UX Research: A Cornerstone of Design

Business of Design

Learnings from design projects

A column by Manik Arora
September 6, 2021

The design-thinking process is an all-encompassing journey, which UX designers and their clients undertake when designing and constructing or revamping a digital product or service. However, because the value of the overall UX design process is greater than the sum of its parts, our clients and others beyond the sphere of design often understate the importance of those individual components. Therefore, conveying the importance of the various aspects of the UX design process to a client can be an uphill task—in addition to communicating the value of the design-thinking process itself, which presents its own unique challenges.

Because there have been many circumstances when I’ve had to convince clients to go forward with UX research, I’ve gained an understanding of how to do that over the years. In this column, I’ll break down the many benefits of UX research, then go one step further and describe how UX designers can convey these benefits to their clients, who may be apprehensive about going forward with investing in UX research.

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What Is UX Research?

UX research comprises a variety of methods by which UX designers can procure more comprehensive insights into the target audience for whom they’re designing a digital product or service, as Figure 1 depicts. In relation to the design-thinking process, these methods typically include user interviews, contextual inquiries, A/B testing, and usability testing. Look at the entire problem-solving process through the lens of design thinking, which is predicated on a foundation of UX research.

Figure 1—UX research
UX research

The Risk of Skipping UX Research

Failing to conduct UX research of any kind would violate the basic premise of UX design as a user-centered discipline and carries inherent risks, as Figure 2 illustrates. Although skipping the research phase of the UX design process likely would not produce a catastrophic result, it probably would mean that the design could have been improved greatly if the team had conducted UX research. Without researching users’ needs and wants, a UX designer cannot deliver a product or service that truly solves their problems. Furthermore, as I’ll discuss later, UX research provides valuable insights that go far beyond informing the UX design process itself. A business could miss out on so much more than understanding users by skimping on this step. But how can you convince your clients to invest in UX research?

Figure 2—Risks inherent in skipping UX research
Risks inherent in skipping UX research

Conveying the Importance of UX Research to Clients

The conundrum that UX research represents is very well known to UX designers the world over. Unfortunately, our clients are often a hindrance to our being able to conduct UX research. Since 99% of our clients are not UX professionals, they are seldom prepared to undertake a research project, along with a UX design project. Here is some guidance on how you can convey the importance of UX research to your clients and persuade them to invest in UX research.

The Return on Investment

UX design, when executed well, can yield a return on investment (ROI) of up to 301%—a staggering number in comparison to the value that other parts of a business can generate. While people quite frequently throw this statistic around nowadays, they often ignore an essential part of this statement: executed well. When teams skip UX research, their UX design execution is often poor, in which case that ROI number wouldn’t be as impressive. If you can successfully convey to your clients the reality that the ROI of UX design drops dramatically when you don’t conduct UX research, you might be able to change their perspective. However, by supplementing this negative argument with a positive one and shining a light on the benefits of UX research, as Figure 3 shows, you can help them to be more cognizant of how UX research informs your thought process during design.

Figure 3—The ROI of UX research
The ROI of UX research

A big reason that businesses invest in UX design in the first place is to shrink the gulf between themselves and their users—an intent that seems hollow in the absence of UX research.

Understanding Your Users

Gaining a better understanding of their users is something that attracts many decision-makers. However, they cannot possibly attain this understanding without user research. Figure 4 depicts many facets of understanding your users. Without conducting the user-research and usability-testing activities that provide multifaceted insights into their users, businesses cannot conduct a well-informed UX design process. Nor can they appreciate the mindset of their core user base. The data they could gather through various UX research methods can aid many different business functions, including marketing, sales, and business operations. Likewise, the user personas and design frameworks that UX designers create, which are informed by the data they collect through user research, also have multiple purposes and inform various business objectives.

Figure 4—The importance of understanding your users
The importance of understanding your users

Designing for the Future

UX research doesn’t just give you insights into the past and present of your users but also their future, as Figure 5 represents. Understanding your users today tells you a lot about what they might need tomorrow, adding long-term value to UX research. You can extrapolate the needs and wants of users in the present to form an understanding of their needs tomorrow. Then you can address those needs directly through the UX design process or through strategic business planning.

Figure 5—Designing and building the future
Designing and building the future

Gaining Business Insights

A demographic analysis of your user base can reveal information not only about your current users but also prospective users. Understanding key factors such as users’ needs and wants enables you to extrapolate the needs of more individuals and user groups who have the potential to become future customers. Thus, by conducting UX research, you can reveal valuable business insights, as Figure 6 depicts. As I alluded to earlier, UX research can impact the sales process—particularly by deploying account-based marketing (ABM) tactics in combination with leveraging UX research data—which is an effective way of improving the leads coming into a business.

Figure 6—Revealing business insights
Revealing business insights


All told, the importance of UX research is difficult to overvalue. When teams neglect to apply learnings from UX research, digital products often feel hollow and unfocused and their users often suffer. Although UX designers usually understand the importance of UX research and even advocate for it, passing this knowledge along to our clients can be a difficult undertaking. Hopefully, the insights from this article can help you to convince your clients to go forward with UX research, enabling you to achieve more satisfying design and business outcomes. Plus, I hope that I’ve helped UX designers to understand that the value and importance of UX research extends far beyond the realm of UX design. 

Co-founder and Design Director at Onething Design Studio

Gurugram, Haryana, India

Manik AroraManik was introduced to design when he was building Placesso, a ride-sharing platform based on Facebook’s social graph. While they never launched the platform, the experience taught Manik a lot about design and development. Since then, he has stayed with design. He and his friends began spending a lot of time discussing the designs of newly launched apps, exploring ways to improve their user experience. They felt really badly about people using poor designs so, in 2014, launched Ketchup Designs Studio. In 2015, they changed the name to Onething Design. Since then, they’ve helped a lot of businesses design products people love to use.  Read More

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