Uncovering UX Research

“Supposing is good, but finding out is better.”

                                 ~ Mark Twain


What’s more important? Asking the right question or getting the right answer?

For an UX expert, there isn’t a right or wrong answer, just feedback. 

More companies are exploring ways to tap into the mindsets of their customers in order to define the pain points of a product and make improvements. I recently met up with Ladies That UX-Boston for their User Research 101 workshop at the Startup Institute. Originally launched in the UK, LTUX is a monthly meet-up for women all over the globe interested in the user experience field.

Led by Boston chapter organizer Clara Kliman-Silver, the session explored the fundamentals of user experience research, including planning out the project timeline, establishing goals, and creating strong questionnaires. Here are some key takeaways:

Research Rundown

There’re three main stages of UX research.

  1. The generative or discovery stage, focuses on learning about a particular product space. In order to solve usability issues, one has to put their detective hats on.  Whether its creating surveys or conducting focus groups, contextual inquiries provide the groundwork for insights.
  2. The execution stage involves implementing a design direction through interactions and determining how strongly the concept holds up.
  3. The evaluation stage comes down to summarizing test results and applying those learnings towards future product development strategies.

The research process typically kicks off with a stakeholder meeting. Early on, UX staff work with head honchos on outlining the customer profile. Both typical users and outside audiences must be targeted in the discussion to diversify the appeal of the product. Once project goals and deadlines are established, it’s time to draft a research plan. At this point, think about the methods your team will use to gather data, specifically what will work within your budget. If funding is limited, try more cost-effective options like conducting online surveys or posting an ad through Craigslist. 

Recruiting Users

Finding the right people for a survey doesn’t have to be impossible. Defining what you’re looking for helps narrow your target towards a strong pool of interview candidates. With the help of a screener, one can include details on project aim and key demographics such as age and professional background. Always plan to recruit more subjects to make up for scheduling conflicts or process of elimination. Lastly, avoid collaborating with friends to prevent bias in your work.

Interview Round

As a host, it’s important to get a feel for the environment in which you’re conducting interviews. While engaging customers, be positive and most importantly let them talk. If people are less receptive, count to 5 seconds silently and hopefully the awkward silence should prompt chatter to fill the void. Stay clear of yes or no questions because they often lead to dead-ends, and instead focus on the how or why. For example, if the respondents mention a mobile app driving them crazy, capitalize on that statement by asking why they felt that way or even what they were hoping it would accomplish. Record the sessions for post analysis, but make sure to sign off on approval from participants.


Following the user research breakdown, attendees split into groups of three for the activity portion of the night.


The challenge was to perform mock interviews about vacation planning. Members switched between the role of interviewer, interviewee, and note-taker. During the recap, each table went around voicing their struggles and triumphs. Many interviewers experienced road blocks in crafting enough questions that didn’t seem scripted or had the yes/no format. On the other end, interviewees felt it was easy to offer more information than asked of once they relaxed. Lastly, note-takers found it challenging not reacting to the interviewee’s remarks while focusing entirely on recording observations. Aside from designating positions accordingly, this exercise tapped into drawing out reactions that make UX research extremely valuable. By mapping out the user’s psychological journey, companies can harness those ties into their product strategies so that both functional and emotional expectations are delivered.


What’s your secret to good user experience research? Do you have a preferred method for gathering data?


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  1. Great tips. I did a survey some years ago and it really helped with determining the focus of my business. I just wish I had more people to share the survey with back then. Now, on social media, it would be a lot easier to find people. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks for your comment Sabrina. Maybe you should conduct a phase two of your survey given the access to social media and compare notes. How did it align with your business?

  2. I would gather information via carrying out surveys and handing out feedback forms. The only issue here is some may not bother to complete the form.

    Approaching ex customers would be the ideal thing to do. They will feel more compelled to giving up their time as you have built a level of rapport with them.

    • Thanks for your comment Phoenicia. Surveys and feedback forms are popular methods for gathering user insights. How do you suggest approaching ex customers for additional commentary?

  3. Really fascinating. I’ve done a few subscriber interviews and they have helped though I tend to agree with Steve Jobs’ opinion about asking customers, and that is they rarely know what they really want.

    A good example is a fellow coach who conducted quite an extensive survey a couple of years ago, in particular, she wanted to know if there was interest in getting her courses in CD format. The response was overwhelmingly for it so she then invested quite a bit in converting her courses – only to end up with no one buying them. Tough lesson but some of our best lessons are learned the hard way. Thanks for the great read and inspiration!

    • Thanks for your comment Marquita. That’s a great example you bring up about how feedback doesn’t always translate into results when customers aren’t sure of what they want. With the example of the coach, I’m wondering if the experience would have been different had a limited sample of digital courses or even a trial package been released to further gauge interest?

  4. It really is important to actually listen to the customer. It is really important as well to make sure you are asking the right questions. Kind of going along with what Marquita said, I used to work in sales for a dating service and EVERYONE said that they wanted a relationship if they met the right person. That didn’t mean, however, that they were relationship focused. It’s just a natural response to answer yes to that question. We had to listen to their past relationships to get an idea if the person was really relationship minded.

    • Thanks for your comment Erica. Sounds like your sales role explored the fundamentals of user experience research thoroughly. How did you frame conversations with customers so that they felt open to share details about their relationship experiences?

  5. Personally find out about UX in a way I learnt from Apple and Richard Branson. Hence ask customers if they are content with whatever product/service. When you do that swiftly you get fantastic feedback. If necessary, you know what the week point/s/ are and can adjust. A discontent customer has to be compensated somehow. Hasn’t happened to me yet and hopefully never will.

    • Thanks for your comment Catarina. Defining the problem right away leads you that much closer to the solution. What type of questions relating to the product or service do you like to ask when drawing out customer reactions?

  6. After having worked in Digital Marketing for 11 years, I have seen UX designers go through so many pains, and your points laid out here could stop them so much. The best part is getting the users to test the idea which you’ve shown can have many different affects and faces.

    I found that a variety of question sources in different formats has helped when testing user experience and also, the biggest thing, listening to what they are trying to get at and then ask questions around those areas to concrete your answer.

    Really enjoyed this piece, Tatia.

    • Thanks for your comment Gino. It’s smart to mix up the question format to vary the user responses. With your digital marketing background, what’re the most common pains you’ve seen UX designers go through?

  7. This process is shared throughout any business process. not just research. I am a business analyst, and this is how we create a new process.
    The point I want to make is, in any type of process that uses these steps, the cost increases when you go forward without successfully completed the previous step. If you do not complete step 1 properly, the cost in Step 2 escalates, or worse, the work you do in step 2 becomes completely useless.
    This is a great post and thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Thanks for your comment William. Interesting how you point out the versatility of this business process. What makes the research challenging is in fact completing the steps successfully from start to finish, so everything has to fall in place.

  8. I’d never heard of UX before, Tatia. “User experience,” yes of course. I’m not in the business world; however, I used to be a teacher. One open-ended question that students were responsive to was: “How was that for you?” I think people generally do want to share how they’ve felt about something, especially if they feel they’ll be heard.

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