User Research: a fast and simple guide.

What? Why? When? How?

Affan Bajwa
5 min readJun 22, 2020

What is User Research?

In simple words, User Research is the measure of user behavior and experience. It is done at the beginning of the project. It is more of a continuous collaborative process with users than that of a one time process.

User Research is most commonly divided into two different categories based on the type of results they produce. These two categories are Quantitative methods and Qualitative methods.

Quantitative method: understanding users by conducting user surveys and experiments. Results are presented in statistical numbers i.e. ‘how many, how often or how much’. For example, to study people listen to music using the quantitative method will be to create an online survey or a paper-based form and ask participants to fill it. After analyzing the results we will be able to know the following objective questions:

  • How many times did users listen to music?
  • For how long users listen to music?

Qualitative method: understanding users by conducting individual user interviews and usability tests. Results are presented in facts and deductions. Considering the same example above users will be asked for individual interviews and we can get an answer to some of the subjective questions like:

  • What motivates users to listen to music?
  • When do users feel they should stop listening to music?

Why do User Research?

The main purpose of conducting User Research is to build empathy. It helps in understanding what users say, thinks, does, and feels.

User Empathy

Building empathy helps better understand users by visually representing empathy across 4 quadrants (see, think, does, and feel). This visual representation is called empathy mapping.

Empathy maps help in understanding the problems faced by users and what are they expecting in the future.

We do user research to measure the impact of design on the overall performance of a business.

When to do User Research?

The first rule of thumb is: The sooner the better!

User research carried at research(2) stage.

In terms of a project it is mostly done at the start of the development phase but in terms of the design phase, it is done before coming up with a solution or implementation of that solution to the problem.

How to do User Research?

The best way to conduct user research is to conduct interviews with the most relevant stakeholders. A stakeholder is an individual, group, or even an organization that affect directly or indirectly a product or service.

To start with user research, the barrier that we need to cross is to get the participation of stakeholders who are going to be our target customers. But getting target customer participation is not easy so the best thing is to find stakeholders with characteristics similar to that of a target customer.
Relevant insights can only be useful and relevant only if the participating stakeholder were relevant. Due to this before selecting stakeholders vetting criteria needs to be established and stakeholders must be selected based on these criteria. E.g. for user research about a mobile game app we seriously need to consider the target customer’s age with mobile game interests.

For a detailed reading:

After finalizing participating stakeholders we need to prepare a research plan. It highlights the different aspects of research. A typical research plan contains the following section:

  • Objective: what it is about and why it is happening and what will be achieved
  • Method: in what way research will be carried out and in what way participating stakeholders asked to participate
  • Participants: who are the participating stakeholders
  • Location: where will be research carried out with participating stakeholders ease in keeping in mind
  • Data & Analysis: what sort of data will be achieved and how they will be analyzed
  • Equipment: what equipment hardware/software will be used and what equipment is there on stand by in case of backup
  • Timeline: how long will the research takes to conclude

Depending upon the nature of the research and required data participating stakeholders are passed through different phases such as:

  • Interviewing them one-by-one or in a group
  • Observing them while using a product/service or performing a task
  • By asking them about their opinions

Benefits of User Research

  • User Research helps in identifying User's pain points and frustrations.
  • User Research helps in identifying user's expectations and priorities.
  • User Research helps to understand better the mental model of users.
  • User Research helps build better UX which in turn improves Return on Investment(ROI).
  • User Research helps tailor perfect UI keeping on mind the UX goals, business goals, and development capabilities.
  • User Research yields in interfaces that are easy, memorable, pleasurable, and relevant to users.


User Research usually means putting our self in the user's shoes to understand what is a user going through while using a product or a service. User research is carried out before the development of a product or a service makes it successful. First, the participation of participants similar to end-user is required then a research plan is prepared and participants are passed through different research phases to gain qualitative and quantitative research data.