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A Guide to Generative UX Research

Written by Alida

Published April 29, 2024

Generative UX research is like being a detective. You're digging deep to understand why your users do what they do. You're looking for those "aha" moments that reveal what your customers really need. It's all about exploring and generating new ideas, not just testing what's already there.

Let's dive into what generative UX research is, its value, and how you can leverage it to achieve your goals.

What is generative UX research?

Generative UX research is a qualitative research methodology that investigates user needs, behaviors, and motivations. Also known as "discovery" or "exploratory" research, generative UX research is helpful in uncovering opportunities for innovation and informing the development of new products and services. Conducting generative UX research involves techniques such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic research to gather rich, detailed data about user experiences.

Generative vs. evaluative UX research: Why the difference matters

A good way to understand generative UX research is to compare it to evaluative UX research. Generative and evaluative UX research serve different purposes in the product development process.

    • Generative research is exploratory and aims to generate new ideas and concepts at the early stages of product development. To conduct generative research, you need to have an open mind and listen to customers without introducing your own hypothesis to the discussion. Your goal is to identify potential problems to solve.

    • Evaluative research, on the other hand, has a tighter scope. It’s primarily focused on testing and validating existing ideas. In an evaluative research approach, you may have a hunch or hypothesis you want to test, or a specific stimulus (new design, product prototype, campaign content, etc.) for which you want to gather user input. Your goal is not to identify problems as much as it is to evaluate if a solution is adequately solving them.

By incorporating both generative and evaluative research in your UX research program, you can ensure that your products are not only innovative but also user-friendly and effective in meeting users' needs.

Why is generative UX research valuable?

There are many reasons companies employ generative UX research strategies.

A startup, for example, can use generative research to understand the context of the market they seek to enter, spending time understanding who their users could be, what problems need to be solved, and how users currently solve those problems.

That said, generative research is important for larger, established companies as well. Sometimes people need to get out of the echo chamber of their own organization and shake things up. They want to push past their current boundaries and gather new perspectives. By listening to feedback from different types of users you can improve inclusivity in UX design and adapt to the needs of different demographics.

You can measure the business value of generative UX research in several ways:

    • Driving innovation: By understanding users' unmet needs, you can identify opportunities for new product development that set your company apart from the competition.

    • Identifying market opportunities: Exploratory discussions with users can help you discover gaps in the market or areas where your services can be improved or expanded.

    • Reducing risk: Investing in generative research early on can save time and resources by ensuring that your efforts are aligned with user priorities and concerns.

    • Building empathy: Engaging with users leads to more thoughtful and user-centric product development and design decisions, which ultimately drive user adoption and sales.

Methods for conducting generative UX research

Generative research typically involves gathering insights from people using several methods:

    • In-depth-Interviews: Conducting one-on-one interviews using open discovery questions to delve into users' personal experiences, motivations, and needs. You can conduct research interviews online and record conversations via video.

    • Field studies: Observing users in their natural environment to gain insights into their behaviors and contexts.

    • Workshops and focus groups: Facilitating group discussions with panels of users to brainstorm ideas and share diverse perspectives.

    • Surveys: Using surveys to gather quantitative data that can complement qualitative insights.

These are just some of the ways you can engage users to gather feedback. Explore more user research methods here.

Steps to take when starting generative research

The step-by-step process you’d follow a generative study is much like other types of UX research, with some important differences.

1: Define and align your goals

Work with your stakeholders to understand their goals for the research and set expectations. Make sure they understand that you are looking to understand the problem space, not testing existing solutions.

2: Determine who you want to talk to

For most types of UX research, you likely want to speak with existing users of your product or service. For a generative study, you may also benefit from speaking with non-users as they’ll be able to describe the problems they face, without having your solution in the back of their mind.

3: Recruit participants

Identify research participants and confirm they meet the criteria for your study. For example, confirm if they’re users of a product, and segment them based on demographics, psychographics, and buying behavior, so that you can analyze results for different user personas.

Finding the right people to interview for any UX research study can be difficult. To avoid bottlenecks in this process, read: How to recruit participants for UX research

4: Gather feedback

Now you can conduct in-depth qualitative interviews, focus groups, and video conversations with your research participants. You’ll want to create a safe space for those interactions, where people know their responses will be private and secure. Ideally, you can record participant feedback and consolidate it in a single platform, which will aid in analysis.

5: Analyze feedback

Now that you have raw data, you can tag and categorize your findings, and look for patterns and trends. Research platforms that have text and other analytical capabilities can automate this process and save you time.

6: Present results

Document your findings and recommendations and develop a presentation for stakeholders. Consider including video clips highlighting particularly powerful quotes from participants.

7. Determine next steps

As you build on findings from your generative UX research and start to develop solutions, you may want to circle back to the same group of people to make sure you’re on the right track. Think ahead to this stage when you’re recruiting participants for your generative study and check that you’ll be able to recontact them throughout the development process.

Learn more with Alida

Every type of company can benefit from making ongoing generative research a part of their overall UX strategy. If you’d like some support with generative UX research, our team is here to help.

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