Are You Doing User Research Right?


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With the tech industry and the economy suffering, historic inflation, and interest rates rising, we have an imperative to design user-centered products and services to promote client acquisition, retention, and ROI.

User research, usability, and user experience (UX,) oh my!

User research should be done early and often throughout the design and development of products and services, especially in SaaS or other business models where a customer can potentially be retained for life. So, what are user research, usability, and UX?

According to,

“User research is the methodic study of target users—including their needs and pain points—so designers have the sharpest possible insights to work with to make the best designs. User researchers use various methods to expose problems and design opportunities, and find crucial information to use in their design process.”

Excellent usability and UX are critical for the acquisition and/or retention of users. Usability has to do with how easily a user is able to interact with the user interface (UI.) Often times in user research, usability also refers to the methods we employ to improve the ease of use during the design process. And UX is an ever-expanding focus of companies revolving around how a person experiences using a product, application, or website. Improved UX is seen as one critically important way to attract and retain users or customers.

Businesses need to allocate appropriate funding to user research throughout the product development lifecycle in order to ensure they are solving relevant problems for their target users. With the difficult economic situation the world finds itself in, human-centered design with well-timed user research methods is critical to company survival. In the previous recession, many companies went under, but those that rose to the top were able to meet changing user needs. Even though the allocation of funds to seemingly superfluous aspects of business like research may seem unnecessary, it’s actually critical. Jakob Nielsen, in his 2003 article Return on Investment for Usability, found that allocating ~10% of the overall budget improved usability by 135%, or 202% including outliers from the 42 total cases studied.

For the metric of sales/conversion rate, average improvement across web projects was 100%, for Traffic/visitor count average improvements across web projects was 150%, for User performance/ productivity average improvement across web projects was 161%, and for User of specific (target) features, average improvement across web projects was 202%

“Based on this finding and findings from other surveys, we conclude that current best practices call for devoting about 10% of a project’s budget to usability.”

User-centered design (UCD) should inform user research

UCD is an iterative framework of processes that centers on usability and meeting user needs and desires throughout product design and development. UCD involves research that leads to an idea or concept, then that concept is designed, developed, and tested. To build a successful product, user requirements need to be understood. This is where user research comes in handy.

It probably goes without saying that at each phase of user testing, selecting participants that represent the target user group is important.

After researching a potential product, it’s time to ideate. During the idea phase, user motivation aims to be understood to identify if there is truly demand from the target user group. User interviews or diary studies can be beneficial to learning about user thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

During development, it’s best to find out what features matter most to your target user group. A customer journey map or sorting cards are tools that often do the job to learn these insights.

For testing, a prototype is often provided so test users can demonstrate usability. Researchers can do moderated or unmoderated usability testing to gather data about usability to look for opportunities to improve the design as well as discover the aspects of the product that delight users.

At this point, iteration occurs until the product is ready for launch.


In order to stay afloat, companies must prioritize UX. UCD centers on user research and iteration. Companies can be sure to create products there is demand for with good usability and user experience when they go through this iterative process with a quality user participant pool that reflects their target users. Without relevant testing through the product development lifecycle, companies risk losing users which impacts their bottom line. To thrive in the challenging economic times we are facing, user research must be budgeted for.

Jose Gallegos
Jose Angelo Gallegos is a user researcher enthusiast and contributing writer at Social Media Today and Respondent.


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