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How to conduct inclusive user research that makes customers feel heard and valued
Every single person in your user base experiences the world differently. So if you want to design a user experience (UX) that works for as many people as possible, you need to get input from a wide range of sources when you conduct research.
UX designers and product teams conduct inclusive user research to collect valuable data and feedback from people with varying needs and experiences. You then use this research to make your product, website, or app more accessible to all—leading to enhanced usability and a better customer experience (CX).
Read on to learn about inclusive user research: what it is, why it matters, and how to incorporate it into your research strategy to create a more accessible, empathetic product design process.
7 ways to conduct more inclusive user research
Inclusive user research is the process of including people from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences in your studies. These can include (but are not limited to) demographic factors such as
Visual or auditory impairments
Accessibility in tech shouldn’t be an afterthought. Incorporating a variety of perspectives in your UX research ensures you create a user experience that works for everyone, which is great for your customers and your business.
Here are seven ways to run more inclusive user research from beginning to end—use them as standalone tips or together as a step-by-step guide.
1. Build your study with inclusivity in mind
Before embarking on your user research journey, you need to understand the people you’re trying to reach and the different ways your participants can show up. How can you connect with more of your target audience in ways that are engaging, convenient, and accessible for them?
For example, if you’re doing research for a product that targets the general population, keep factors such as neurodivergence, accessibility requirements, and gender-inclusive language front of mind when designing your user research process.
If you were running sessions in person, this could look like
Ensuring the location is fully wheelchair accessible
Providing quiet spaces for participants who may get overstimulated
Offering breastfeeding rooms or childcare facilities for parents
While this looks different when you’re working digitally, the same principle still applies: what can you do to make it easier for people to contribute to your research?
In practice, this might mean
Offering multiple ways for people to get involved as a participant, such as joining a remote user interview session or filling out a survey to share feedback in their own time
Scheduling a number of sessions, so that people in different time zones can join at a time that’s convenient for them
Providing an agenda and overview of the questions you’ll cover beforehand, so participants know what to expect and can prepare accordingly
💡 Pro tip: get data from multiple sources to see the big picture.
Interviews and moderated research sessions are high-impact ways to talk directly to users and hear their feedback, but drawing on a variety of sources helps you get even more insights for your research.
For example, not everyone will have the time, energy, or inclination to participate in user interviews. That’s why it’s important to look at the data you get from those interviews alongside other user behavior data—from sources like surveys, feedback widgets, heatmaps, and session recordings (more on those shortly)—to get a comprehensive understanding of what different users think and how they behave.
Heatmaps allow you to see what a diverse range of users do on your website or product
2. Recruit a diverse pool of participants
“As you approach a study, ask who isn’t in the room,” advises Sara Hefny, Senior Product Researcher at Hotjar. “Whose perspectives or experiences are missing?”
If you only invite users from a small group of people who are all similar, you end up reinforcing your biases—which also limits the impact of your research, because you miss out on insights from other potential users.
To counteract this, actively seek out participants from different backgrounds and experiences so you get a wider range of inputs and create an inclusive design that resonates with more people.
🔥 If you’re using Hotjar: connect with a diverse pool of interviewees with Engage.
Use Hotjar Engage to reach over 200,000 global participants from a range of different backgrounds. Use screener questions to find the right people based on the criteria you need (such as job title, location, or anything else), then easily schedule, host, and analyze your user interviews—all from within the same platform.
Use Hotjar Engage to reach over 200,000 research participants around the world
3. Acknowledge and challenge your own biases
As a moderator and researcher, you need to avoid bringing your own unconscious biases into the equation—but that can be tricky when they’re, well, unconscious.
To address this, Sara recommends listing out the assumptions you’re making about your participants and then structuring your research approach in a way that challenges those assumptions.
For example, if your assumption is “I assume that my participant is going to speak and understand English fluently,” how can you adjust your discussion guide so that your talking points are still usable even if your participant doesn’t speak English at a professional working level?
In this case, you could simplify the language in the questions you’re asking or come up with alternative ways to ask a question if participants don’t understand it the first time.
4. Cater to any accessibility needs
Ensure users’ requirements aren’t a barrier to participation. Depending on individual needs, these requirements could include anything from a translator, assistive technologies such as a screen reader or real-time captioning software, or additional time for people to think about and process their answers before replying.
For example, when we wanted to understand users’ experience with the recently released Spanish and German versions of Hotjar, we decided it was important to give participants the opportunity to do the interview in their native language. This required translating the email communications and discussion guide, as well as ensuring we had native Spanish and German speakers who were willing to moderate the interviews.
The result? Not only did this help our participants get involved more fully, but it also gave us crucial insights from our target audience that we otherwise would have been unable to gain.
🔥 If you’re using Hotjar: ask what users need with Surveys.
How do you find out what your participants need? Ask them!
Sending a quick survey is an easy way to check what people require to participate fully. Equipped with this knowledge, you ensure you meet or accommodate those requirements.
You can also use surveys to follow up with people after your user research has been completed—to ask whether they had everything they needed or if there’s anything else you could do to make the process more accessible next time.
Use Hotjar Surveys to discover any accessibility requirements when recruiting participants for your user research study
5. Make interviewees feel heard and respected
It’s not enough to just invite people to participate—you need to create an environment where they feel empowered to contribute.
A key part of any successful interview is ensuring your participant feels comfortable and that their opinions and experiences are appreciated and validated.
Of course, you still need to stay on track to get the insights you need to make decisions confidently. So how do you balance empathy with data?
Here’s a tip: if you feel that a conversation is veering off on a tangent, wait for a pause and then say, “This is really interesting! I’d love to get back to this topic later, but I have a few questions where your input is really important and I want to make sure I’m respectful of your time.”
This does a few things:
It validates that what participants are saying matters
It acknowledges that they haven’t finished their thought and provides the opportunity for them to re-open a topic later (though they usually forget all about it)
It redirects the conversation to what you want to ask them
It shows you care about their time
All of which allows you to empathetically and respectfully get things back on track.
6. Run usability tests to spot accessibility issues
Usability testing is a method of evaluating the functionality of a website, app, or other digital product by observing real users as they attempt to complete tasks on it. Many teams run tests for new products or prototypes, and then never again. Regular usability testing ensures there are no emerging issues as user needs evolve, your product grows, or new accessibility guidelines are proposed.
Usability tests can surface issues with your interface design or UX, like
Broken elements that result in frustration and rage clicks
Confusing user journeys, such as unintuitive menus that make it hard for visitors to find the information they’re looking for
Hard-to-understand language or icons
Differences between desktop and mobile devices, or different browser versions
Website accessibility issues like the color contrast ratio on your site
Regular usability testing also helps you monitor the impact of any adjustments you’ve made based on previous research so you can see how and where inclusive design is affecting your business for the better.
🔥 If you’re using Hotjar: run moderated usability tests using Engage, or draw on data from our Recordings and Heatmaps tools to understand how users navigate your website—and where they have issues or UX problems.
Use heatmaps to spot where users click, scroll, and move to, as well as which elements on your page get ignored or cause frustration. And with Hotjar’s Engagement Zones heatmap type, all this data is aggregated into one at-a-glance visual representation, so you can quickly see what’s working and what’s not.
Use recordings to see exactly how visitors behave on your site, including mouse movement, clicks, taps, and their journey across multiple pages. Quickly spot u-turns (when a user immediately exits a page) and rage clicks (when they repeatedly click on an element, usually in frustration) to find usability errors on your site and identify bugs that may have snuck through your testing process or only show up on localized pages.
💡 Pro tip: use User Attributes in Hotjar to filter your recordings and heatmap data by criteria such as location, language, and role to help you get more insights into how specific segments of users experience your site.
Use Recordings to quickly and easily spot issues on your site that impact usability
7. Create an open feedback channel for everyone
In addition to conducting regular user research, create an ongoing open feedback channel that everyone can contribute to.
Many teams make the mistake of only asking for feedback at specific times, like when they’re preparing to launch a new product or when they’ve already noticed a drop in conversions. And while these are great, you risk missing out on ‘everyday’ things, like a hard-to-read font or a confusing help article.
By using a tool to capture user feedback whenever something occurs to your users or website visitors (and with minimal effort), you capture a diverse range of viewpoints 24/7—no invitation necessary.
🔥 If you’re using Hotjar: the Feedback tool allows anyone on your website to leave feedback in the moment, as they experience your site or product.
With the feedback widget (see that red button on the right-hand side of the page? That’s the feedback widget! 👉), users can highlight the specific area they’re referring to, making it even easier for them to let you know exactly what is and isn’t working.
Still not sure what they meant? Combine Feedback and Recordings to jump directly from a piece of feedback to a playback of that user’s session to get deeper insights and contextualize even the vaguest of responses, allowing you to overcome language barriers and simply see for yourself what happened.
Combine Feedback with Recordings to understand what led to a user’s negative experience
3 benefits of inclusive user research
Inclusive user research isn’t just great for your customers and site visitors—it unlocks tangible business benefits that will impress your stakeholders, too. Here are three key advantages.
Design more accessible, empathetic products with inclusive user research
Building inclusive practices into your research process doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. With a little planning and a lot of empathy, you get more comprehensive insights from a wide range of users, so you can develop products and experiences that are accessible—and enjoyable—for all.