Take Your UX Research to the Next Level with These Advanced Tactics


There is a world of opportunities that unlocks with research – whether you are working on designs to improve your product, getting feedback on your marketing strategies, or even just learning more about your customers, research studies can level up your business in all different departments!

There are a variety of different ways that your team can use user research inside and outside of UX and design. We’ll go over the importance of launching multiple types of studies, generative research vs. evaluative research and how they are both helpful in different ways, how concept validation studies can help you get the lay of the land, and how different internal teams can use research to help them with their work.

So first, let’s talk about the importance of running a variety of different types of studies.

In the world of development and design, research is an integral part of the process: It helps you understand how people think, feel, and use the product or process that you are working on. Most of the time, researchers will run a variety of studies while developing a new feature – these studies can vary depending on the information that they are trying to receive: how does this flow make the customer feel? Does this help them understand how the product will function? Is there anything that deters them from wanting to use the product or recommend it to people? Is the product functional and able to be used without error?

But research doesn’t have to be reduced to only being a part of the design process: in fact, there are many different ways to use user research to get information that doesn’t directly relate to a specific design you are working on. Now, launching studies throughout the design process is important, but it can be equally as important to get feedback from your customers on their habits and how they use your current website/product. In addition to this, research can be used to help teams outside of UX with feedback on initiatives and validating ideas.

Let’s start with the basics: why should you run user research frequently?

#1: Research can help you understand your customers’ wants and needs.

Let’s say we run a grocery store’s online presence. We’re coming up on the new year, and we need to start thinking about what our quarterly goals are going to be. Running a study to get to know your customers, how they shop for groceries both online and offline, and seeing how they interact with the current website as it is can help you understand where people’s thoughts are at: what is important to them at the moment? What differs about their experience on and offline? Is there something glaringly missing?

We’ll go over some different types of studies you can run to help answer these questions, but I want to point out that these types of studies can lead you to building an understanding of how your product is being perceived, and what you can do to make it better. You’ll get a better idea of who your customers are and how their experience can be improved by your product or website!

#2: Frequent research can help unlock ideas for future projects that you never had considered before.

When planning improvements or building new features, you and your team may identify pain points and brainstorm ideas together as a team. While this is very helpful, getting information directly from participants can give you evidence immediately on areas that need improvement. You can’t predict how a user will think, so in doing research you’ll identify interesting things that you didn’t know previously – you can uncover a lot by going in with an open mind about what you’ll discover.

You’ll find that people will often drop ideas inadvertently during any type of study. For example, a researcher on my team has participants do a study to use the checkout flow of my grocery store website – as they go through the flow of adding items to the cart, the participants communicate their frustration that the items they are looking for are organized in a way that makes it difficult for them to find. Sure, this doesn’t have to do with the check out tool, but this is a valid concern that may change the direction of our research. So you can take this feedback and drive towards building new improvements to different parts of your product, in this example maybe looking into rearranging menus or examining how items are sorted.

#3: Research can help you be confident in your decisions.

In a previous blog post crafting questions I talked about one of the fundamental important pieces of crafting good questions is coming up with a goal – something to work towards. The last thing you and your company want is to build something that proves to be unsuccessful or useless to your customers – your time and energy is valuable! So running audits of your current product or conducting frequent studies to ensure your idea is sound and that you have a clear goal in mind can save you time and money in the long run. Not only that, but it helps build trust with your customers – showing them that their continued feedback and insight is important to your business and future success.

This will also help you understand how the perception of your product evolves over time. For example, our research team may notice that many participants make suggestions of rearranging the products to find them easier in the menu. 6 months later, our research team decides to return to the idea of rearranging products, but before we start development we do another study to confirm that the items’ arrangement is still an issue., but this time the customers are able to find the items with ease and are more focused on a different component of the product – the truth of the matter is that things change over time. Something that was prominent to your customers may not be relevant 6 months from now, so this is a great reason to continue doing general research frequently throughout the year.

One quick side tip: during the analysis phase, we’ve seen experienced researchers use tags to keep track of ideas like this to come back to at a later time, using phrases like “long term improvements” to search and review later! If you’d like to learn more about how to use tags, check out our webinar “Tagging Your Research” on our Youtube Page, or reach out to our chat support team!

So let’s talk about what types of research you can do!

Let’s say our grocery store website is currently being under utilized by customers. We want to drive people to use it, but there doesn’t seem to be any specific area that is preventing people from moving forward. How can we figure out what to do or where to start? In this case, generative research studies can help us uncover some ideas.

Generative research, also known as exploratory or discovery research, focuses on more broad searches to generate new ideas and open-ended insights. When we talked about conducting research outside of designing products, generative research is a great way to open up the floodgates to figure out how to move forward on new projects and implements in your product! These types of studies tend to have less guidance – this is intentional as we want to get the most feedback from customers about themselves, how they use similar products to yours, and seeing what their base-level knowledge is of your product or website to help understand where to go from there.

Why is it important to do generative research? When you are developing a new feature or making some vast improvements to your site, you want to make sure that what you are creating is useful to your audience. But how do you know what is useful without talking to the people using your product or similar products? The openness of generative research can lead you to a better understanding of your customer as a whole, and provides you with a baseline to start building off of.

Let’s go back to our example of running a grocery store’s website. When I want to conduct generative research, I want to first get an understanding of how my target audience thinks and feels about grocery shopping. There’s a couple of ways I can approach this: first, I can do one on one moderated interviews with potential customers and ask them about their habits when shopping. In this interview, I could check how often they shop for groceries, where they usually go, what their favorite and least favorite parts of shopping are, and I can even ask them about online shopping to get an idea of how much knowledge they have of that experience. Even if I am not specifically talking about my website, I am discovering new information about the mind and habits of customers that could potentially use the website in the future!

As you go through the process of getting to know your customers, you can also get a base level understanding of how they currently go through your website. Another example of a generative research study is a first impression test – in this, a participant is asked to go through a function of the website (for example, adding items to your cart and checking out) and then asked how they feel about the process they went through. Just like before, this can lead to insights that come up throughout the test, but also give you an idea of what is working and not working as a stepping stone!

Need some assistance crafting questions? PlaybookUX has a ton of great templates available to use on unmoderated studies covering a variety of common research types (including First Impression tests). Choose from the list, or pick specific questions with our Popular Questions feature!

Once we have some ideas and improvements in mind from our results of these studies – our team can begin the process of developing new features. We want to make sure that whatever we build is useful and working as intended. This introduces a different aspect of research that is equally as important, evaluative research.

Evaluative research can help you understand if your website, product, or new features are functioning as intended. These studies focus more on taking participants through a step-by-step process, essentially testing them on the correct way to use your product, while asking for feedback throughout. If your participants have a hard time getting to the correct screen or moving through the prototype, you know where there are areas of improvement, and you can also gain valuable insights about how participants feel about the product you have created, and how they feel actually using it in the moment.

So why is evaluative research as important as generative research? With generative research you are starting much more broad and narrowing down to find ideas that fit with your team, roadmap and more. Evaluative research allows you to be confident that the products, features, and websites that you are working on are easy to use, understand, and recommend to customers – if the new idea is functional and works well, then you can guarantee that customers will be more likely to use your product going forward! In addition to this, testing your products frequently can help promote trust with your customers – the more often you bring them into the process, show them how you are working to improve their daily lives with your new feature, and listen to their feedback to make changes makes the customer more likely to return!

Because most of evaluative research is gathering evidence to ensure the product is working smoothly, the types of studies you want to run will often function more as a test with follow up questions to gather thoughts and feelings from your participants. Unmoderated usability tests are the most frequently used and can be done throughout the development process – in this type of study, a researcher will provide a participant a series of instructions to move through the product or prototype and ask them questions like “Without clicking, What do you think will take you to the next screen?” “Where would you go to do this task?” “After clicking, how does this process compare to what you predicted would happen?” As the participant goes through the process, you can gain valuable insights on what stumps them from moving forward, where they may need extra guidance, and where the process worked well! Once completed, you will have a better understanding of how customers may try to move through the process and work to make improvements. On the screen are some common questions that researchers use in usability studies, and you can find these and more in our templates and popular questions.

In my previous example of customers mentioning they were having trouble finding items sorted in menus, a tree test can be especially useful to run for evaluative research. Even before making changes, I can test how people navigate and find items with a tree test to help me figure out a baseline of where to start. In this test, you set up a tree, which will imitate the various drop down menus you have on your website, and provide the participants with scenarios: “I’m looking for tomatoes – where would I click to find them?” to test where they click first, and if they ultimately choose the right destination. You can also ask follow up questions to see how confident they are in their answers or how they feel about the choice they chose. This can be extremely useful in all stages of development to ensure the changes you’re making are resonating with the participants!

As you’re continuing to make improvements to your product or website, you can use user research to ensure that your concepts and updates are validated by participants. The purpose of using research for concept validation is to gather evidence that your decisions are sound and suitable for the needs of your customers – this can be done before or during the production of new features or updates.

Why is concept validation important to the process? As you start to build out your roadmap and work on new ideas, you will want to make sure that you are not building with tunnel vision. It’s very easy to slip into the mindset that what you are building is something that customers desire without having the evidence to back that up, and this can sometimes lead to unfortunate results if customers don’t actually use the new feature or update once it is built. So concept validation can help you save time and valuable resources by checking in with customers on how they feel about the idea.

In addition to this, taking a step back and getting feedback from people outside your organization can yield more positive results in the long run. While often not intentional, team members testing prototypes can be biased towards supporting the work as they know the effort and work that has already gone into the new concept. Participants in user studies can have a fresh perspective on the concept without any background knowledge and can give you a more accurate gauge on how this is being received by potential customers.

So how do you test concept validation? The most common way to test is through first impression studies with prototypes. You can provide the participants with a low-fidelity prototype with information on how the concept would work if built and have the participants speak their thoughts out loud as they move through it. As you continue to work with feedback provided and build better prototypes, you can continue launching first impression studies to further solidify that the idea is sound with participants at every stage (this is also valuable to pick up on any additional feedback that participants provide about other parts of the product to improve on in the future, so it’s a win-win!)

Before even creating prototypes, you can also have participants go through a part of the website that you are looking to change and gather thoughts on how it works. If the participants pick up on the same issues that you are looking to improve, you can confirm that your concept has been validated to proceed forward. This is a great way to set a baseline and work towards building something useful, even if the idea isn’t fully fleshed out just yet.

So we’ve talked a lot about how to use user research to audit your current website or product and how to use it for designing new features and ideas, but that is not where it ends! Companies have found a lot of success in incorporating user research into marketing, sales, customer service, and more to help build confidence in what you are producing and putting out to potential customers.

With marketing, there are lots of practical uses for user research – so let’s go back to our grocery store example. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, for our American customers, and our marketing team is working on a stellar ad campaign to promote the use of our brand new website to order groceries. We want to stand out amongst our competition, but we also want to make sure to tell our customers information in a clear, concise manner – this is an excellent way to incorporate user research! As our marketing team writes out ad copy and designs colorful campaigns, we can launch a study to have participants review the copy and any alternatives, asking what parts make them more likely to click and go to the website, or parts that are confusing to read. This can help our team improve the quality of the copy before launching with our customers! It doesn’t have to stop there – you can use studies to ask customers about products and how they would describe them or use them, to test if a discount link is an effective way to entice people to use the website, and even gather information about your customer base and how they view marketing material in general.

For sales, user research can vastly improve the confidence you have in your pitch and contact with potential customers. It is vitally important to be able to communicate the importance of your product, so using studies to ask for participant’s opinions on how likely they would talk to your team after a cold email, or how enticed they would be after viewing your pitch can help give you confidence and a jumping off point to communicate better with clients going forward! You can also use research to understand what aspects of your industry are the most important to potential customers by getting a better understanding of their habits and experience with other similar products!

Using research in customer service can also help you understand how customers utilize materials to answer their own questions or why they are driving traffic to support. If you use a knowledge base, you can do usability tests to see if participants can locate answers to questions on their own accord and how they feel about that process – this can illuminate areas that may need more tags and explanation to get the person to the right section quicker. You can also use research to test out the chat bot experience, if this is something your team uses – how often is the chat bot giving the correct answers? How often is the customer being redirected to support when they don’t need to? What key words or phrases can help improve the bot? These are all questions that can be answered with research!

This is just the tip of the iceberg – research can be utilized to help your team build confidence, understand your customer, and improve your product and service! If you have a creative way that you use research for your team, definitely let us know – we’re always curious to see what others are working on in the world of research!

We here at PlaybookUX want to make it easier for you to set up and conduct all different types of research. We have templates and popular questions available to use for all unmoderated studies, card sort and tree tests.

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