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Why is UX Research Important? (according to UX experts)

Marek Strba
•  17.04.2023
Why is UX research important and why we do it? We asked 65 UX researchers for their opinions and here's what we found out.

After the results of our UX budget survey came in, we first looked into the problem of convincing stakeholders about the value of the UX research. Today we will look into a different aspect that we asked about – the general motivation behind doing UX research.

Sometimes it can be hard for people to understand why UX research is important. This lack of understanding can come both from your colleagues as well as from your friends or family outside the IT field. It’s not their fault.

As UX researchers we know that if someone doesn't understand what we are trying to say, it's our fault for not explaining it properly.

Marek Strba,  UX Researcher at UXtweak
Marek Strba, UX Researcher at UXtweak

The best way to learn more about how to describe the importance of UX research is to ask UX researchers for their opinions. That’s what we did in our survey.  We wanted to make sure that the reasons we provide come from the experience of many UX researchers and aren’t just our own ideas. To gather their opinion we asked the following question:

“In a few short sentences, please describe what is the main goal of your UX research.”

We created this question as open ended, to make sure that our survey participants – UX experts will be able to accurately describe their specific point of view.

Some answers were longer and provided more detailed description of the opinion.

“To build user-centered products and services, our decisions should be evidence-based and well-informed. To find the best solution for complex issues, we need to talk to users, observe their interactions, and test product variations to get a better understanding of their needs and motivations as well as to better support and retain them. These insights will then lead to a refined user experience based on sound and reliable data. Our goal is to quantify and measure the outcomes of our decisions to maximize your ROI.”

Other were short and focused on one aspect, while still managing to provide some insight:

“To better understand the client”

Or

“Present and validate new ideas of products and features to our courses”

We took all these answers and came up with 4 umbrella terms, which cover the inherent goals we are trying to achieve when doing a UX research:

  • Understanding 
  • Improving 
  • Validating 
  • Reducing 

Understanding

why is ux research important

“Understand how people at the client work to provide a tool that will help them with their daily work”

Understanding (especially understanding the user) can be considered the main pillar of all UX related processes. To create a user-friendly interface, which allows your users to complete their tasks quickly and efficiently, you need to understand them. You need to empathize with their pains and learn what their goals are and how they achieve them. You cannot achieve this unless you know your users and UX research is your opportunity to get to know them. Therefore it is one of the main reasons why we conduct UX research.

It takes time and several steps of UX research to start truly understanding your users. Achieving this understanding should be your priority in the earliest stages of your research process.

Surveys, focus groups and 1 on 1 interviews are the strongest weapons UX research offers you to achieve the understanding you are looking for. You should never stop trying to understand your users more and more. Don’t forget about them in the later steps when your focus shifts more towards designing the details of your product. You should never forget who you are designing for. 

Your users have existing mental models in place. These mental models are directly responsible for how the users view your platform and what they expect will happen after they click on specific elements of your design. Remember that your product will never be interacted with in a void and the users will spend most of their time interacting with other apps and webs, not yours. They will come with biases and with previous experience.

Understand their starting point to avoid creating a Norman’s door (a design which works counterintuitively). There are only a few moments that frustrate users more than a design behaving unexpectedly. Diligent UX research is the only way to avoid creating more Norman’s doors.

The final result of understanding your participants is the creation of personas. The personas have to be created based on the results of your UX research and only after you are sure that you understand your users. Creating personas “by ear” is more detrimental than not having any personas at all. Creating personas in this fashion will lead you to believe that you understand your users even if you don’t. This will ultimately invalidate any time you put into your UX research because you are simply targeting the people who are not representing the image of your future users.

Improving

why is ux research important

“Ultimately improve the user’s experience by delivering more goal-oriented products and features.”

UX research helps us in improving the user experience. These improvements can be done either on an existing product or as a whole new standalone alternative to an existing solution. Bringing improvements in general is an exciting process and can sometimes get little out of hand.

It is important to make sure that the improvements you want to introduce are an actual improvement. Every idea is great, but sometimes the great idea simply doesn’t fit your use case. When this happens, the better outcome is that the quality of UX doesn’t change, but in the worst cases, “improvements” like this can even be detrimental.

Every idea is great, but sometimes the great idea simply doesn't fit your use case.

Marek Strba,  UX Researcher at UXtweak
Marek Strba, UX Researcher at UXtweak

Specific UX research methods like A/B test or preference test can help you see if the new, improved design is indeed better than the previous version. Everyone is prone to get biased. This is true especially for those, who were directly involved in designing either the improved or the original version. This shows up not only in the simple fact that you will always root for your creation, but it also shows up in more subtle ways.

You have been interacting with the designs you have created for some time and you are more than an expert user. This means that you will never be able to see all the potential flaws, which are hidden in your designs. Results of UX research come from users, therefore these results are clear of your bias and of the bias of any of your colleagues.

UX research also allows you to discover any weak points of your current product or design. Sometimes you simply know that there is a flaw hidden somewhere that prevents your app or web from reaching their full potential. A quick usability test of your main flows with just a few participants will most likely tell you where the flaw is hidden. Sometimes the research doesn’t uncover the problems you are looking for, but it always uncovers some problems, which you can fix and move your app or web to a higher level.

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Validating

why is ux research important

“Validate our hypothesis / Fail early”

It is not realistic to think you will create a perfect design and it is even more unrealistic to think you will do it on your first try. The sooner you realize that making UX design mistakes is okay (some even think that it is required), the sooner you change your mindset. There will always be some sort of a flaw in your design, significant or not, but there will be one and it is better to find it sooner than later. The sooner you realize you made a mistake, the easier it will be to fix the problem.

UX research is here to help you realize whether you misstepped during the creation of your designs or not. If you indeed made a mistake it hurts much less when you can learn from it. If you don’t know that you misstepped, or why, it won’t help you move forward.

Validating your design via UX research methods such as usability testing or prototype testing will help you make sure that you can move on with the designs you created. Designing a product is an iterative process and it is a good idea to know that the stage you have just completed can be moved on from, without leaving any potential problems hanging.

Use the voice of the user to validate your choices for you. UX research offers methods, which can help you do exactly that – the preference and A/B tests

If you are deciding on a smaller concept, such as a banner or an illustration and you have multiple versions available, simply plop them into a preference test. With the preference test the users are directly making the choice out of the alternatives, which you provided to them. This way the choice is already validated, because it came directly from the users. 

If you are at a crossroads with a bigger concept, such as the form of your navigation menu, use A/B test to compare the performance of the alternatives. A/B test gives you more data, than just the preference of the users. The result of an A/B test shows you which option you should choose. The choice you make is validated, since you made it based on the data you gathered directly from your users.

It is however important to remember that even if you implement the version which performed the best or the one which was preferred the most by your users, you are only implementing the best option out of those you have shown to the users. If you want to be completely sure about your choice, you should do an extra round of validation focused solely on the option that you chose.

Learn more about the differences between Preference Tests and A/B Tests and choose the right method for your project: 

Reducing

“Reduce risks in the development of digital products.”

Developing an IT product is not cheap and any misstep is costly, especially in the later phases. The later you discover the mistake, the bigger portion of the existing implementation will need to be changed. Each developer man-hour you can save counts. An easy way to avoid any unnecessary workload and help your devs is to reduce risks of developing a feature that doesn’t help anyone so people won’t use it. A well set up usability test or even a survey should be able to help you with deciding on this.

UX research will not only provide the list of the features which you ought to implement, but it also provides the reasoning behind it. By conducting a thorough research, you will be much more confident in splitting the features into the must-haves, nice-to-haves and unnecessary.

Sorting features into these categories will allow you to assign priority not only for the testing and research, but also in the designs themselves. After learning which features are the most important, you can assign the most prominent positions to them, reducing the risk that these features will be skipped or will go unnoticed by the user. All these decisions are supported by the cold hard facts provided by your UX research. 

Establishing a clear priority for the features also provides you with an easier way out of a situation when the time stress and delays result in the need to drop some of the features from your app or web. This way you will always be able to clearly determine which feature can be removed with the lowest risk.

If you master the art of reducing the unnecessary, you will need to spend less time on validating the designs, which didn’t need to exist in the first place. Saving time like this will allow you to either test the most important features more thoroughly, or to test more features, which you deem necessary…or to have an extra coffee break from time to time. Alternatively it will allow you to move onto a new project faster. So yes, doing your UX research correctly, will allow you to do more UX research within the given time period.

Closing thoughts

why is ux research important

Even though we managed to identify four main umbrella terms, which can be used to cover all the main reasons for why you should conduct your UX research, it can actually all be reduced to one reason and one reason only:

To put the user in the focal point of your design and to tailor your product to their needs, preferences and desires.

With this in mind, you can retrospectively connect all four terms to this statement by specifying them further:

  • Understanding, the user to know how to design around them
  • Improving, the product to better fit the needs of the user
  • Validate that you are in tune with the user and their needs
  • Reduce the risk of developing any clutter, which is of no use for the user

Now, after reading this blog, you will be better prepared to answer when someone asks you why you are doing these fancy researches as your full time job.

For cheaper and easier UX research, check out UXtweak, an all-in-one usability testing platform that offers everything you need to get to know your users better! Create a free account and start testing today!

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