9 essential tips from user research professionals


Over the years at UserTesting, we’ve interviewed a wide variety of leaders who share first-hand knowledge on everything from top tips for UX best practices to how to communicate the value of the customer’s voice to internal stakeholders. 

From these conversations, we’ve compiled the most interesting and practical tips and advice for customer experience professionals of all levels.

1. Make planning a priority 

Any well-conducted research needs to be built atop a steady base of planning. By taking the time to carefully plot your goals and consider your strategy before research commences, you save time further down the line and ensure the best results.

Map out what you’d like to learn more about. Keeping your goal grounded in reality helps to ensure research is headed in the right direction. 

“A problem well-stated is half solved.”

- Oli Mival, Senior Director, Global Head of Research & Insight at Picsart (previously Director of User Research at Skyscanner), episode seven

Engage early with other departments involved in your research, but ask them the right questions. By understanding the problem they’re hoping to solve through research, you can use your expertise and judgment to select the right strategy. 

Involve stakeholders early, and make them feel part of the process to increase engagement throughout your research and after the insights are shared. 

Related reading: How to build a customer experience strategy

2. Manage your time effectively for the long-term

In the world of research, time often needs more supply. So it’s no surprise managing time and effective prioritization is a recurring theme amongst leaders. 

VP of Experience at Lottoland, Lucy Neilson, highlighted the beauty of focusing on evergreen insights for researchers struggling with time, as tools like journey mapping and personas can be returned to repeatedly while providing a high organizational impact.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, taking it is the other vital part of managing your time. Even when you feel stretched, allow for a buffer in your plans. 

Avoid rushing, as it can provide long-term benefits. You can proceed with more care and draw more insights from your work. 

As Alice Hayes, Head of UX Research at Bank of Ireland (formerly UX Research Manager at NatWest Group), shared, researchers must try their best to “be calm in the storm” and continue making strategic calls under pressure. 

Additionally, human insight solutions help you get the right sized insight at the right time, early, and often. Know when to employ lean research and fast feedback to positively impact your organization without making every project exhaustive and time-consuming. 

3. Choose the right solution

The solution you choose varies vastly depending on the goal, timeline, and budget for your research, but the important point highlighted by the professionals is “balance.” All solutions have strengths and weaknesses, and, as Stephanie McNee, Principle User Experience Manager at Google, says, when choosing yours, you have to consider, “What am I trading off?”

In an ideal world, ensure you manage a balance of solutions where you can deliver wide-ranging insight gained at pace through quantitative methods while ensuring you don’t lose sight of the human element and emotional depth of your research through qualitative methods. 

Gathering quantitative and qualitative data through The Human Insight Platform in an effective and scalable way. 

4. Recruit the right people for your research

Once you have a problem in mind for your research to answer, a timeline, and a solution selected, the next step is speaking to the right people to solve the problem. By carefully considering your exact end-users and customers, you can be certain to ask the right questions to the right people.

WhatsApp Research Director Saswati Saha Mitra raises the importance of engaging with more than your easily reached participants. Instead, seek out those that are harder to attract, as excluding them means missing out on valuable insights from their demographic.

The participant recruitment process is often simplified through digital solutions. With a wider range of participants at your disposal, the ability to easily search for specific participant traits, and a global reach: technology has empowered researchers to target niche participant pools.

5. Build a positive test environment

Getting the most out of your participants once you’ve identified them was an enduring tip from our research professionals. As Director of User Research at Monzo Bank, Katherine Vaughan shares that investing time to build rapport with participants before jumping into your study helps to prepare both yourself and the participant for a great session. Build a connection that allows you to draw out more evocative insight and richer stories.

This can mean minimizing distractions but includes engaging in playful activities or games such as roleplay when these are useful in engaging those you’re speaking to.

Katherine also speaks about the power of keeping in touch with participants after the session. No matter the means for this, finding a way to keep highly engaged participants involved should they be willing to share further can pay off when they think of additional insights after the session and feel comfortable enough to get back in touch.

Related reading: The pros and cons of moderated vs. unmoderated testing

6. Always run a pilot test before jumping in 

Time and time again, UX professionals express the necessity of running a pilot before entering into fully-fledged research. 

Particularly when you struggle with time, the thought of omitting this stage and diving headfirst into comprehensive research may seem tempting. Still, in the long run, ensuring your tests are faultless before they’re conducted broadly makes significant savings.

As Peter Grierson, Senior User Experience Research at Indeed (Previously Senior User Experience Researcher at Skyscanner), flagged, researchers often get too close to their work and assume that participants will understand it too. 

But only through conducting a pilot can you be sure there’s no room for misinterpretation, making any necessary tweaks before deploying widely.

Visit our test template gallery for ways to spin up a quick test or get inspiration. 

7. Build your research from an organizational or business perspective

For those fascinated by research, there can be a tendency to get lost in your curiosity and lose sight of your organization’s broader goals. Michelle Bejian Lotia, Sr. Insights Program Manager at Zapier (formerly Head of User Research at Trainline), argues that helping organizations make informed choices is the ultimate function of research. 

This starts with knowing exactly what business decision your research is informing. Knowing this early helps to justify and communicate your research to key stakeholders. Although it might not come naturally, highlighting the power of research to bring direct cost savings to secure stakeholder buy-in is often necessary.

While you can’t win over everyone, Eleonora Costamagna, Lead User Researcher at MadeTech (formerly Senior UX Researcher at TalkTalk), encourages you to accept varying opinions. Instead, seek out people open to research and bring them on board as ambassadors to create success stories. This, in turn, will help convert the skeptics. 

8. Communicate strategically

Many UX professionals know the frustration of pouring your heart and soul into your research only to find that it fails to impact the business. That’s what makes strategic communication key.

Try your best to ensure stakeholder buy-in from the beginning by directly involving them, for example, having them witness interviews or usability testing firsthand. Spark interest early on ensures they’re receptive to hearing your final results.

Next, package your findings carefully because they have to capture the attention of very busy people. Simplify insights ruthlessly if you need to, and share the top takeaways concisely.

Picsart Director of User Experience Samantha Davies (formerly Head of User Research at Zoopla) urges researchers to carefully consider the chosen method in which they share their work, ensuring it is “visible, engaging and easy to consume.” Brief snippets of video can be a great way to highlight the human element behind facts and figures. 

9. Embrace all teams as part of your process

Bringing those from outside of research into the process can bring unique perspectives. 

Wherever possible, take the time to upskill and educate other departments to empower them to do their research, making your workload lighter and strengthening your relationships by helping them understand both the potential and boundaries of research.

While time-consuming, the greater understanding the rest of your business has of research, the more enhanced their support of your work will be, and the easier you’ll find your job. 

Related watching: How to share customer insights throughout your organization

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