Research first, design second

In today’s fast-paced business environment, clients often prioritize design over research, eager to have their designs ready as soon as possible. This can lead to debates on whether we should conduct research at all and to what extent.

In this article, I’ll try to explain why such discussions aren’t necessary in the first place.


Users have become accustomed to certain standards in digital products and websites; they expect intuitive, enjoyable, and beautifully designed user interfaces (UI). But what does it take to craft such experiences? Where do we start? What does the process involve? Which problems need addressing? To answer these questions, comprehensive research is not just a nice-to-have, but a must. It lays a solid foundation for wireframes, mockups, and UI screens.

User Experience (UX) is a crucial part of digital design that truly resonates with users. The most successful products are often developed based on a large number of interviews, surveys, and tests. In-depth research provides invaluable insights into the industry at large, as well as specific user needs—informing our design decisions to ensure they are data-driven and actionable.

In this blog, we’ll explore why research should never be skipped before starting any design project.

Why Does UX Research Matter?

The Interaction Design Foundation defines UX (user experience) research as ‘the systematic study of target users and their requirements, to add realistic contexts and insights to design processes.’ In other words, UX research enables us to delve into the users’ world and their specific needs related to particular projects.

This approach offers real-world scenarios and a broader perspective, which can then be transformed into actionable ideas in the design process. The definition of UX research itself underscores its vital role: it assists in uncovering issues, understanding needs, and gathering insights that inform decision-making in the later stages of the design journey.

Types of UX Research

There are two main types of UX research: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research focuses on collecting and analyzing numerical data, while qualitative research aims to understand user experiences, motivations, and feelings.

Research can also be categorized as primary or secondary. Primary research involves collecting data firsthand, while secondary research relies on data gathered by third parties. In the case of secondary research, it’s crucial to verify the reliability and validity of the source.

Additionally, research can be conducted using two different approaches: attitudinal, which involves listening to what users say, and behavioral, where we observe how users perform certain tasks.

Selecting the Most Effective Research Method

By utilizing a variety of research types, approaches, and methods, we can gain clearer and more objective insights. This comprehensive approach is instrumental in identifying problems and generating solutions in the later stages of the design process. While some methods may be more commonly used than others, the choice ultimately depends on the specific needs and goals of the project.

Each research endeavor, though it may follow a standardized process, is unique and offers the opportunity to uncover new insights, meet different users, and make discoveries. Selecting the appropriate research methods is crucial for obtaining valuable information and accurately identifying the problem at hand. To do this effectively, a deep understanding of each method is essential.

Check out this article for an in-depth look at the most frequently used UX research methods at BB Agency.

How the Right UX Methods Boost Project Outcomes

The BB UX team conducted a workshop focused on a best-case-scenario project. During this session, we meticulously documented each step of our proposed research approach and captured our collective thought process. Following a thorough discussion, we refined and finalized what we consider our ideal research process. We also pinpointed the specific UX methods that we would employ. Now, let’s take a closer look at this process from start to finish to truly highlight the benefits of our research approach.

Step 1: Stakeholder Workshop

To kick off the research, we start with a stakeholder workshop. This session is key to collecting vital product information, grasping the client’s future vision, and pinpointing the business objectives that the project aims to fulfill. It’s an ideal launchpad for aligning our insights and establishing research goals, making sure we and the client are in sync right from the start.

Step 2: User Interviews

Following the workshop, we move on to conducting user interviews. This step is crucial to sidestep assumptions and directly uncover the desires, needs, frustrations, and pain points of the users. By thoroughly exploring how different users interact with various aspects of the product, we can extract maximum value from these interviews. This stage is often the most valuable in UX methodology, as it provides a wealth of insights that enable us to tailor the product or website to suit diverse target groups effectively.

Step 3: Market Analysis & Competitor Benchmarking

Market analysis and competitor comparisons are vital elements of our research process at BB Agency. In our market analysis, we conduct extensive desk research to evaluate the current state of the industry, forecast potential future trends, and consider various strategic directions.

To further strengthen our research, we also perform a competitive benchmark analysis. This involves examining both direct and indirect competitors from contextual and visual standpoints. Through this analysis, we gain insights into their styles, identify industry best practices, and find opportunities for improvement. Crucially, it guides us in determining how to distinctively position our client’s product in the marketplace. The insights garnered from these UX methods are key in shaping our design decisions going forward.

Step 4: UX Review

To supplement our interviews, we conduct a UX review and analyze data from analytics tools. This dual approach allows us to thoroughly examine our client’s product and pinpoint areas requiring improvement. Common issues we might encounter include inconsistent design elements, unclear content hierarchy, complicated user flows, and accessibility concerns like low contrast.

Analyzing the product’s analytics provides a comprehensive view of its performance, helping us to identify issues like dead links or disruptions in user flows that hinder users from completing their journey. It’s crucial to meticulously document all these findings. We then refer to best practices and relevant references to devise effective solutions for these identified issues.

Step 5: Research Synthesis

After completing the agreed-upon research methods, our next step at BB Agency is to effectively communicate our findings and recommendations to the client. We call this phase ‘Research Synthesis.’ In this stage, we compile a UX strategy presentation that encapsulates the research insights, specifically highlighting design aspects that require enhancement.

The improvements we propose are clear, actionable, and firmly rooted in our research. They are grounded in established best practices and UX principles, ensuring a strong foundation for our suggestions. This phase marks a critical juncture in the project, as it’s our opportunity to demonstrate to the client how the recommended changes not only align with but are vital to achieving their broader business objectives. The more the client embraces our suggestions, the more refined and user-friendly the final product will become.

Step 6: Crafting a Roadmap

After receiving feedback on our presentation, we can begin to outline the roadmap for the product’s redesign. The improvements we’ve suggested will inform the creation of a sitemap, which is based on the findings from our research. This sitemap will then act as a blueprint for designing the site’s navigation and structuring the information architecture on each page.

With the approval of these UX methods, we move into the design phase, starting with wireframes and other agreed-upon deliverables. It’s important to recognize that some of these suggested improvements extend beyond the scope of just the UX team’s deliverables. To ensure the usability and quality of the redesigned product, continuous collaboration with other teams is essential. This ongoing communication and oversight throughout the project guarantee that we deliver the most effective solution possible to our clients and their end users.

Step 7: User Testing

Last but certainly not least, user testing stands as a pivotal UX method. While it may not fall under traditional research techniques, its significance in UX research is undeniable. User testing is invaluable for gathering feedback and validating design decisions, making it an integral part of the process. Whether we conduct usability, A/B, or prototype testing, these evaluations enable us to not only pinpoint issues but also affirm the efficacy of our design choices. Serving as a critical bridge between research and design, testing plays a key role in fine-tuning the final product to ensure it aligns seamlessly with user needs.

Wrapping Up

Conducting research at the onset of the design process is crucial for several reasons, but most importantly, it paves the way for project success upon completion. Without research, clients might only recognize the problems that are immediately apparent or have been directly reported. However, they often lack the expertise to unearth the optimal solutions independently or identify other underlying issues affecting the overall user experience. Making design decisions without proper research and informed references can lead to even more detrimental outcomes.

Skipping research in the design phase can really backfire. Some of the consequences for the business are:

  • Poor performance of applications and websites
  • Reduced conversion rates and diminished website traffic
  • Customer dissatisfaction from neglecting feedback and needs
  • Overlooked opportunities for product or website enhancements
  • Inefficient use of resources in design and development
  • Losing a competitive edge in the market
  • Creating accessibility challenges for individuals with disabilities

In UX design, the adage ‘Research first, design second’ is more than just a best practice—it’s a fundamental principle. The value of research extends far beyond a project’s initial stages. Ultimately, skimping on research can prove more costly in the long run. Investing in thorough research reaps rewards through enhanced user experiences, increased customer satisfaction, and superior business results.


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