Maker Hacker

UX Research: Getting Started

Defining the issues can be a research project in itself. So where to begin?

Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.
-Charles Eames

A Goal-Oriented Practice
Most definitions of design share a common focus on intent and purpose. At its heart, design is a goal-oriented practice aimed at imposing meaningful order and achieving preferred situations. It’s about problem solving and before you design a solution, you need to understand the dilemma. Enter design research in all its insightful glory. From literature reviews to stakeholder interviews, user testing to web analytics, the design researcher’s toolbox runneth over.

Sometimes a researcher is looking for a fact or figure but often her results will reflect more abstract issues like motivations and emotions. As such, qualitative and quantitative methods go hand in hand. If we think of research as informed questioning, web analytics and other similar methods that attempt to numerically describe human behavior are going to help us answer the what and the how much. But to get at the why often means tapping into qualitative methods, without which statistical data might raise more questions than answers.

The fact that users avoid one area of your website and spend a great deal of time in another is certainly crucial information to inform a website redesign but finding the cause and its solution will likely take some form of conversation. Similarly traditional marketing segmentation will surely help identify a market opportunity but will prove less effective when attempting to define a product that will capitalize on that opportunity.

Where To Begin
Sometimes getting started is half the battle. Defining the issues at the beginning of a research phase can be a project in and of itself. Research could always go in a million different directions but to be most effective it needs to target the most important features of the product.

The product is going to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Every department will judge success in its own way. Marketing might be interested in looking at reviews and site traffic, Sales might focus on increased revenue, Development on number of bugs per lines of code, and Customer Support on monitoring the type of questions coming in. All of these perspectives come together to form a total picture of the product and demand something different from the user experience.

One way to focus your research plan is to make a list of the ways in which the product’s UX impacts the company across teams. Each issue then becomes a research goal. Once these goals have been prioritized, they can then be rewritten as questions to be answered.

We need more people returning to our site.
What are reasons people come back?

People aren’t writing product reviews.
What value do people get from writing product reviews?

People are exiting the shopping cart.
What is failing shoppers on the website?

Issues can then be expanded and fleshed into more concrete questions. Depending on the information you’re seeking you may turn to quantitative methods, like checking user demographics on a web analytics platform, or qualitative research like reaching out to potential users via survey.

UX research ranges from very formal methodologies to simple interviews. Two great resources that delve further into the topics are here and here. We’ve laid out the basic guidelines for measuring success with Google Analytics in the above presentation. If you’re not a mathematically inclined human, all the figures and charts can at first be overwhelming. But GA is actually presented in fairly straightforward terms and once you’re familiar with the basics you can find out some pretty helpful information.

Your research plan should match the scope of the project and the bigger the project, the more important it is to think through what it is you will need to know and how that information will be used. But the first step is finding the right questions to ask. So get a little curious.


Got you hooked? here’s more:

AirBnb: The Real Value of UX Research
UX Research is about embracing uncertainty

IDEO’s Digital Tools for Design Research
New ways to improve human-centered design

UX Issues That Will Make Or Break Self-Driving Cars
Volkswagen researchers working to solve issues that Tesla hasn’t cracked

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