Why UX Research Is a Cornerstone of UX Design: From the Client’s Perspective

Business of Design

Learnings from design projects

A column by Manik Arora
August 8, 2022

The design-thinking process is an all-encompassing journey that UX designers and their clients undertake when they conceive of, design, and build a new digital product, service, or communication or revamp an existing one. However, by virtue of this process being greater than the sum of its parts, our clients—who don’t work within the sphere of design—often underestimate the importance of its individual components. However, conveying the importance of individual UX methods to a client can be an uphill task—on top of persuading them to see the value of the design-thinking process itself, which presents its own unique challenges.

There have been many circumstances in which I’ve had to convince clients to go forward with UX research, so I’ve gained quite a good understanding of how to do this over the years. In this column, I’ll break down the many benefits of UX research, then go one step further by describing how UX designers can convey the value of UX research to their clients, who may be apprehensive about conducting research.

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What Is UX Research?

A process by which UX designers procure more comprehensive insights into the target audience for whom they’re designing a digital product, service, or set of communications, UX research comprehends many different methods, including user interviews, observations, contextual inquiry, A/B testing, usability testing, and more. Looking through the lens of design thinking, the UX designer’s entire problem-solving process is predicated on the foundation of UX research.

The Risk of Skipping UX Research

Skipping UX research entirely or failing to conduct any particular kind research would fly in the face of UX design as a discipline. If a product team were to skip the research phase of UX design, they would most likely end up with a result that, if not catastrophic, could have been improved by leaps and bounds through UX research. Without researching the users’ needs and wants, a UX designer cannot truly deliver something that would solve their problems. Furthermore, as I’ll discuss later, UX research provides valuable insights that go far beyond the UX design process itself, so a business would miss out on so much more than just user understanding by skimping on this step. But how can you convince clients of the necessity of conducting research?

Conveying the Importance of UX Research to Your Clients

The entire conundrum that UX research represents is very well known by UX designers the world over. However, a common hindrance to conducting UX research is the client’s failure to appreciate its value. Clients, by virtue of their generally not being designers, are seldom prepared to undertake a UX research project, alongside their UX design project.

Here’s a handy guide to aid UX designers in conveying the importance of UX research to clients and persuading them to invest in conducting research.

The Return on Investment

UX design, when we execute it well, can yield a return on investment of up to 301%. This is a staggering number in comparison to the value of other parts of any business. While people throw this statistic around quite frequently these days, they often ignore an essential part of this statement: execute it well. If we executed UX design poorly, possibly as a consequence of skipping UX research, the ROI wouldn’t appear as impressive. If we could successfully convey the reality to our clients that the ROI of UX design drops dramatically if teams don’t conduct research, their perspective might quickly change. Nevertheless, by supplementing this negative argument with a positive one that shines a light on the benefits of UX research, we can make them more cognizant of our thought process, as Figure 1 depicts.

Figure 1—Realizing your ROI through UX research
Realizing your ROI through UX research

A large reason why businesses invest in UX design in the first place is to shrink the gulf between themselves and their users—a goal that seems hollow in the absence of UX research. This fact segues well to my next point.

Understanding Our Users

A better understanding of our users, as illustrated in Figure 2, is a benefit of research that tempts many a decision-maker. But our clients cannot possibly attain this understanding without conducting user research. Unless businesses conduct user-research and usability-testing activities that provide multifaceted insights into their users, they not only won’t be able to conduct a true UX design process but would also miss out on understanding the mindset of their core user base. The data we can gather through the process of UX research can aid so many different operations of business, including but not limited to marketing, sales, and operations. Plus, the business would lose the value of the frameworks and models that UX professionals can create by leveraging the data they’ve collected through user research, including personas, usage scenarios, and mental models. These can provide multipurpose solutions that address various business objectives.

Figure 2—Understanding your target audience
Understanding your target audience

Designing for the Future

UX research doesn’t just give us insights into the present of our users but their future as well, as Figure 3 represents. Understanding users today tells us a lot about what they might need tomorrow, adding the facet of long-term value to UX research. We can extrapolate the needs and wants of users in the present to form an understanding of their needs of tomorrow, which we can then address either directly or independently of the UX design process.

Figure 3—Envisioning the future
Envisioning the future

Business Insights

A demographic analysis of your user base can reveal the attributes of not only your current users but also prospective users, as illustrated in Figure 4. Understanding key factors such as the needs and wants of users allows you to extrapolate insights about more and more individuals and groups who have the potential to become your customers in the future. As I alluded to earlier, UX research can impact the sales process, particularly by enabling you to deploy account-based marketing (ABM) tactics using UX research data. This is an effective combination that can single-handedly improve the leads coming into your business.

Figure 4—Informing business insights
Informing business insights


The importance of UX research should be difficult to overlook. However, if we fail to place the user at the center of design, digital products feel hollow and unfocused and users often feel hard done by. While most UX designers understand the importance of UX research and can advocate for it, passing this knowledge on to our clients can be a difficult undertaking. Hopefully, the insights I’ve offered in this column will help you convince your clients to go forward with UX research. They’ll end up with more satisfying user-experience outcomes if they do. Furthermore, I hope that I’ve helped UX designers understand that the value and importance of UX research stretches far beyond the realm of UX design to offer many business benefits. Conducting UX research enables you to gather many types of valuable information. 

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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