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How to understand your users and what they want: the complete guide to UX research

Really knowing your users involves taking the initiative to understand their behavior, their preferences, and their desires. This is where UX research comes into play. 

It may seem overwhelming at first and you might not know where to start, but when done right, UX research gives you key insights into what your users want (and don’t), so you can give them the best possible product and experience.

Last updated

19 Oct 2022
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This is your ultimate guide to UX research: learn exactly what it is, why it matters, which research methods to use, and the best practices to follow, so you can start understanding your users better and create the perfect product for them. 

Make user-driven product improvements with UX research

Use Hotjar's tools to help you understand your customers and enhance the user experience.

What is UX research?

User experience (UX) research is the study of all your user groups and how they interact with your product or service. It helps you create a product your users love and validate decisions, like trying to figure out if your users will like your new feature or if a design change will positively impact their experience.

UX research vs. UX design

To be clear, UX research and UX design are not the same thing. The UX research process centers on carrying out qualitative and quantitative analysis to gain key insights about your users and the way they interact with your product. Meanwhile, UX design is about implementing those findings to create a valuable experience for your users, whether on your website or app. 

While some companies have designated UX or product researcher roles, UX designers often carry out UX research to inform their design decisions. And sometimes, marketing and customer success teams conduct UX research to learn more about their customers and how to better speak to and serve them.

The UX research process, which is typically an initial phase of the greater UX design process, is ultimately a problem-solving framework. And to determine which research method is the best fit for your needs, you have to begin by asking the question, ‘What are my goals?’

Shivani Prasad
UX Designer, Morgan Stanley

The 2 main methods of UX research

While UX research is an overarching term that describes the process of getting to know your users, there are various methods you can use to carry out your analysis. And, as with any research process, the goal of your research will determine the methods you use.

The first step to decide which method you will be using is defining the research question. And remember: research sometimes requires a creative effort—don't be afraid to think outside the box and be innovative with the methodology to get your insights!

Mar P.
Product Researcher, Hotjar

Use both qualitative and quantitative methods when conducting UX analysis. Quantitative research gives you an overview of the hard data, while qualitative research helps explain the ‘why’ behind your results.

Let's take a look at these two methods:

5 quantitative UX research methods

Quantitative research helps you use numerical data to inform your design and product decisions. Quantitative UX research methods include: 

  • Surveys: glean important insights into the user experience from surveys. Use Net Promoter Score® (NPS) and customer satisfaction (CSAT) score surveys for a quick, quantitative look at how your users feel about your product and brand, asking them to score their experience on a scale of 1–5.

#Hotjar Surveys let your customers score your product, so you have hard data on whether your product is satisfying user needs.
Hotjar Surveys let your customers score your product, so you have hard data on whether your product is satisfying user needs.
  • A/B testing: this helps you compare and evaluate multiple versions of your product or design. For example, if you’re testing out different designs for your check-out cart, use A/B testing to determine which version results in more sales. You can use a tool like Optimizely to test different versions of your product. 

  • Eye tracking: you can use eye tracking for both quantitative and qualitative research. Special tools, like Lumen and Tobii, let you observe which parts of your design draw users in and which they ignore. You can use these findings to influence your UX design and overall product strategy. 

  • Product analytics: as well as eye tracking, you can use product analytics tools like heatmaps to gain key insights into how your users interact with your website. You can also use Google Analytics to learn more about user demographics and behavior. 

#Hotjar Heatmaps show you important patterns in user activity on your website.
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar Heatmaps show you important patterns in user activity on your website. Source: Hotjar
  • Benchmarking: this lets you track your product’s usability over time to determine whether it’s making progress—for example, becoming increasingly more valuable and easy to use. To do so, use a relatively large sample size of users (40 or more) and measure their time to complete certain tasks, as well as the outcome of their actions.

5 qualitative UX research methods

It’s also important to understand the reasons behind your quantitative research findings, which is where qualitative analysis can help. Qualitative UX research methods include: 

  • Surveys: as well as measuring hard data, you can use surveys to ask your users key UX research questions and learn about their product and post-purchase experiences. For example, send out exit-intent surveys to get a better understanding of why your users leave, so you can prevent it from happening in the future. 

  • Feedback: include a Hotjar Feedback widget on your website to hear what users have to say about your brand and product while it’s fresh in their minds. This allows you to capture opinions from users in the wild and better understand their frustrations and desires. 

  • Usability testing: this observational research method helps you identify drawbacks and opportunities in your product. Some examples of usability testing include performance testing, card sorting, and tree testing, which can give you key insights into the way your users understand and experience your product.  

  • User observation: you can also use heatmaps to gain qualitative insights about how your users navigate your website. Hotjar lets you create an unlimited number of heatmaps with a freemium account. Also, watch recordings to see how your users really engage with your product and find out where they get stuck on your site so you can improve the design (and their experience).

    #Hotjar Recordings give you a comprehensive look at how your users interact with your website so you know how to improve its design.
    Hotjar Recordings give you a comprehensive look at how your users interact with your website so you know how to improve its design.
  • Interviews: what better way to get to know your users than by speaking with them? Conduct interviews with distinct user profiles to learn about their jobs to be done, their frustrations with your product, and which features provide them with the most value. 

5 best practices for UX research

When done right, UX research is a powerful tool that helps you get to know your users and give them the product experience they desire. Take a look at these six UX research best practices to conduct effective research and make decisions that'll have the greatest impact on all your users. 

1. Identify your users and their goals

Empathy is the key to successful design. To create something your users will love, you first have to know and understand them. Establish unique user personas—you can’t fit all your different types of users in one box—so you can design a product that delights every type of buyer that comes into contact with it. 

Remember, a big part of UX research is understanding your various user personas and their motivations, which is why you should analyze all of your user groups. Be sure to both track their behavior and seek their opinions—user feedback will often help explain the ‘why’ behind the actions you observe.

Pro tip: use a Hotjar user persona survey to segment your customers into different groups based on their goals, barriers, and use cases.

Collect survey data from your users to help you get to know them better.

2. Use a variety of tools

You should have a variety of UX research tools at your disposal to conduct both quantitative and qualitative research. Hotjar, for example, lets you observe what users do on your product or site with Heatmaps and Recordings, as well as collect user opinions with Surveys and Feedback. And for A/B testing, Hotjar offers integrations with tools like Google Optimize and Optimizely, so you can compare different versions of your design.

For the full list of tools to conduct UX research and optimize the process: check out this article.

3. Make data-driven decisions

Once you’ve conducted your UX research, put it to good use and make informed product changes that provide value to your users. Now’s the time to put your users’ goals and desires at the center of your product and design decisions, and find ways to alleviate their frustrations to get happier users that stick around for the long haul. 

4. Keep all relevant stakeholders in the loop

While you may be in charge of the UX research on your team, you may not be calling the shots when it comes to product design changes or new feature roll-outs. That’s why it’s important to keep everyone, from project and product managers and marketers to C-level decision-makers, in the loop. Also, be sure to present your UX research findings in a clear, understandable manner. 

Pro tip: if you're collecting insights with Hotjar, use the Highlights feature to save and organize valuable snippets of heatmaps and recordings and share them with stakeholders to keep everyone on the same page.

5. Improve and repeat your UX research cycle

UX research is not simply a box to check—it should be an ongoing process that you constantly refine and carry out to optimize your product and the user experience. Continue updating your UX research process to gain even better insights into the customer experience and give your users a product that exceeds expectations

Conduct UX research to optimize your product and create happier users

UX research saves you from making uninformed assumptions about what your users want. A strong UX research process helps you understand their habits and desires to make smart design decisions. 

Use our methods and best practices to really get to know your customers, nail your UX design, and turn curious visitors into delighted, loyal users.

Use UX research to make user-driven product improvements

Use Hotjar tools to help you understand your customers and enhance the user experience

FAQs about UX research