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August 26, 2022

How to understand users with User Research?

Lisa Panke



UX/UI Designer & Webflow Developer
Buffalo, NY

No matter which project or design task I receive, understanding the user is the first thing I do. Sure, I could dive straight into the designs and try solving a list of issues for the client as fast as possible, but will my solution respond to the user’s needs? Will it appeal to the user without me knowing the user?

The discovery phase of a project shouldn’t be treated lightly or even overlooked. In this blog post, I will clarify why you should care about user research, which methods you can use to understand your user, and how we performed user research during the discovery phase of the Software Residency App.

Why should you care about User Research?

Understanding the user of a product is key for a UX Designer. Because without the U (User), there is no X (eXperience). We need to care about users’ goals, needs, and frustrations to solve their problems. We also need to know who they are and where they are coming from to empathize with them.

For me, that’s a no-brainer, but unfortunately, user research is still perceived as time-consuming and expensive, which is why many companies decide to skip one of the most essential steps.

What types of User Research are out there?

There are about 20 different tried-and-true methods of user research that you can choose from. So, which method should you choose for your project?

The following chart from the Nielsen Norman Group shows all 20 research methods. The chart is divided into four sections. On the x-axis is qualitative versus quantitative, and on the y-axis is behavioral versus attitudinal.

Image from

According to this chart, you would choose usability testing if you are looking to study users’ behavior and gather qualitative data. If you are looking for opinions and quantitative data, conducting surveys would be a great idea.

Your choice of the right research method should also be based on where you are in the project. For example, usability testing doesn’t make sense at the beginning of a project. Instead, it is better to test usability after a prototype is created. That way you can gather feedback and apply it to your next iteration.

For the Residency App, we chose to conduct surveys at the beginning of the project. Even though we would have loved to conduct remote user interviews, where we could have observed participants and facilitated a conversation, we chose surveys simply to save time.

A time constraint is often a reason to choose against time-consuming methods and rather for quick surveys that can be sent out online and which automatically collect responses.

How to conduct User Surveys?

Even though we were in a rush, we chose to conduct qualitative user surveys, which included open-ended questions. This allowed our team to gather valuable insights in the form of comments, feedback, and suggestions.

We started by defining our learning objectives and tailored each question towards our goals. We made sure that all questions were being phrased in a neutral and non-leading way, and without any biases.

What biases, you wonder? Imagine if I asked the following question: “What problems do you have with the current tool we are using?”. In this question, I am already implying that there are problems with the current tool (confirmation bias). A better approach would be to ask the participant how likely they are to recommend using the tool.

Don’t ask for problems that might not exist.
Don’t ask for problems that might not exist.

Pro Tip: Always check your survey questions for bias with another person before you send it to your participants.

For more tips on how to phrase survey questions, have a look at the NN Group’s 28 Tips for Creating Great Qualitative Surveys.

To facilitate the survey, we used an existing tool called Typeform, because why building a new tool for what already exists and has been proven successful.

Every user group received a slightly different survey including identical, alike, and individual questions. 24 hours later, all responses had been recorded by Typeform which enabled us to go into the data and synthesize the results.

Tying it together

In this article, we looked at why you should care about user research, common research methods, and how our team conducted user research during the discovery phase of the Software Residency App. Coming up, we’ll look at how to synthesize the research data with an affinity map.

Until then, what ways can ZEAL help your team conduct research for your next big project? We’d love to chat!

More from this Series

  1. Putting Together the Design Puzzle
  2. How to understand users with User Research?
  3. How to synthesize research with Affinity Mapping
  4. How to Create an Application Map
  5. How to Create UI Flows
  6. How to Write Great User Stories
  7. How to Create Wireframes and Prototypes

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

This article has been written in collaboration with Sunjay Armstead.

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