execute due to resources.

Sometimes the right methodology is the one you can get buy-in, budget, and time for.

Gregg Bernstein, UX Researcher at Signal

Gregg Bernstein , UX Researcher at Signal

UX research tools can help streamline the research process, making regular testing and application of diverse methods more accessible—so you always keep the user at the center of your design process. Some other key tips to remember when choosing your method are:

Define the goals and problems

A good way to inform your choice of user experience research method is to start by considering your goals. You might want to browse UX research templates or read about examples of research.

Michael Margolis , UX Research Partner at Google Ventures, recommends answering questions like:

  • “What do your users need?”
  • “What are your users struggling with?”
  • “How can you help your users?”

Understand the design process stage

If your team is very early in product development, generative research —like field studies—make sense. If you need to test design mockups or a prototype, evaluative research methods—such as usability testing—will work best.

This is something they’re big on at Sketch, as we heard from Design Researcher, Tanya Nativ. She says, “In the discovery phase, we focus on user interviews and contextual inquiries. The testing phase is more about dogfooding, concept testing, and usability testing. Once a feature has been launched, it’s about ongoing listening.”

Consider the type of insights required

If you're looking for rich, qualitative data that delves into user behaviors, motivations, and emotions, then methods like user interviews or field studies are ideal. They’ll help you uncover the ‘why’ behind user actions.

On the other hand, if you need to gather quantitative data to measure user satisfaction or compare different design variations, methods like surveys or A/B testing are more suitable. These methods will help you get hard numbers and concrete data on preferences and behavior.

*Discover the UX research trends shaping the future of the industry and why the best results come from a combination of different research methods. *

Build a deeper understanding of your users with UX research

Think of UX research methods as building blocks that work together to create a well-rounded understanding of your users. Each method brings its own unique strengths, whether it's human empathy from user interviews or the vast data from surveys.

But it's not just about choosing the right UX research methods; the research platform you use is equally important. You need a platform that empowers your team to collect data, analyze, and collaborate seamlessly.

Simplifying product research is simple with Maze. From tree testing to card sorting, prototype testing to user interview analysis—Maze makes getting actionable insights easy, whatever method you opt for.

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about testing methods, head on to the next chapter all about tree testing .

Get valuable insights from real users

Conduct impactful UX research with Maze and improve your product experience and customer satisfaction.

user testing data insights

Frequently asked questions

How do you choose the right UX research method?

Choosing the right research method depends on your goals. Some key things to consider are:

  • The feature/product you’re testing
  • The type of data you’re looking for
  • The design stage
  • The time and resources you have available

What is the best UX research method?

The best research method is the one you have the time, resources, and budget for that meets your specific needs and goals. Most research tools, like Maze, will accommodate a variety of UX research and testing techniques.

When to use which user experience research method?

Selecting which user research method to use—if budget and resources aren’t a factor—depends on your goals. UX research methods provide different types of data:

  • Qualitative vs quantitative
  • Attitudinal vs behavioral
  • Generative vs evaluative

Identify your goals, then choose a research method that gathers the user data you need.

Tree Testing: Your Guide to Improve Navigation and UX

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User research techniques for product managers: what should I be looking for?

User research is the driving force behind product experience insights and UX improvements. But where do you start?

Last updated

Reading time.

what to do after user research

If you don't know what you’re looking for—or where to look for it—user research turns into an overwhelming game of “find the conversion needle in the data haystack.”

So let’s talk about  how to find the right data the first time.

Decide on a goal before you start (3 questions to ask yourself)

If you tune into a movie halfway through, you might get the gist of the story, but you'll miss some critical details. User research is the same, which is why you should  resist the urge to jump into testing too quickly.

Deciding on a goal in advance and laying out a clear plan sets you up to:

Work smarter instead of harder:

you know what info you need so you can get in, and get out.

Get buy-in from the team and stakeholders:

you can convey where you’re going, how you’ll get there, and why the team should care.

Easily find insights:

narrowing your approach means you have less rogue data to sort through at the end of the project.

Aly Abel from Moonpig put it best when she said, “the consequence of [not defining the research process is] research requests come in last minute, questions aren't properly defined, answers are needed now, which means work is rushed.”

“Great, great,” you say, “ but how do I plan user research? ”

Here are three key questions to ask yourself before starting any project.

1. What's the topic?

Prioritizing the research process starts with  deciding what to look at.  You might have a list of research ideas that include finding out:

Why users make certain choices or take certain actions

Which pricing and packaging performs best

How to drive upgrades and increase retention

Why users behave a certain way on your website

Who your different users are

All of these are worthy endeavors, but you can’t do them all at once—you need to rank their importance and tackle one at a time.

It can be tempting to only focus on the big roadmap items, but  spending too much time on long-view projects  puts you at risk of missing out on ways to help your customers  right now . On the flipside, tackling a lot of small goals and changes could make the user experience (UX) feel scattered.

The solution?  Fill your schedule with mostly intermediate goals  that balance catering to the company’s current strategy and user’s needs  today .

If you’re still stumped over which project deserves your attention, try running a  cost of delay analysis , which considers how much potential revenue you lose by waiting. This comparison between timelines and impact can help you identify which projects have the most potential payoff.

No matter which user research topic you pursue, simplify the question you hope the research will answer.

Josh Morales, Lead Product Researcher here at Hotjar, says, “Normally the first research question is too generic, packed with topics to research and not too well informed with the information available. The first thing is to bulletproof the research question by simplifying it, break it into pieces, and then prioritize the right question.”

2. Why is it important?

Clarifying your user research project’s  why  helps you:

Communicate the importance of the task at hand:

set yourself up to win team and stakeholder buy-in by clearly explaining the purpose of your user research project. Include expected outcomes, potential impact, and the results of your cost of delay analysis. Oh, and… skip the jargon.

Decide which testing methods to use and what metrics to focus on:

when you know the purpose of your user research and have identified potential impact and expected outcomes, you'll have a better idea of how to measure success, and which key results to share with your team.

3. When will it happen?

In a perfect world, your research projects would fit nicely within your company’s sprints. You could even create an annual research roadmap like the one  Aly Abel shares here :

what to do after user research

Laying out all of your research projects this way makes it easier to ensure you have a mix of topics and project sizes, and helps you align with company-wide goals or OKRs.

Reality isn’t always so cut and dry, though.

If you can't align your research with sprints, you may have to  rethink what it means to be   done —instead of reporting on a final research project, share new findings like early conclusions or further questions you want to explore.

Learn from the people who matter most: your customers

Hotjar gives you product experience insights to help you empathize with and understand your users.

Choose user research techniques to match your goal

Now you have a user research goal in mind, you need to decide how to reach it and which  user testing tools  will get you there.

Here's how to choose the right technique based on your goal:

Quantitative and qualitative research: the perfect pair

The best research method for your project could be a blend of approaches. Quantitative research uses numerical data to let you know  what  is happening, while non-numerical insights like user feedback from qualitative research tell you  why  it happens.

To get a well-rounded picture of what’s happening on your site and in your product,  use quantitative and qualitative data together .

💡 Pro tip:  to get more comprehensive user and  product experience  (PX) insights, combine research tools like  Google Analytics and Hotjar .

Different research methods and tools each bring something unique to the table, and  combining different types of data broadens your view  so you don’t miss the context of any UX or PX issues.

Here are three ways quantitative and qualitative data work well for user research projects:

1. Learn how users make decisions

By learning  why  users behave a certain way in your product, you can  understand what’s working—or what could be improved  by your  product management  team.

For example, imagine you want to figure out what’s holding people back from starting a free trial. You can look at  scroll heatmaps  of your landing page to find out what information most people are seeing—or missing.

what to do after user research

Then, you can use an  open-ended question  survey to ask users whether they have questions before starting a free trial. Their responses can help you decide where clarity, customer education, or different positioning is needed.

2. Find out why users leave

Let’s say  web analytics  data tells you the session duration for a particular page is low, and at the same time you've noticed more incomplete signups than usual from the same page. You could  assume  those two metrics are connected… but  how can you be sure?

Start your research by watching  session recording s to see how users interact with and experience the page and at what point they exit. Recordings can reveal broken elements or other  UX issues  that are driving people away, which you can use as the basis for  customer interviews  to dig deeper into product and user experience.

3. Understand how different user segments behave

To truly understand user segments, you have to  go beyond demographics  to learn their preferences and motivations.

To kick off user segment research, you can conduct a  heatmap analysis  to compare what catches different users' attention. When you see that certain elements are getting more attention than others, use an  Incoming Feedback  widget to let users share their opinions and comments—in their own words—on the elements in question.

🤔 How well do you know your users?  Customer personas used to be rooted in demographics like age and ethnicity. We know that humans are much more complex than that, though.

To really understand why your customers choose you, consider these psychographic factors during your user research:

👉  Read more:  learn how to use  psychographics and personas  to get to the truth about why people buy.

Consider your constraints

When you’re planning research,  start with your ideal scenario . What tests would you like to conduct, and what questions do you have? Then, consider your constraints. You may have limited:

After you know your constraints, you can work backward from the ideal scenario to find a feasible middle ground.

For example, if you need to work out a conversion issue before a fast-approaching launch date, the impact of the research and resulting  technical debt  could warrant a higher budget and an all-hands-on-deck effort.

If, on the other hand, you want to monitor how user preferences change over time, you can conduct smaller research projects over the entire year to gain perspective.

Involve stakeholders

How much are people going to care about information they weren't expecting or didn't ask for? If you wait to involve stakeholders until you've already finished your user research, you risk misalignment and low adoption of the outcome.

Let your team and stakeholders know early on in the process  what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and where the data is coming from.

💡  Remember:  you can set yourself up to win stakeholder buy-in by  clearly explaining the purpose of your user research project.  Include:

Expected outcomes

Potential impact

Cost of delay analysis results

Keep your eye on the insights

The point of user research is to  answer questions and challenge assumptions about your users’ preferences, goals, and experiences.

So, now what? Uncovering user insights is one thing;  actually putting them to use  is where the real work (and payoff!) comes in.

Here are three quick tips to help you keep your eye on the insights, and make use of your user research:

1. Evaluate results in phases

Rather than conducting a ton of user research and evaluating everything at the end, take a phased approach:  review data as you go , so you can decide whether a question is worth further exploration. You may find that you have enough information already to make a decision, or that research has brought up ten  more  questions.

2. Align metrics with OKRs

What should you measure once you have research data?

It pays to  align your metrics with team or department OKRs . For example, if your company wants to increase account upgrades, focus on ROI in your research. If you’re trying to build the case that a site redesign is in order, basing your  usability testing metrics  on things like error rate at a specific stage of the user journey can help.

3. Translate findings into challenges

After you’ve done the hard work of researching and analyzing user behavior through UX and PX insights, you have to  translate your findings into an actionable report .

A mere write-up won't do. Turn your results into challenges to be solved, and involve the right people to work together on a solution. Showing how others can get involved generates awareness and gets the issue in front of the decision-makers.

The right tools can improve your research

User research is a mix of art and science, but one thing remains constant: the  right tools  will give you the in-depth  insights you need .

Behavior analytics  and  product experience insights tools like Hotjar  give you ways to discover, consolidate, and communicate user needs—and then make the changes that matter most.

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So let’s say you’ve found your ideal keywords, and now you want to know what to do after keyword research is complete. Well, you’ve come to the […]

So let’s say you’ve found your ideal keywords, and now you want to know what to do after keyword research is complete. Well, you’ve come to the right place! This post will break down the next steps in the search engine optimization process after you have your target search terms on hand.

Identifying your target keywords is only the first phase of a successful SEO strategy. In order to actually increase search traffic to your website, you’ll need to strategically include those keyword phrases in your website content in order to rank in the SERPs.

If you have not yet completed the keyword research process, make sure to visit our complete guide on finding keywords for SEO . Then, signup for a Search Atlas account to get full access to our easy-to-use keyword research tool.

What is Keyword Research

Keyword research is the process of identifying and analyzing the words and phrases that your target audience is using when searching for products and services like yours online.

what to do after user research

By conducting keyword research, you have likely already found some keywords that you would like your website content to rank for.

Some of the key metrics you should have on hand from your keyword research include:

  • Keyword Ideas : These are the keywords that you have identified as relevant to your website content
  • Search Volume : This is the total number of searchers your keyword ideas receive each month from Google
  • Keyword Difficulty : This is the estimated competitive difficulty to rank for a keyword. Learn more about Keyword Difficulty here . 
  • Cost-Per-Click : The price that advertisers are paying per click in Adwords to rank at the top of the SERP

By understanding which keywords your target audience is using to search for information, you can then create content that is more valuable and relevant to their needs. 

So I Have My Keyword List…Now What?

If you’ve already gone through the work of identifying your keywords, it’s time to start the search engine optimization process.

Here are 5 next steps for how to move from your keyword list to earning real website traffic from search engines.

1. Organize your Keywords with your Website Content

To maximize the total keywords your website ranks for and earn the highest amount of organic clicks, each web page of your website should be optimized for a different keyword or keyword group.

The content should be distinct enough that Google sees the pages as different and therefore promotes the various pages for different sets of keywords.

For example, let’s say your business is a B2C business like an online dog supply store. You will want your homepage to rank for keywords that are similar to the primary purpose of your business, so keywords like “dog supplies” or “dog supplies store.”

If you do your keyword research in Search Atlas, you can easily organize similar keywords into lists, like seen below:

what to do after user research

When it comes to how to best organize your keywords and content, here are a few tips.

Tip #1: Think About your Website’s Topic Areas

Although your website likely has a primary topic area, there are likely many different subtopics that also have relevance to your products or services.

In our example, “dog supplies,” is the primary topic area of the website. But subcategories include the many categories of products sold on the website, such as dog food, dog leashes, dog toys, dog training aids, and more.

Depending on how your category pages are set up (or if you are another type of business, you’re primary service pages) you will want to match up your keywords and your content accordingly. For example:

  • = “dog food brands,” “top brands dog food,” “dog food brands best”
  • = “dog toys,” “good dog toys,” “dog chew toys”
  • = “dog training products,” “dog potty training products,” “dog training products online”

By optimizing these individual pages for the most relevant keywords, you will be promoting the pages on your website that are the most relevant to the user’s search intent .

Tip #2: Target Long-tail Keywords with Blog Content

During your keyword research, you may have noticed that there are hundreds to thousands of ways that users may be searching for products or services like yours.

For example, instead of a keyword like “hr software,” a users may use a keyword phrase like, “best hr software for mid size teams.”

Search queries like these are called “ long-tail keywords ,” because they are usually longer and represent users near the top of the marketing funnel. Long-tail keywords are often lower search volume, but they are often less competitive and still show strong conversion potential.

what to do after user research

Writing and optimizing blog content is a great strategy for ranking for these types of long-tail searches. Blog content provides valuable information to users and answers their questions while still showcasing your unique products, services, or value propositions.

2. Prioritize Keywords By Value and Competitive Landscape

So which keywords on your list are the most important to target? Well, the keywords that you should be prioritizing are those that you have the greatest potential to rank for.

For example, a keyword like “dog supplies near me” is highly relevant to my dog supplies website, but it is also very competitive.

what to do after user research

If I were a brand new website, it is unlikely I would be able to rank on the first page for this competitive search term.

So instead, a search term with lower Keyword Difficulty, but similar search intent, would give my website a better chance of ranking, and therefore driving organic clicks right away.

what to do after user research

Although lower search volume, the lower Keyword Difficulty score means my new website has a much better chance of ranking on page 1 for this keyword. After my website increases its Domain Authority , I can target more competitive keywords at a later date.

Two other important factors to consider when prioirtizing keywords are: 

  • Search Intent : Transactional and commercial keywords are likely to have higher conversion potential than informational or navigational keywords, as those users are ready to buy soon, rather than informational searchers that are still in the research phase
  • CPC : Cost-per-click is a good indicator of the value of a keyword. If advertisers are paying a high price to rank for a keyword in an Adwords campaign, then that keyword likely represents qualified audiences or users

3. Include your Keywords in your Website Content

Once you organize and prioritize your keywords, it’s time to include your keywords in your website content.

This process is called on-page SEO , and it involves strategically incorporating keywords and variations of your target keywords into metadata such as:

  • Page Titles 
  • Meta Descriptions
  • Image Alt Text

Google looks to these on-page elements to understand what your website content is about and when to promote it for users. 

If you are using a plugin like Yoast SEO , you can easily add in your keywords to your title, slug, and meta description and also ensure optimized character length.

what to do after user research

These elements will form the blue, clickable link of your search result and can impact your click-through-rates . Although Google may display your title tag and meta description slightly differently, it is still essential to include your target keywords in the metadata to increase ranking potential.

what to do after user research

However, don’t overdo it on the keyword inclusion, as your content should still read naturally and proiritize bringing value to users. It’s best to include variations of your keywords, or other keywords within the same keyword cluster , rather than the same keyword again and again.

4. Optimize your Content Using a Content Optimizer

To increase the potential of ranking for your keywords, your website copy also should be high-quality, in-depth, and explore all of the various subtopics related to your keyword.

A content optimizer tool can help you create higher-quality content by suggesting key terms that you should include on the page. 

When optimizing a web page, simply enter the keyword from your list and the Search Atlas SEO Content Assistant will suggest key terms, phrases, subtopics, and questions that should appear somewhere in your content.

what to do after user research

Adding in these terms and improving your content score can mean higher rankings and better performance for your content. 

In addition to focus terms, the SEO Content Assistant will also suggest:

  • Related keywords : Similar keywords that you can also target in your content
  • Common Questions : These are questions users are asking in relationship to the keyword. Including them on the page can increase your web pages appearances for People Also Ask or other featured snippets
  • Suggested Internal Links : Other relevant pages on your website that you may want to link to. More internal links helps Google find and index your other pages and understand how your website content interrelates.

5. Track your Keywords in a Rank Tracker

After your optimized content is published live on your website and indexed by Google, you should track how your content is performing for your target keywords.

Remember that SEO does take time . If your content is properly optimized, you should start earning impressions within 1-2 weeks, however, it may be a few months before you start ranking in higher positions. 

But in the meantime, use the rank tracker in Search Atlas to add keywords from your list and start tracking them.

what to do after user research

Using a rank tracker is a straightforward process. Simply enter the keywords that you want to track, and the tool will provide you with an instant report of you current ranking positions and any changes that occur over time. This allows you to stay ahead of your competition and make data-driven decisions that boost your content’s visibility in search engine results pages.

To speed up the process of ranking on the first page, consider investing in link building services . Although high-quality, optimized content is essential to ranking for your target keywords, backlinks are also an important ranking factor. 

For the best results after keyword research, consider implementing both on-page and off-page strategies!

Now that you know what to do after keyword research, why wait? Identifying the right keywords is an important part of the SEO process, but you will actually have to make changes and updates to your website content in order to achieve your goals of driving organic traffic.

If you need help along the way, our team at LinkGraph specializes in on-page optimization and backlink building. We can help speed up the process of ranking and getting more eyes on your website content, products, and services.

what to do after user research

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Advice for the Unmotivated

  • Robin Abrahams
  • Boris Groysberg

what to do after user research

How to reignite your enthusiasm for work

Employee disengagement is rampant in the workplace. We’ve all experienced it as customers encountering unhelpful retail clerks and as colleagues dealing with apathetic teammates. But what happens when you yourself feel dead at work?

This article describes what you as an individual can do to sustain your motivation or recover it, even in the most stultifying of jobs. After synthesizing research on this challenge and experimenting with various strategies, the authors have developed a process for recharging yourself called DEAR.

The first step is to detach and objectively analyze your situation so that you can make wise choices about it, instead of reacting in a fight-or-flight way. At day’s end, review what went well at your job and then mentally disconnect from it to give yourself a break. Meditation and exercise can help you do that and will improve your mood and cognitive function. Next, show empathy. Practice self-care, make friends, recognize the accomplishments of others, seek their views, and help them. Research shows that this combats burnout. Third, take action: achieve small wins, invest in rewarding outside activities, redefine your responsibilities, and turn uninteresting tasks into games. Ask yourself how someone you admire would behave in your situation, and dress in a way that projects confidence. Last, reframe your thinking: Focus on the informal roles you enjoy at work, your job’s higher-order purpose, and how others benefit from your work. All these techniques will improve your mental health and increase the energy you bring to your job—even if it is not what you’d like it to be.

In virtually everyone’s career, there comes a time when motivation and interest vanish. The usual tasks feel tedious. It’s hard to muster the energy for new projects. Though we go through the motions of being good employees or managers, we’re not really “there.” We become ghosts or zombies: the working dead.

  • Robin Abrahams is a research associate at Harvard Business School.
  • BG Boris Groysberg is a professor of business administration in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School and a faculty affiliate at the school’s Race, Gender & Equity Initiative. He is the coauthor, with Colleen Ammerman, of Glass Half-Broken: Shattering the Barriers That Still Hold Women Back at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021). bgroysberg

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7 facts about americans and taxes.

A tax preparer, left, discusses finances with a customer who is completing her return at a Miami tax service on April 17, 2023. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Spring reliably brings a whirlwind of number-crunching and form-filing as Americans finish their tax returns. Altogether, the IRS expects to process more than 160 million individual and business tax returns this season.

Ahead of Tax Day on April 15, here are seven facts about Americans and federal taxes, drawn from Pew Research Center surveys and analyses of federal data.

Ahead of Tax Day 2024, Pew Research Center sought to understand Americans’ views of the federal tax system and outline some of its features.

The public opinion data in this analysis comes from Pew Research Center surveys. Links to these surveys, including details about their methodologies, are available in the text.

The external data comes from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the IRS Data Book . Data is reported by fiscal year, which for the federal government begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30. For example, fiscal 2024 began Oct. 1, 2023, and ends Sept. 30, 2024.

A majority of Americans feel that corporations and wealthy people don’t pay their fair share in taxes, according to a Center survey from spring 2023 . About six-in-ten U.S. adults say they’re bothered a lot by the feeling that some corporations (61%) and some wealthy people (60%) don’t pay their fair share.

A bar chart showing Americans' frustrations with the federal tax system.

Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to feel this way. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, about three-quarters say they’re bothered a lot by the feeling that some corporations (77%) and some wealthy people (77%) don’t pay their fair share. Much smaller shares of Republicans and GOP leaners share these views (46% say this about corporations and 43% about the wealthy).

Meanwhile, about two-thirds of Americans (65%) support raising tax rates on large businesses and corporations, and a similar share (61%) support raising tax rates on households with annual incomes over $400,000. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say these tax rates should increase.

Just over half of U.S. adults feel they personally pay more than what is fair, considering what they get in return from the federal government, according to the same survey.

A stacked bar chart showing that, compared with past years, more Americans now say they pay 'more than their fair share' in taxes.

This sentiment has grown more widespread in recent years: 56% of Americans now say they pay more than their fair share in taxes, up from 49% in 2021. Roughly a third (34%) say they pay about the right amount, and 8% say they pay less than their fair share.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they pay more than their fair share (63% vs. 50%), though the share of Democrats who feel this way has risen since 2021. (The share among Republicans is statistically unchanged from 2021.)

Many Americans are frustrated by the complexity of the federal tax system, according to the same survey. About half (53%) say its complexity bothers them a lot. Of the aspects of the federal tax system that we asked about, this was the top frustration among Republicans – 59% say it bothers them a lot, compared with 49% of Democrats.

Undeniably, the federal tax code is a massive document, and it has only gotten longer over time. The printed 2022 edition of the Internal Revenue Code clocks in at 4,192 pages, excluding front matter. Income tax law alone accounts for over half of those pages (2,544).

A stacked bar chart showing that the tax code keeps getting longer and longer.

The public is divided in its views of the IRS. In a separate spring 2023 Center survey , 51% of Americans said they have an unfavorable opinion of the government tax agency, while 42% had a favorable view of the IRS. Still, of the 16 federal agencies and departments we asked about, the IRS was among the least popular on the list.

A diverging bar chart showing that Americans are divided in their views of the IRS.

Views of the IRS differ greatly by party:

  • Among Republicans, 29% have a favorable view and 64% have an unfavorable view.
  • Among Democrats, it’s 53% favorable and 40% unfavorable.

On balance, Democrats offer much more positive opinions than Republicans when it comes to most of the federal agencies we asked about. Even so, the IRS ranks near the bottom of their list.

Individual income taxes are by far the government’s largest single source of revenue, according to estimates from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The federal government expects to collect about $2.5 trillion in individual income taxes in fiscal year 2024. That accounts for nearly half (49%) of its total estimated receipts for the year. The next largest chunk comes from Social Security taxes (including those for disability and retirement programs), which are projected to pull in $1.2 trillion this fiscal year (24%).

By comparison, corporate income taxes are estimated to bring in $612.8 billion, or 12% of this fiscal year’s federal receipts. And excise taxes – which include things like transportation trust fund revenue and taxes on alcohol, tobacco and crude oil – are expected to come to $99.7 billion, or 2% of receipts.

A chart showing that income taxes are the federal government's largest source of revenue.

American tax dollars mostly go to social services. Human services – including education, health, Social Security, Medicare, income security and veterans benefits – together will account for 66% ($4.6 trillion) of federal government spending in fiscal 2024, according to OMB estimates.

An estimated 13% ($907.7 billion) will go toward defense spending. Another 13% ($888.6 billion) will repay net interest on government debt, and 10% ($726.9 billion) will fund all other functions, including energy, transportation, agriculture and more.

A bar chart showing that your tax dollars mostly go to social services.

Related: 6 facts about Americans’ views of government spending and the deficit

The vast majority of Americans e-file their taxes, according to IRS data . In fiscal 2022, 150.6 million individual federal income tax returns were filed electronically, accounting for 94% of all individual filings that year.

A line chart showing that the vast majority of Americans e-file their taxes.

Unsurprisingly, e-filing has become more popular since the turn of the century. Fiscal 2000, the earliest year for which comparable data is available, saw 35.4 million individual income tax returns filed electronically (including those filed over the phone). These accounted for just 28% of individual filings that year.

By fiscal 2005, more than half of individual income tax returns (52%) were filed electronically.

Note: This is an update combining information from two posts originally published in 2014 and 2015.

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Top tax frustrations for Americans: The feeling that some corporations, wealthy people don’t pay fair share

Growing partisan divide over fairness of the nation’s tax system, public has mixed expectations for new tax law, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

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'Why do my eyes hurt?' Searches about eye injuries see massive spike amid solar eclipse

what to do after user research

For some, special glasses to safely take in Monday's solar eclipse were a hot commodity.

The glasses let you see more detail as the moon passed in front of the sun in the solar eclipse that won't pass through the contiguous U.S. again until 2044. They also protected your eyes from the damaging effects of the sun's rays.

But as far as Google searches go, it appears not everyone dutifully wore their glasses as they tried to take in the solar eclipse, which stretched across the U.S. Monday in a northeast path from Texas to Maine.

According to Google Trends , which analyzes queries made across Google, there was a significant spike in searches for terms relating to the eclipse and eyes health on Monday, including the terms " why do my eyes hurt " and " my eyes hurt ."

If you delve further into the Google Trends data, and sort the "Interest by Subregion" tab by metro , searches for "my eyes hurt" almost follow the eclipse's direct path.

Related searches include "eyes hurt after looking at the eclipse" and "can the eclipse hurt your eyes."

How can the solar eclipse hurt eyes?

Staring directly at the sun without safety eyewear can cause irreversible eye damage within seconds , according to the  Adler Planetarium . Eclipse observers will likely not register pain as there are no nerve endings inside the eye.

If your eyes or vision feel off after doing this it could be a sign of solar retinopathy, when light damages the retina.

The pain of looking at the sun is not instant and the same goes for symptoms of damage.

Someone may not know they experienced solar retinopathy until hours after exposure, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Symptoms of eye damage after the solar eclipse

The American Academy of Opthamology (or AAO) said visual symptoms typically begin within few to six hours but some can experience them after 12 hours.

According to the AAO, these are the following symptoms of eye damage people can notice after starring at the sun:

  • Blurry vision
  • A blind spot in your central vision in one or both eyes
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Distorted vision such as a straight line appearing bent or a door jamb looking curvy
  • Changes in the way you see color or dyschromatopsia

Contributing: Anthony Robledo, USA TODAY.

Morning Rundown: Biden razzes Trump on everything but his trial, Boeing whistleblower says he wouldn't put his family in a 787, athletes criticize skimpy Olympics uniform

O.J. Simpson will be cremated; estate executor says 'hard no' to controversial ex-athlete’s brain being studied for CTE

A lawyer who represented O.J. Simpson, who died from cancer last week at 76, said Sunday that the former NFL star’s body will be cremated in the coming days, and there are no plans to have his brain donated to science.

“On at least one occasion, someone has called saying he’s a CTE guy who studies the brain,” said attorney Malcolm LaVergne, referring to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that has been studied in former football players and is associated with behavioral and cognitive issues related to repeated head injuries.

“That’s a hard no,” LaVergne added. “His entire body, including his brain, will be cremated.”

News of the cremation and the request to study his brain was first reported by the New York Post .

LaVergne, who is now serving as the executor of Simpson’s estate, said there are tentative plans for a “celebration of life” gathering limited to close friends and family. Simpson had three children with his first wife, Marguerite Whitley, and two children with his second wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, whom he divorced in 1992. In 1995, Simpson was famously acquitted in the murder of Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

LaVergne on Sunday also clarified comments made to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday in which he said he didn’t want Goldman’s family to be able to collect any money from Simpson’s estate and it was “my hope that the Goldmans get zero, nothing.”

He said he was referring to a debt collection lawyer working with the Goldman family who, “within an hour we announced Simpson’s death, is bashing Simpson and all this stuff, ‘We’re going to do this and that.’”

“In hindsight, in response to that statement that ‘it’s my hope they get zero, nothing,’ I think that was pretty harsh,” LaVergne added. “Now that I understand my role as the executor and the personal representative, it’s time to tone down the rhetoric and really get down to what my role is as a personal representative.”

As he works to calculate the worth of Simpson’s estate and take inventory of his assets and belongings, LaVergne said he would invite a legal representative of the Goldmans to review his findings.

“We can get this thing resolved in a calm and dispassionate manner,” LaVergne said.

Following Simpson’s death, Goldman’s father, Fred Goldman, expressed no sympathy for the fallen Hall of Fame icon turned Hollywood pitchman, telling NBC News that “it’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”Simpson, who long maintained his innocence in the deaths of Brown Simpson and Goldman, died without having paid off most of a $33.5 million wrongful death judgment awarded in 1997 in a lawsuit filed by the victims’ families.

LaVergne said he welcomes Fred Goldman and his lawyer, David Cook, trying to ascertain any other financial assets, but with Simpson’s death, the estate must distribute money to creditors who have claims “according to priority.”

“Goldman and the other creditors for decades now have played, ‘Hey, if I get to find something of Simpson’s first, I get it or I get most of it,’” LaVergne said.

“But keep in mind, if he finds $1 million, he no longer gets to keep that $1 million,” he added. “The $1 million is going to come into the estate first, and then we see where the priorities are, and then he gets to keep it because he’s No. 8 on the list” of priorities.

LaVergne has said among Simpson’s debts is money owed to the Internal Revenue Service. In the wake of the lawsuit against him three decades ago, many of Simpson’s possessions, including footballs, jerseys and other sports memorabilia, were seized from his Brentwood estate in California to pay off the judgment. Simpson was living in Las Vegas before his death.

Cook said Sunday that there will be intense interest from lawyers for various parties seeking restitution as Simpson's finances are laid bare.

But "everybody knows when O.J. left, he left without penance," Cook said.

Goldman and Cook have said the litigation against Simpson was not about the money but seeking justice after his acquittal.

“It’s holding the man who killed my son and Nicole responsible,” Fred Goldman said in a previous statement after winning his civil trial.

Simpson’s will asks that LaVergne also set aside money for a “suitable monument” at his gravesite. It also says that Simpson wants the document to be administered “without litigation or dispute,” and if any beneficiary or heir fails to follow that dictate, they “shall receive, free of trust, one dollar ($1.00) and no more in lieu of any claimed interest in this will or its assets.”

what to do after user research

Erik Ortiz is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.

Elon Musk plans to charge new X users to enable posting

what to do after user research

Elon Musk is planning to charge new X users a small fee to enable posting on the social network and to curb the bot problem.

In reply to an X account that posted about changes on X’s website, Musk said charging a small fee to new accounts was the “only way” to stop the “onslaught of bots.”

“Current AI (and troll farms) can pass ‘are you a bot’ with ease,” Musk said, referring to tools like CAPTCHA.

Unfortunately, a small fee for new user write access is the only way to curb the relentless onslaught of bots. Current AI (and troll farms) can pass “are you a bot” with ease. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 15, 2024

While replying to another user, Musk later added that new accounts would be able to post after three months of creation without paying a fee.

That is way harder than paying a tiny fee. This is only for new users. They will be able to do write actions for free after 3 months. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 15, 2024

As is the case with a lot of announcements related to the social platform, there are no details at the moment about when this policy will be applicable and what fees new users might have to pay.

Last October, X started charging new unverified users $1 per year in New Zealand and the Philippines . New free users signing up for the platform from these regions could read the posts but couldn’t interact with them. To post content, like, repost, reply, bookmark and quote posts, they had to pay a fee. Musk might apply a fee similar to other regions.

Earlier this month, X said that the platform was starting a major purge of spam accounts , warning users that their follower count might be affected. However, with a plan to charge new users, the social media company seemingly aims to tackle the bot problem better.

Today, we're kicking off a significant, proactive initiative to eliminate accounts that violate our Rules against platform manipulation and spam. While we aim for accuracy in the accounts we remove, we're casting a wide net to ensure X remains secure and free of bots. As a… — Safety (@Safety) April 4, 2024

While Musk has talked about battling AI bots, last year, X updated its policy to include a clause that public posts could be used to train machine learning algorithms or artificial intelligence models. Separately, in July 2023, Musk said that his AI company xAI would use public posts to train models .

Earlier this month, xAI made its Grok chatbot available to Premium users of X , who pay $8 per month. The chatbot was previously available to users paying $16 per month for the Premium+ tier. Last week, Fortune reported that X plans to make Grok available to users to compose posts.


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  28. Elon Musk plans to charge new X users to enable posting

    Image Credits: TechCrunch. Elon Musk is planning to charge new X users a small fee to enable posting on the social network and to curb the bot problem. In reply to an X account that posted about ...