How to Define a UX Research Approach

Laura Sweltz, Director of UX Research and Strategic Initiatives

Article Categories: #Strategy, #Research

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Use this four-step framework to help shape the approach for your next UX research project.

UX research helps businesses understand the needs and behaviors of their target audience, prove or disprove underlying assumptions so they don’t move forward based on false information, and evolve their offerings strategically based on data. Ultimately, it helps them create and maintain products that attract and retain customers, enabling the business to be successful. That all sounds great. But how do you actually determine the best approach for a UX research project?

This article shares an overview of the four-step framework Viget uses to define an approach: (1) identify what you want to learn; (2) determine who you want to target; (3) consider timeline, budget, and team; and (4) select methods.

1. Identify what you want to learn.

Let’s start with step one — identify what you want to learn. There are 3 questions to ask yourself at this point:

Are you trying to explore ideas or evaluate ideas?

Exploratory research, also known as generative research, typically happens at the beginning of the product design and development process. It provides deep insights on customer problems, needs, and motivations which helps you determine what to build, how to build it, and whom to target. 

Evaluative research typically happens once product design and development are already underway or after a product has launched. It evaluates the efficacy and usability of products which helps you identify pain points and opportunities for improvement.

    Are you gathering data related to a new product or an existing product?

    • Exploratory research will be the best fit if you are you trying to generate ideas and figure out how to shape a new offering
    • Evaluative research will be the best fit if you are you trying to determine how to evolve and refine an existing offering.

    Is this a standalone research effort or part of a larger project?

    • Exploratory research is often conducted on its own ahead of moving forward with a product idea. 
    • Evaluative research activities tend to be conducted within the context of ongoing design and/or development work.

    2. Determine who you want to target.

    Now let’s move on to step two — determine who you want to target. This is a critical part of the process. Your research insights are only going to be valuable if you conduct the research with the right people so you need to take care to find participants who will provide the perspective you need. There are 3 questions to ask yourself at this point:

    Who is the target audience?

    Define the characteristics of who you want to reach. For example, your target audience might be owners of small businesses that sell products or services to consumers and spend less than $1,000/month on digital advertising.

    Do you already have access to this audience?

    • If you’re conducting research for an existing product, you can leverage your existing customer base. 
    • If you’re conducting research for a new product or trying to reach a new customer segment, you’ll need to explore other options for reaching the target audience.

      If not, how can you reach a representative audience?

      You might consider using a self-service recruiting tool like User Interviews or working with a recruiting agency.

        3. Consider timeline, budget, and team.

        Now let’s move on to step three — consider timeline, budget and team. All projects — not just research projects — have constraints and it’s important to define your research approach with those constraints in mind. Constraints don’t have to feel limiting, though. They are actually a helpful tool that help you focus on how to leverage your available resources to have the biggest impact and provide the most value.


        For your timeline, you want to determine if you are working against a specific deadline, like an upcoming board meeting or product launch.


          For the budget, you need to determine what resources are available and can be allocated to this project. When you think about budget, it’s important to not just account for personnel costs but also any supplemental research costs like recruiting fees, participant compensation, and tools.


            For any team constraints, determine if you have research capabilities and what those capabilities are. You want to consider if you have individuals on your team who can conduct the research or if you need to bring in external support. Even you have some internal capabilities, those individuals may not have capacity to complete the work ahead of the deadline.

              4. Select methods.

              It’s now time for the final step in the process — selecting the methods you’ll use to collect data. This is where you get to really dig in and figure out what you’re going to do. There are two components that will influence your decisions— scope and data.


              For scope, you first need to determine if you want to use a single method or multiple methods. Leveraging multiple methods enables you to gather a broader and more nuanced set of data but is also more costly and time consuming. You also need to determine if you want to conduct a long-term study or if you need to get immediate feedback. 

              • A long-term study is going to be most appropriate for exploratory research where you need to build up a foundational understanding of the audience before you can move forward.
              • Immediate feedback is most appropriate for evaluative research where there’s already work in-progress that you want to get input on before moving forward.


              For data, you first want to consider which methods are best suited to the goals and audience.

              • If you’re exploring ideas for a new product, you might start out with interviews. If you’re gathering feedback on a prototype and need to get feedback as quickly as possible from an audience that’s difficult to schedule, you might leverage short sessions of unmoderated usability testing.
              • You also want to think about whether you’re trying to capture qualitative data, quantitative data, or both. If we circle back to earlier, qualitative data helps us understand why and quantitative data helps us understand what. 

              The approach you use will depend on the type of information that you’re trying to gain, as well as the timeline, budget, and team you’re working with.

              Every research project is unique. But the process for defining an approach is similar across projects. If you’re interested in conducting research, I encourage you to leverage the four-step framework outlined above to help you figure out the best path forward. Once you have the fundamental building blocks in place, you can move forward with developing a more granular research plan that outlines specific hypotheses and how you’ll execute the work.

              If you’d like help figuring out how to design and execute UX research studies, don’t hesitate to reach out. Viget is happy to provide whatever level of research support our clients need — whether that’s providing training, developing a research plan and materials, or conducting a study from start to finish.

              Laura Sweltz

              Laura is Viget's Director of UX Research and Strategic Initiatives. She works from our Durham, NC office, where she helps clients like Rotary International, AARP, and Time Life understand the needs and behaviors of their users.

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