6 Key Phases of UX Research

Following a disciplined UX Research process doesn’t just result in an intuitive, enjoyable user experience, it also creates opportunity to iterate and improve the ultimate design.

1. Set Objectives & Know Your Key Questions By Heart

Quite frequently, goals for a UX research initiative can be muddied by things like changing scope, budget, team, prototype fidelity, and the number of stakeholders.  To stay grounded, flesh out and align on the research objectives and KQs for each research initiative early to guide and inform subsequent research phases.

Having a set list of KQs to always fall back on can keep you focused and eliminate any diversions when negotiating with stakeholders.

2. Study Design – What methods can best answer your questions?

To decide on the best method for your study, ask yourself “What kinds of data points and types of analysis do I need to answer the KQs?”


Usability Testing – understand user interaction

Contextual Inquiry – gain context of use

Survey, A/B Test – decide on design concepts

Participatory Design – understand the ideal

Card sorting, Tree testing – inform IA

Focus Group – uncover needs on a lower budget

Survey, Remote Testing – in a pandemic

3. Screening – Who are you looking for?

Recruit participants who have the defining characteristics of the target users such as demographics, habits (ex. Frequent online shopper) and ownership (ex. Luxury car owner).  Set appropriate quotas on target qualities to ensure participants reflect general distribution of qualities in the customer populations.

4. In The Field – Moderation

Listen intensely and as with intention.

Stay Neutral

O – “Tell me how you found that button”

X – “Great!  How did you know?”

Build Rapport

O – “Today, we are interested in learning about you and there are no wrong answers today because we are evaluating the system.”

Avoid making assumptions.  Always ask Why.

O – moderator:  “Why did you choose to exit out of this page?”

Participant:  “Because the tab had a misleading label.”

X – moderator:  thinks participant probably didn’t see the tab on the page instead o asking a follow up question.

Listen more, talk less.  Observe and probe.

Your job is to moderate not explain.

Avoid leading questions.

X “Do you like the button because it’s red?”

Use the participants language.

O participant:  “I’ll use the info button to find more about stuff?”

Moderator:  “Use the info button to find more about what?

Avoid multiple choice or layered questions.

O – “Why did you change the setting?

X – “Did you do that because you wanted x, y or z?”

Be specific about what you are asking.

O – Why did you select that button?

X – Why did you do that?

5. In The Field – Note Taking/Documentation

Take notes smartly for efficient analysis.  Label your notes with relevant categorizations (e.g. question types, tasks, demographics) to easily filter notes during analysis.  Take observational notes on user interaction to identify cause of user error.  It can provide more insights than what people say, and inform design recommendations for next phase innovations.

Leave at least a 15 minute break between short interview sessions (<1hr) and 30 minutes for long ones (1-2 hours) to reflect and capture observations.

6.  Analyze – Back To The Objectives

Keep your key questions posted in front of you so they are front and center in your mind during analysis.  This will help you filter out unnecessary data points – aka noise – and spend time focused on analyzing important trends – aka the good stuff – that will directly answer and indirectly provide unexpected insights to your research.  Use the labels built into the notes as filters to quickly pull information and compare findings.


Applying this process will create the conditions to uncover the important insights about your user that will enable designers to create more thoughtful experiences that will have the most impact on the user.

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