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What is UX Design Research: All You Need to Know

Ioana Wilkinson
•  07.09.2023
In this article, we’re going to demonstrate what design research is, why it’s beneficial, how to do it, and which tools and methods to use.

Are you brainstorming an exciting new product, website, or app you’d like to introduce to the market? Have you been designing a groundbreaking solution with your target market’s core problems and pain points in mind?

If so, then you can’t skip one of the most important steps during the early development cycle of your product line: Design research.

By conducting UX design research, you’ll get access to meaningful insights you can use to make sure your product works as optimally as possible for your target customer.

If you’re ready to understand what design research is, its benefits, and how to do it, you’ve come to the right place. In today’s article, we’ll help you expand your understanding of design research, its methodologies, and its best practices. We’ll also guide you through the design research process step-by-step.

PS: Looking for an all-in-one UX research platform that can provide you with the tools you need to conduct thorough design research? With UXtweak, you’ll have access to easy features you can use to complete the entire research and design process. Try it out for free today.

Key Takeaways:

➡️ Conducting UX design research gives you access to pivotal insights you can use to make sure your product works as optimally as possible for your target customer.

➡️ Design research is one of the most important steps during the early development cycle of your product line.

➡️ Design research focuses on learning how to improve (or create) a product so that it’s easy to use, intuitive, and efficient for a specific market segment.

➡️ A successful design process ends with clear insights that reflect every component of the user experience.

➡️ Researching design issues is crucial to helping you create products that lead to happier customers.

What is design research?

Design research focuses on learning how to improve (or create) a product so that it’s easy to use, intuitive, and efficient for a specific market segment. UX design researchers consider research, test findings, and data and content analysis as opposed to aesthetic viewpoints to drive UX design decisions.

For instance, if the UX designers at Piktochart wanted to test its online poster-maker tool, they’d need to examine the user’s ability to easily and successfully create a poster with its product.

online poster maker.

Or, if they wanted to test how well its Icon Scout integration library works, they’d need to ensure that their PRO Piktochart users can quickly and easily find and apply vector images from the library to create or edit an existing poster.

Here’s a visual of the process, menu, and buttons Piktochart design researchers would need to test to make sure everything works properly:

ux design research

A successful design research process ends with clear insights that reflect every component of the user experience, including:

  • Customer satisfaction: How it makes the end user feel
  • Intended use: How easy it is for a user to complete the intended task
  • The complete picture: How user-friendly the product is as a whole

But, as you already know, insights without action are useless.

To truly benefit from UX design research, you need to apply the results of your research and re-test the applied changes. Once your product works as optimally as possible, schedule future follow-up UX tests to continue refining your work over time.

What are the benefits of doing design research?

ux design research

Researching design issues is crucial to helping you create products that lead to happier customers. While some users may be willing to hold out for better features in the future, customer loyalty begins forming the minute someone is introduced to your product.

In other words, prioritizing design research during the early development stage is key to making sure your products work optimally from the start.

Here are some additional benefits of conducting UX design research:

  • Confirm your product is solving the right problem in the right way
  • Build an empathetic, user-focused company
  • Create a shorter development time from the get-go by having a clear vision of what you’re trying to build
  • Align your product and business strategy with your target market’s core needs and goals
  • Work toward major growth goals by understanding exactly what your end user wants and expects from your product

When should you conduct product design research?

In short: All the time!

However, let’s explore some specific examples:

  • After you’ve conducted market research and you’re ready to create a product that solves your target customer’s core problems
  • When you’re looking to brainstorm new digital products, websites, apps, or feature ideas
  • If your current product is experiencing high bounce rates or unsubscribe rates
  • If heatmaps depict that users are rage-clicking while using your current site or product
  • After creating a design prototype to evaluate its usability
  • Before the launch of a new product or feature
  • When you’d like a slice of a specific market share, but you need to test and understand its target customers’ core product needs first
  • Before the redesign

Design research methods

ux design research

Now that we’re clear on the foundation of UX design research, let’s review some common research methods you can use to conduct your research studies.

Usability testing

Usability testing is a research method that can help you evaluate how usable your digital product is. You simply ask users to complete specific tasks and watch them as they do it. The goal of this user testing method is to get more insights into user behavior. You’re looking to verify whether users can use your product effectively, efficiently, and to their satisfaction.

Usability testing is a proven method of quickly uncovering hidden issues and learning about how users interact with your product. With UXtweak, you can conduct all types of usability testing, from website testing to mobile app testing. You can even test prototypes to spot issues early on in the product development process.

https://youtu.be/XD2hLMedjM4?si=JnRljeeNY1T3cheq

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Live interviews

Live interviews (or user interviews) are pretty self-explanatory: You interview your target customers in real-time to uncover their perceptions of your product, whether they ran into any issues, and how it made them feel after using it.

Ideally, live interviews should include two UX researchers and one user, where one researcher asks open-ended questions and the other one takes notes. If only one UX researcher is available, record the session via live audio or video.

💡Pro Tip

Learn more about this and other user research methods.

Surveys

A design research survey is one of the most common UX research methods for gaining quantitative and qualitative insights from your target users.

To design your UX survey, you’ll need to define your end goal and understand the type of data you’re looking for. Then, segment your user base. Be sure to also A/B test your survey so you can understand which version works best.

Once you’ve analyzed the data, apply the feedback you’ve collected, thank your respondents for their time, and update them on the product improvements. Online surveys are one of the most effective quantitative methods of gathering research data quickly, but you can also design more complex surveys that will get you qualitative user insights as well.

Card sorting and tree testing

Card sorting and tree testing are ideal research methods to learn how to design menu structures and information architectures according to your customer’s preferences. They help to create descriptive designs and build navigation that is intuitive and simple to use for the real user.

For instance, with card sorting, you create specific “cards” and have users group them into categories for you. Each card represents a content asset from your site, product, or app that can be grouped in a certain order. For instance, you can uncover how users would prefer to see your blog posts categorized. Or how they’d like your website menu arranged.

With tree testing, the end question is: Can users easily find information on my website?

With this method, you define your “tree” or branching structure and specific tasks. These tasks then test all of the categories and labels in your tree structure. How? By asking your testers to locate items contained within the tree. The purpose of this method is to uncover where and why users get lost so you can fix it and create hyper-intuitive navigation.

See card sorting and tree testing in action in these demos 👇

Try Card Sorting🔥

Closed Card Sorting
Try Card Sorting🔥

Try Tree Testing✅

Tree Testing
Try Tree Testing✅

Competitive Analysis

While design research is about understanding your target users’ needs, competitive analysis is about understanding what your competitors are doing. A competitive analysis report is a great way to gain insight into how well you stand in comparison to other companies in the market.

For instance, you can analyze their website UX and product features, map out their customer journey, and compare user feedback between companies. This will help you prioritize what features you should be focusing on, as well as get an idea of how to improve your own UX design.

💡Pro Tip

Learn how to conduct competitive analysis in UX.

Contextual inquiry

The contextual inquiry research method (also known as contextual interviews) is all about stepping into the user’s shoes. It’s about watching real people in their natural environments using your product and asking them inquisitive questions about what they’re doing.

For instance, if you’re beta-testing a project management platform, you could get on a live video call with a beta tester (or meet them in person if you can) to observe them using your tool. During your observation, you’d ask specific questions, have the user perform certain tasks, and stay open and curious about the user’s experience.

Focus groups

The focus group method refers to meeting with a group of users, for instance, 6–9 target customers, to discuss any issues or concerns about your product’s interface, features, or usability.

“Focus” relates to the role of the facilitator, who maintains the group’s focus on certain topics during discussions. This can be as formal or informal as you’d like, but the goal is to have an open and honest discussion.

In the end, focus groups provide useful insights into your customers’ overall opinions and impressions of your product.

Design research process

ux design research

And finally! You understand what design research is, the benefits of implementing it, and the methods researchers use to gather data.

Now, let’s put everything into action.

Here’s how the design research process works:

1) Collect the data

Choose your research methods, tools, and target users.

Then, schedule your research sessions and facilitate your chosen research methods to collect UX data.

2) Interpret the data

Examine the UX data you’ve collected.

What UX themes and patterns can you uncover? What are the main praises and complaints you’ve recorded? Analyze and categorize insights, look for common issues and roadblocks users encounter.

3) Create recommendations

Based on the data you’ve collected, what design recommendations do you have? What categories, menus, layouts, and/or features should you update and why? What other data points impact ‌UX, and how can you use those insights to improve your product for your target customers?

4) Act on recommendations

Create an implementation plan to apply the design recommendations you’ve formulated. Continue acting on recommendations until your product helps your target users achieve their goals their way.

Ready to design products your customers will love?

In today’s quick guide, we covered what design research is, its benefits, how to do it, and which tools and methods to use.

And speaking of tools …

Don’t forget! Our solution, UXtweak, is an all-in-one UX research platform with all the tools you need to conduct design research.

Sign up for your account and never build a sub-par product again!

Conduct Design Research with UXtweak!

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FAQ: Design Research

What is the goal of design research?

The goal of design research is to understand how to design or improve a product so it works as intuitively, easily, and optimally as possible for the target user.

What are the benefits of design research?

The main benefit of design research is the ability to build a user-focused brand that aligns its business strategy and product with its users’ core needs and goals. Plain and simple: Design research helps brands build successful products their customers love.

What is the role of a design researcher?

The primary role of a design researcher is to advocate for the user by advising the design, researching its impact with hard data, and helping users achieve their goals with products built just for them.

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