First steps in user research

by | Feb 4, 2021 | Research

 | 7 min read

steps on a stair

At some point in time, we all had to start with user research and asked ourselves: How to do it? This is for all of you currently asking that question. Based on our experience, we have developed a small guide to get started with user research. Here are the first steps:


Our motivation is to enable you as user research beginner to get started and to present to you the enormous topic as simple and yet correct as possible. In the last few years, the field of user experience (UX) has grown more and more. An important part of UX is user research. This is the methodical study of target users, including their needs and pain points, so makers and creators have the sharpest possible insights to make the best products. All of this together looks like a massive subject, but it can be broken down into small individual parts and easy first steps. 

Typical situation

We observed that there are multiple backgrounds and professions connected to UX and user research. In addition, many user researchers are either career changers or work part-time. And up to now, in many cases, the research team just started and consists of only single one person. Probably you? 🙂 

These circumstances lead to the three common obstacles of user research:

“We don’t have time for this, we can do it later”

Time is always a problem, but especially when you are the one keeping an eye on the user research and doing the work. All of this in addition to all the stuff you have to do – which is not user research. There is only a limited amount of time available for user research during the day – problem is that this research is quite time consuming. And many would like to have had the results yesterday. But if you do a little bit of research regularly, you will gradually create a research database that is full of valuable information.

“We currently have no budget for this”

How do you explain to your supervisor, who thinks you’re just “collecting some feedback”, that you need a budget for user research? There are many good reasons to invest: Investing in user research now saves more money compared to the time you will have to spend on working with user data of the past in the future. Additionally, it makes sense to save the information you have found out, so you can avoid new, expensive research sessions for the next projects and can reuse earlier results.

“It’s not worth it anyway”

It’s hard to tackle this – but not impossible. In the first steps, you’ll most probably make a small impact because you can only invest a limited amount of time. Due to overhead, you won’t get a good ROI, and thus it’s hard to have more time for the next research. This already shows that it will be a rocky road. But it’s definitely worth taking the first step. 

Clarify your goals

First of all, you need to clarify your goals. Why do you do user research? What do you expect and what do others expect? What are the aims of your research and how can you achieve them? These are just some of the questions that help to define your goals more clearly.

Check what you already have

After you have clarified your goals, you have to check which information you already haveand what you have to gather. One of the simplest ways to gather information is to use existing sources or existing tools, which you have already used. Why don’t you just use your conferencing tool for remote testing? It’s good to go!
Another grateful way to gather information is to use freebies and trials: This way you can learn something new and gain more information for free! 

In the user research context, there are many different ways to get information, for example through existing data like old reports, new reviews, sales, and support feedback. But also through occurrences, you might not have thought of – yet! At trade fairs, during customer visits, or even through questions at sales webinars, you get new impulses and information. You can use them to craft valuable insights.

Check the restrictions

Next, you need to find restrictions and fix them. For example, you should think about how to get in contact with your participants. We have already dived deep into the topic on how to recruit participants for usability testing in another post. To see what is possible, the budget should be planned and, of course, maintained. You need to clarify how much budget is available and what costs need to be covered with it. User research often collapses due to the fact that no or not enough money is provided by the company managers. As mentioned in the paragraph before: if there is no budget – you can start with tools and data you already have.

Last but not least if you prototyped your product or website, check your company’s restrictions. Opinions and regulations often differ on what and how much of a new product can be shown, mainly due to competition and the concern that a new idea might be replicated.

Check the urgent topics 

What to focus on? To provide valuable insights there should be an upcoming demand. So look out for things becoming urgent in the next few weeks. But how do you know what is urgent? If you use Google Analytics or any other analytics tool, use its data to make a hypothesis and prove or disprove it later on. Try to identify relevant topics on the roadmap to work ahead and deliver on the spot. This will also help you avoid having delayed research results because decisions or efforts have already been made.

You can also speculate on a roadmap from UX/UI designers. What input do UX/UI designers need and on what features?

Do research

Get started. Make it a habit. And perhaps have a sneak peek into our article about continuous user research to see where you are heading and what could be your long-term goal. Use what you already have to prove that user research is necessary and valuable. And by valuable, we mean actionable. All the insights you worked out will help, whether it’s about a product or a website. 

The simplest form of user research is user testing sessions. Here a product or a website is tested by different participants. First, invite participants. Depending on what you are examining and what the resources are, you can start with a large variety of participants. E.g., for some basic usability issues, you don’t have to target your exact user group. It’s best to test a variety of people to get as many different opinions on the product as possible.

We use a simple scheduling tool to define several slots on the day we want to do the interviews. Let the participants choose suitable slots. Be careful not to invite too many people. You’ll need some time before and after an interview to organize notes, reset the prototype and to be able to react to delays.

While your participant is testing the product, you should take notes. Your tester has problems finding their way around or thinks the layout is not suitably chosen? Write it down! You can also ask specific questions – formulate them as open questions that do not bias the tester. Ideally, the test session is recorded so that you do not miss any details and can review it later on. Make sure you have the consent of the user.

Show impact

Now it’s time to show the results you’ve gotten from your studies and what changes you recommend to be made to the product or website to create a better user experience. Here, above all, it is necessary to be as transparent as possible. Your user research is worth nothing if nobody believes you. Based on your great results, they will let you do more research and you have the ability to push boundaries. This means that after small successes, bigger ones are possible and the limits (in terms of time and budget) in which you are allowed to operate become bigger.

To have proper traceability on what insight is based on which facts and to present this in a comprehensible way, the Atomic UX Research framework is worth considering. It also helps to structure the way you document and build a sustainable system from the start.

Getting stakeholders on board

The next step is to present your results. For this, it is convenient to use the recordings you made during a user testing session. It can also be very helpful to let stakeholders help with the evaluation and allow their own interpretation of the results. This can be done in form of workshops. This gives them an understanding of the issue and helps to eliminate mistrust if necessary.

Boosting ROI

To put it in a nutshell, unfortunately, at some point it’s all about ROI. From the business manager’s point of view, it is often only evaluated in terms of costs. An investment in user research must pay off, and preferably immediately, not only in the long term. Even if user research actually brings great benefits, it is not easy to grasp numbers, only insights to make the right decisions in the future.

It is especially advisable during user research, as soon as the first insights are available, to share them with colleagues and make them available. This way you show that you are generating knowledge and are valuable for your company. This has the added benefit of multiplying the value of your insights and thus the ROI.

Sparking mindset

As we experienced mostly all user researchers have a side goal: to spark the idea of a user-centric approach in others. And that’s where internal testing comes in. You give your colleagues an insight into user research and what you do. Show some of the original sayings or a video from the internal testing sessions. This way, your colleagues will be able to experience first-hand how effective user research is and that it even is a lot of fun.

Closing Note

Phew. These were the first – very important – steps. After all, your job is pretty cool and the others should see that. Your first success will pay of, we are sure of that. 

PS: And if you get stuck: It’s always great to have someone to ask. I would recommend chatting with one of our co-founders at Usertimes. And guess what – they are willing to give you some input, too. So feel free to pick a slot here. is a fast-growing tool for quali­tative data analysis and UX research repository.


Felicitas Trub

Felicitas is interested in all topics around user research, user testing, as well as usability, and UX.
Share This