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What is the difference between user research and UX research?

What is the diference between user research and UX research
What is the diference between user research and UX research

A typical interview question for the role of a UX researcher is to explain the difference between user experience research and user research. Now, this seems like a tricky question because you wonder, is there any difference between the two?

It seems like just a play on words, but if you look deeply into the overall UX research process, you will find out that each research method has specific things they measure. The specificity in each seems to be what differentiates user research methods from the overall UX research methods.

Now, there is really no wide difference between user research and user experience research. The difference is not in the end result of the process as much as in the different names used to describe the process.

User research describes your research on your target users to know their behaviors, aspirations, and pain points before design. In a close relationship but with little difference, user experience research describes your research to gain insights into how target users interact with a proposed product or how easy it is for them to use a product.

Thus, it makes sense to label the research conducted before designing as user research while you mark the one you run to test the design as user experience research. Although, in the grand scheme of the UX design process, both are still describing the research to create a good user experience. So, it is not bad to say that user research is a subset of user experience research.

A vivid example to explain these two is this: "When you ask someone, are you hungry?" That is user research. When you ask, "How did the burger taste in your mouth"? That is research to understand the user's experience.

Thus, when you conduct user research, you seek to understand the pain points and likely response your target audience will give to your proposed product. So, you desire to know how they think and what they think about specific features. These insights help UX designers decide how best to craft designs that will suit the taste of prospective users.

In this article, we will look at user research methods, and how they contribute to the overall design process. So, we will split the research methods into three. Research conducted before design, research conducted during design, and research conducted after design.

User research methods (before design)

User research methods (before designing)
User research methods (before designing)

The initial researches in the design process are majorly user interviews, user surveys, and field studies.

User interviews

User interview is when you conduct research with users one-on-one to gain an understanding of their preferences before designing.

Now, this is not the part where you test users' experience on a product, this is plain user research without the experience part. But it is a pre-requisite to designing a product that will give a good user experience to users. So, here is the catch. User interview is not research on users' experience, but it is for the purpose of creating a good user experience.

Proper research at this stage helps to generate actionable insight needed to have a great UX design while ensuring a balance between features tweaking and users' demands and business goals.

UX researchers carry out user interviews with a specific problem statement in mind. This ensures that the questions asked are within the scope and will help to define the prospective user's pain points.

User surveys

Surveys are collections of questions presented to a prospective user during user research to help understand the 'why' behind the user's action. Interviews are one-on-one, and surveys can be shared with many people at a time using a printed form (paper format) or online forms.

Although a survey has long been a method of data collection used in market research as well as academic research, it is also a great method of data collection used by user researchers. It is less expensive and can give great room for honest feedback from respondents because of the anonymity conditions that are usually attached.

While other user research methods might help us to see the 'how', surveys are targeted to understand users' motivation.

Field studies

A UX researcher can take it a step further in gathering necessary insights to have a user-centric design by wanting to have a better understanding beyond what potential customers say or fill out in surveys, hence this method.

This method of requirement gathering involves getting to the prospective users' environment and not your own. Here the researcher speaks to and watches the potential users carrying out activities.

It aims to check what other natural and environmental conditions can influence the user's decisions and actions at any stage of a customer journey.

Understanding the users personally from the field helps to write holistic and empathetic user stories.

Research during the design stage

Research during the design
Research during the design

Since the goal is to ensure that products do not only solve problems but also solve the problem in a way the user expected it to be solved, hence the reason for continuous research.

At this stage, the UX designer wants to ensure that the product is designed to ensure users have a great experience while solving their problems. The following are the possible UX research methods during the design stage:

1. Usability testing

Usability testing

This is a type of testing where the UX researcher finds out how is the design easy to use. What is a great product when users cannot easily find and use the features? You want to be sure that the user is able to use all features.

There are five codes that usability research should answer. Does the user find the features usable, findable (the ease of user to locate the feature in the design), accessible, desirable, and useful (relevance of the feature to solving the user’s need)?

Usability research measure both quantitative metrics (like success/failure rate, time taken to complete a task, user journey) and qualitative metrics (customer satisfaction level, stress response, ease of use) to determine the usability of design/product.

In usability testing most of the time we test with real users to get feedback on possible usability issues, the feedback helps to know what to add, remove or adjust in the design.

2. User testing

User testing
User testing

It is the process through which real users test a website, app, or product's usability by performing specific tasks under real-world conditions. The purpose of this is to evaluate the product's usability and give actionable insights on whether it is ready for market launch or whether there are critical issues to be resolved.

4. A/B Testing

A/B testing
A/B testing

A/B testing is another UX research method also known as split testing. It is a technique that allows you to compare two proposed versions of a design and choose the one that is more appealing to users and converts better. It helps to know if the design choices will positively impact the user experience.

A/B testing is extremely valuable for product teams because it helps them learn how certain design decisions impact user behavior.

You can use A/B testing on almost every part of the design from headlines, layout, call-to-action buttons, and even color combinations. e.g., for an app that has a female target audience, you might be considering if a pink or purple color will be a good way. Although, the brand tone is also a function to be considered in such designs.

It is important to focus on one or at most two parameters at a go during A/B testing for effective data tracking. This will help to clearly see which of the parameters drives more traffic and will lead to conversion.

5. Information architecture Testing

Information architecture testing
Information architecture testing

User experience is enhanced when a user is able to easily discover the information, directions, or special features required to complete a task on websites or applications.

Information architecture is described as the contents of a website or application and how the content is structured. The main objective of information architecture testing is to make content easier to access and assist users in completing their intended actions on the website or app.

Research after the design

Research after the design
Research after the design

Focus Groups

Focus groups
Focus groups

In a focus group, a moderator (UX researcher) leads the conversation between six and nine participants who are studied for their thoughts and ideas as part of a qualitative research technique.

This is typically done to get input on products, messaging, etc. Focus groups are conducted both in-person and virtually using video conferencing equipment. Usually, a session lasts for two hours.

The goal here is to aid understand users' perception of your product, which product feature is most important to your customers, and what are probable problems encountered with the use of your product.

When do I stop UX research?

When do I stop UX research
When do I stop UX research?

Since the market keeps evolving, customer problems also evolve over time. Therefore, to have a successful product in the market, a product, as well as the user experience, must keep evolving over time to keep up with customers' demands.

This also implies that research does not stop after the development stage. Every part of the product team is influenced by user insights. Therefore, UX research is an iterative process, so it's not the kind of research you do once and then put aside. You must always be conscious of what your users are thinking and feeling, as well as their problems in order to win their loyalty.

As product managers go strong on continuous market research, updating market strategy for marketing campaigns, competitor analysis, and defining what best serves the users per time, this eventually impacts the designers too, and other product team members as they are required to keep up with new trends that affect the market. For example, there is a continuous improvement in Google designs and layouts over time.

How do I know which user research or UX research method to use?

How do I know which user research or UXresearch method to use?
How do I know which user research or UX research method to use?

Most of the UX research methods highlighted earlier can be employed in collaboration with other methods at different stages.

The choice of research method is defined by the type of product, target market, and the general objectives of the product which influence the design.


User research helps a user experience designer to gather the necessary insights needed to come up with design ideas. UX research will encompass all research methods that help the UX designer develop a user-centric design that also aligns with the business goals.

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