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User experience (UX) research has become more important than ever as companies recognize the value of UX as a competitive differentiator and growth driver. With good UX, customers adopt products faster, spend more money, renew subscriptions at higher rates, and refer others more frequently. Creating products and experiences that are efficient, effective, and satisfactory requires an accurate understanding of users that only UX research can provide.

However, delivering on this promise can be challenging and frustrating. The emerging field lacks standardization. Many people have entered the field from other disciplines and are hungry to learn UX research best practices. What’s more, some organizations perceive UX research as a blocker to rapid development rather than an essential part of the process and are hesitant to engage or invest.

Therefore, UX researchers need resources to overcome these challenges, develop the necessary skills, and have a positive impact on their organizations.

In this guide, you’ll learn strategies to help you be a more effective UX researcher, whether you’re building a new practice or working to improve your existing operations. Inside, you’ll find tactical advice to help make your program more efficient and gain the trust of your stakeholders.

First, we’ll cover UX research terminology, methodology, and goals. Then, we’ll dig into UX research operations, including recruiting processes, tools, and emerging technologies for AI and automation. As a result, you’ll be able to avoid common bottlenecks and scale your program for ongoing success.

User Experience (UX) Research Best Practices to Increase Accuracy, Efficiency, and Trust

User Experience (UX) Research Best Practices to Increase Accuracy, Efficiency, and Trust

What is UX research?

UX research is responsible for gathering and analyzing feedback from users. Specifically, it investigates user interactions with a company, product, or digital experience, and applies those findings to inform design and business decisions. As a subset of the user research field, UX research explores users' goals, motivations, and satisfaction, and also includes hands-on usability testing of a product concept, design, or user interface.

Like user research, the goal is to get decision-makers inside an organization to understand what it’s like to be in a user’s shoes so they can make decisions based on data instead of assumptions, opinions, and politics. Findings get people to question and shift beliefs. As a result, they decide how to prioritize work and where to invest resources to avoid risk and make the greatest impact.

When done well, both user research and UX research build bridges between users and companies. Researchers need to have a deep understanding of the user context as well as the business context. In addition to technology skills, they must develop critical thinking and communication skills, process mastery, and a mindset that values continuous learning.

In practice, the terms user research and UX research are often used interchangeably. For simplicity, we'll focus on "UX research" in this guide.

What’s the difference between market research and UX research?

Both market research and UX research can help you understand customers’ preferences and behaviors. Both types of studies are designed to test assumptions and help you make decisions. However, there are several differences between market research and UX research.

  • Market research can include your organization’s users as well as non-users, while UX research is laser-focused on users.
  • Market research tends to have a broader scope, including market trends and competitive analysis. UX research homes in on user experience.
  • Market research studies are typically longer term. UX research studies more often have smaller, iterative rounds.



Market Research

UX Research


Users and non-users

Users only


User experience, market trends, and competitive analysis

User experience only



Long term

Short term

What’s the difference between usability testing and UX research?

Usability testing is one aspect of UX research. In a usability test, the goal is to see if something – usually a high-fidelity prototype or live product – is usable or not. In a usability test, a researcher might observe user behavior via screen recordings, session replays, or heatmaps. They might use A/B testing to determine user preferences. They are measuring things like click data, to find and fix issues that cause users friction. Metrics include time-on-task, customer effort score, system usability scales, and task success rate. Ultimately, the goal is to find and fix usability issues.

UX research, on the other hand, also incorporates much more than hands-on testing of product features or a user interface to find and fix issues. It extends across the design and development process and helps organizations develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of users that is embedded in your strategy and roadmap.

For the purposes of this guide, we're going to focus on the discipline of "UX research".

When should you conduct UX research?

UX research is often conducted as part of digital transformation, product development, and service design initiatives. It extends across the design and development lifecycle, with different UX research approaches applied at every stage.

  1. Discovery research – Even before development begins, you can apply UX research for exploration and ideation. By listening to users with an open mind, not a hypothesis, you can identify emerging or unmet user needs and unrealized opportunities that could lead to new markets or new products. This approach is also known as "generative UX research".
  2. Descriptive research – Once ideas begin to percolate, you then need to shape them. In this approach, you can apply UX research to dig deeper into users' needs and pain points to create a solution that solves them.
  3. Evaluation research – Once you have something concrete to test, you can apply UX research to assess whether it sufficiently meets user needs. Typically, in this approach, you would put an idea, design, tool, or other stimulus in front of a research participant to test their reactions.
  4. Monitoring research – UX research continues well after products, features, and designs have launched. In this approach, you can apply UX research to check back in with users and confirm that any changes you made are sufficient. Then, you can begin the cycle again.

Check out Forrester’s Design Better by Conducting the Right Kinds of Research and Alida’s recent webinar with Forrester analyst Senem Guler Biyikli, for more thoughts on types of UX research and when to apply them throughout the design and development lifecycle.

What types of UX research methods are most effective?

UX researchers apply both quantitative and qualitative methods to understand users and develop insights that guide decisions.

  • Quantitative UX research includes behavior tracking and product telemetry. It tells you “what” is happening, but you need to make assumptions as to “why.”
  • Qualitative UX research can be moderated, such as an in-depth interview (IDI), panel discussions, and focus groups, or unmoderated, such as a diary study. These can be conducted in person or via video. Qualitative UX research helps you get to the “why behind the what.”

The best approach to UX research is to mix quantitative and qualitative methods. Then you can gather data from multiple sources, identify patterns, cross-check your findings, and develop informed insights.

What should you measure with UX research?

Nikki Anderson-Stanier, UX research expert and head of the membership community UX Research Academy, is helping to develop standardized language and best practices for the UX research field. She describes the UX research process as a “funnel” that measures a number of things that impact the user experience:

  • Motivations – Deeper reasons users have for wanting to achieve goals. These aren’t always conscious.
  • Goals – Overarching outcomes the product, business, or participant trying to achieve.
  • Needs – Steps along the way that are required to achieve a goal.
  • Tasks – Behaviors or actions users take to move toward a goal.
  • Pain points – Obstacles that get in the way of users and must be overcome. These can prevent users from completing a task and ultimately reaching their goal.

UX research operations

A common misconception of UX research that prevents adoption is that it takes too long. Especially in a rapid development process, companies need meaningful insights quickly. They are unwilling to hold up a development process to wait weeks or even months for UX researchers to recruit participants, conduct research, and analyze results. This need has given rise to the growing discipline of "Research Ops".

UX research operations (aka "Research Ops") include the people, processes, and technologies that teams employ for planning, execution, and delivery of research studies. As demand increases—with some companies having 5o developers per UX researcher!—the only way for organizations to keep up is to build research operations that are agile and repeatable. Just as DevOps and DesignOps have become expected workflows for fast-moving organizations, ResearchOps helps UX teams stay relevant and maximize the impact of their efforts. 

In this next section, you’ll learn best practices for UX research operations that can help you move more quickly, become more efficient, and scale your operations.

Who should be involved in UX research?

The UX research process requires dedicated UX researchers with expertise. They need to know how to design surveys and conduct interviews and focus groups, as well as statistical analysis. In addition, UX researchers need excellent communication, collaboration, and storytelling skills.

Product discovery coach Teresa Torres recommends that UX researchers work closely with “product trios” that include a Product Manager, Designer, and Architect. Her recommendations for “continuous discovery” underscore the importance of integrating UX research into the early ideation and exploration stages of product development.

The ideal situation is to make UX research a shared process with product, engineering, design, and other business decision-makers involved. Rather than having UX researchers “cook up” studies behind the scenes and then reveal results to others, the entire UX research process should be integrated so that cross-functional teams can make decisions together.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if other product managers were jealous of the insights and results those who work with UX research teams receive? For product teams, losing a UX researcher should be as painful as losing a product manager.

Once demand for UX research increases, it’s a rare organization that has enough UX researchers to apply to every question and decision. If your team is strapped, you can democratize UX research by educating product managers and others involved with development and design to conduct UX research on their own. Democratizing UX research requires accessible, easy-to-use tools, and a strong governance process to ensure research participants aren’t overwhelmed and the results reflect the quality necessary to make decisions.

11 steps of the UX research process

The end-to-end UX research process involves multiple steps for each study, to be conducted in order.

  1. Pre-research – Understand the goals of the UX research, including stakeholder needs and decisions to be made.
  2. Planning – Determine which UX research method is most appropriate, the scope of the research, which types of participants you want to include, and how long you have to produce results.
  3. Desk research – Review any relevant data and insights you already have available to address the goals of the research. If you’re conducting UX research related to a product or prototype, make sure you understand how the technology works and any use cases and competitors that users may address in their feedback.
  4. Documentation – Create a discussion guide for your IDIs or focus groups, and questions for surveys, and have your stakeholders review and sign off.
  5. UX research recruitment – Identify research participants and confirm they meet the criteria for your study. For example, confirm if they are users of the product, and segment them based on demographics, psychographics, and buying behavior so that you can analyze results for different user personas. This stage is typically the one that takes the most time and has the highest likelihood of becoming a bottleneck in the UX research process.
  6. Data collection – Conduct qualitative UX research by interacting with participants. Conduct quantitative UX research by gathering data via software. 
  7. Data analysis – Now that you have raw data, you can tag and categorize your findings, and look for patterns and trends.
  8. Insights and findings – Based on the data you’ve collected and analyzed, extract insights that can help your stakeholders make changes and decisions. 
  9. Reporting results – Document your findings and recommendations and develop a presentation for stakeholders.
  10. Sharing results – Meet with stakeholders to review the research and your findings and address any follow-up questions. You’ll want to engage people so they’re hungry to read your full report and share results with others. 
  11. Maintenance – Once a UX research study is complete, you need to maintain data according to your company’s policies as well as security, privacy, and compliance requirements.

The longer each step in the UX research takes to complete, the longer your stakeholders will need to wait for results and the more frustrated they will become.

How to recruit participants for UX research

Among the steps listed above in the UX research process, the one that takes the longest and is often the most frustrating is #5 – UX research recruitment. Finding the right people and enticing them to participate in UX research can be extremely challenging, especially for lower-incidence respondents and hard-to-reach populations.

In your recruitment process, you’ll need to identify people who fit a certain profile. Unlike broad market research, for UX research you’ll want to include users of your product or service as they have direct experience you want to understand. You may also want to recruit participants who hold certain job titles, live in certain geographies, are a certain age, or meet other demographic or psychographic criteria.

UX researchers need to weed out focus “groupies” who like to participate in research but aren’t directly relevant to the questions being studied. You don’t want to find out too late that participants you believed to be valid research respondents didn’t fit your criteria, or worse, were actually non-human “bots” polluting your data. It’s important to validate the identities of UX research participants to confirm they are who they say they are.

For best practices on UX research recruitment, read How to recruit participants for UX research

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UX research tools

When it comes to UX research tools, flexibility is key. You’ll want to apply different tools for different research methods at different stages of the UX research process.

  • In the early stages of exploratory UX research, you’ll want to create a safe space for qualitative interviews, focus groups, and video conversations.
  • If you’re testing a prototype and you want quantitative feedback, you may bring in usability testing, accessibility testing, eyetracking, heat mapping, or other UX research tools that gather interaction analytics.

You’ll want to be able to recruit participants into any type of UX research tool you may use.

UX research platforms

Regardless of which tool gathers the data, you’ll want to centralize the findings of your UX research in a unified repository. That way you can avoid over-surveying people, leading to survey fatigue.

And, with a unified UX research platform, you can integrate data so you can synthesize findings, find patterns, and overlay information to drill down into segments.

Tools for making UX research operations more efficient

To reduce manual tasks and save time, UX researchers can leverage automation and advancements in Artificial Intelligence. Consider how you can apply technology to things like:

  • Text and sentiment analysis
  • Transcribing interviews and videos
  • Summarizing interviews and diary studies
  • Translating feedback
  • Scheduling interviews, sending reminders and thank you notes
  • Managing sample counts
  • Creating survey questions or prompts
  • Drafting a story based on your research results

UX research tools must keep personal data private and secure

First and foremost, make sure you have consent from your research participants to gather personal data. Once they’ve opted in, they trust you to keep their information private and confidential. You are obliged to make sure that any UX research tool you use and every part of your UX research process is secure.

For more best practices on UX research operations, read Five ways to boost research efforts.

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UX research is part science and part art. As a UX researcher, you can apply a multi-pronged strategy that fits your organizational goals and resources.

Most UX research studies will be a mix: A mix of quant and qual methods, a mix of tools, a mix of UX and market research approaches, a mix of users and non-users, and a mix of people on the research team. It’s up to you to choose what’s appropriate and what’s relevant. You’ll keep iterating and learning. That’s what makes the field of UX research so exciting!

Alida’s team of UX research experts is here to support your journey. Let us know how we can help.

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