4 fundamental types of UX research every designer should do.

But first, what does UX designer mean?


Lorenzo Doremi

2 years ago | 4 min read

Have you ever wondered how and why some products attract your attention? Why do you choose something instead of something else? It’s not always the price. There are more subtle mechanics under the hood, and the UX designers know them very well.

But first, what does UX designer mean?

Let’s start from the beginning. UX designer means User Experience Designer. It designs experiences. Sounds bad. If someone told me my job was to “design experiences”, I‘d think that it means I would work in the travel and tourism business. We are speaking of another type of “experience”.

This term is a bit generic indeed: in fact between a beer and another, if we tell about UX and what we do, we often speak about how we design interfaces. The first thing that comes up to your mind, I am pretty sure is this:

“Lorenzo, shut up. That’s called UI Designer and is a different job from UX”.

And I will say to you: “yes but actually no”.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

UX designers are pretty always UI designers, but they do much more: they design the underlying mechanisms behind interfaces. UX designers in fact study and research how the human mind works and interacts with surroundings. This brings to mind another term: “User Researcher”.

So we have already defined three different terms:

  1. UX Designer, which is everything and nothing.
  2. UI Designer, which designs how interfaces appear to senses.
  3. User Researcher, which studies and researches about the user.

We can now give our personal definition:

A UX Designer is a researcher who applies psychological principles, survey data analysis, and graphic design principles to design interfaces.

Ok now we understood what UX designers are. But what do they do?

Now that we know the various roles the UX process needs, we can identify the steps a complete design process follows.

Pretty everything revolves around research. UX centers, camps, or design degrees will teach you a lot about this. You have to understand who is going to use your product, and to understand this you have to find out a lot of information.

Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

Types of UX research

Again, you’re going to say “Lorenzo, shut up. It’s not true. Not everything revolves around research”. Let me show you what do I mean, and maybe you’ll change your mind.

Anyway keep in mind that this steps are really time-consuming, and often for SCRUM or similar workflows the time dedicated to these is extremely strict, in non-existent.

I’ll describe all these steps with a concrete example of my design life.

1) Primary Research

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This research revolves around the product (if you know what you’re going to do) and what already exists in this field or does not. In this phase, you’re also going to gather information about which competitive advantage you can have, if the idea is feasible, and which users are interested in the subject. You’ll end up with a lot of data to analyze indeed.

I worked on a non-profit project where the topic was to design something that helped people fight suicide and depression-related issues. We researched how critical the problem really was, which age and social groups were mostly affected et cetera.

It was extremely important because, in the beginning, we thought that suicide was more common in middle-aged people. We were completely wrong: it’s extremely common in teens. It’s the second or third most common cause of death. This research helped us in both ways:

  1. Define and confirm the problem.
  2. Define the possible user.

The second points leads to the next research step.

2) Ethnographic Research

Now that we know the user group, we have to research it. We have to find what he thinks about the problem, how he deals with it, and how we can help him. Always calling to mind our project, this phase was primarily made through an extensive diffusion of surveys.

Sorry It’s Italian. I translate: we asked if people thought to suffer from depression (50.1% thought so, 24% knew, 25% didn’t). And if they talked about that with their parents.

This research helped us A LOT. We found out that teens couldn’t speak about their issues at school, didn’t think their parents could help them, and that they can’t afford professional help.

Since the project was to develop a multimedia product, we decided to focus on part of the aspects:

  1. create a system which allows students to speak about depression at school
  2. create a system that allows professionals to join the conversation

Again, every part of research leads to the successive part:

3) Prototyping (yeah it’s research too).

We started designing the app and the website, defining the features needed to guarantee the best quality service (like the safety of the user, mediation of contents, etc).

This was combined with the more graphical part: choosing the right colors, accessibility guidelines, and everything was needed to create a system easily usable by students at school.

one of our prototype pages.

This is research too because we continued speaking with people and made them look at our prototypes: this is what they’re made for.

This process often is very long, because the more you design, the more things you find out to fix, add, or remove. Especially if the requirements brief isn’t complete (often it isn’t).

In the end, since the design was approved, we proceeded with development.

4) User testing and marketing statistics

Testing a prototype is never like testing a real final product. Especially if there are millions of people testing and using it. “The final” step is to see how users really use your product. If it has been put to market, then you have to consider marketing statistics too.

See if conversion rates are high, how fast users complete common tasks, how they review the product et cetera: then, you’ll have to go to step 2 (sometimes even 1) again and repeat the process.

In fact, UX design is a neverending process: since the EXperience evolves in time, its Design has to evolve too.


Created by

Lorenzo Doremi

A Jack of all trades UX guy. Mainly interested in human-computer interaction, contemporary sociology and art.







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