The 12 Steps of the UX Research Process

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Liz Eggleston

Edited By Liz Eggleston

Last updated on July 27, 2023

Course Report strives to create the most trust-worthy content about coding bootcamps. Read more about Course Report’s Editorial Policy and How We Make Money.

So much research goes into designing (and upgrading!) today’s products to ensure they are functional and easy to use. Jaime Creixems – a UX expert and Springboard mentor – walks us through the 12 steps of the UX research process, from isolating key pain points to conducting interviews with actual users. Learn about the top three traits of successful user researchers and why the mentored bootcamp experience at Springboard is invaluable for career changers.

Meet the Expert: Jaime Creixems 

  • Jaime is a mentor at Springboard and a Design Advocate at Sketch.
  • He started as a computer information engineer, but has been a designer for the past 20 years!
  • Jaime has an affinity for teaching and loves supporting his Springboard mentees who are committed to making a career change and exploring something they’re passionate about.

What is User Research?

UX designers design experiences for users, but they can’t do that very well if they don’t understand who those users are! User research is the process of getting to know a potential audience and what they are struggling with, so a product can be designed to meet their needs. Then, there's a series of techniques that help understand, synthesize, and formulate the right products for the right results from that research.

What is the main goal of user research?

The main goal of user research is to understand who your users are, the problems they have, and then, in what context they are using that product in order to solve the problems that you have identified.

You cannot design if you don't understand the needs of the user. You could construct something in your head, but you might end up with a product that completely misses the mark because you don't have insights from the users on if they're struggling with it. You may think you're solving it, but if you're not connecting, you can’t be sure.

The 12 Steps of User Research

At Springboard, a student’s research is focused on creating new projects from scratch without data. In the real world, a very important part of the research comes from data from real current users that will use your app. 

Here’s how we break down user research into 12 steps:

  1. Define the problem area. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? It’s wise to choose something that you’re really passionate about, since you’ll inevitably lose motivation somewhere along the way. 
  2. Conduct secondary research. What else can help you solve this problem? Find the right statistics that explain the struggle. 
  3. Conduct a survey. This will help you understand who the audience might be in terms of demographic, like gender, age, and profession.
  4. Isolate the pain points. What are the struggles that you have within the problem area? What is particularly hard or frustrating about it?
  5. Conduct interviews. Interviews are the core of user research because it’s where the real, meaningful data comes in. As a user experience designer, you work for users and need to understand their experience. Interviews are typically 30-45 minutes long, so keep the conversation light while staying focused on nailing down the pain points. Designer bias can kick in if you try to convince users of your solution. Interviews are where you ask users about their frustrations and problems. Your interviews might include techniques like: usability testing, focus groups, card sorting, analytics, and AB testing.
  6. Affinity mapping. Once you have answers from your interviews, you can start to find patterns in user testimonials. Start classifying answers into different areas when you find common insights and that will tell you the main problems to address. 
  7. Empathy mapping. Get to know your users even better by putting yourself in their shoes. What do they hear? What do they feel? What do they say? What are the main pains? Learn the possible gains that could come out of a solution, so that you can create a profile of the audience you work for. 
  8. Define personas. This is where you create an archetype of a prospective user. You will give them a name, a job, an age, a social status as well as the pains that they're struggling with and the possible goals that they want to achieve. This is the other core of research as you're making your designs. Sometimes it's harder to identify a type of user. If it's a very technical solution, then create a series of tasks that need to be achieved regardless of who the user is. 
  9. Understand insights. Once you’ve completed interviews, it’s time to really understand whatever insights you’ve gained from your research.
  10. Create “How might we” statements. For example: how might we provide the users with the right solutions? 
  11. Create user stories. Depending on the profiles and the personas you created, you can create realistic scenarios for your users. 
  12. Test the product. After you design and develop, you create tests for it and analyze the functionality. 

What’s the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?

Both quantitative and quantitative research give you an understanding of the problems of a product or design, but they don’t give you the solutions. Since user research is so dependent on actual users, we use a qualitative flow when we already have type users and good data to assess analytics, performance, flows, and see funnels. 

3 Traits of Successful User Researchers

Researchers tend to be more scientifically-minded while designers tend to be more artistically inclined. Successful user researchers need to have the following three qualities: 

  1. Empathize deeply. User researchers should want to get to know their users well. Empathy is the key tool to having an open mindset, a learning mindset, and to really understand the user.
  2. Have fun testing. Consider that you’re in a lab and you don't have the right solutions. Have fun with it! Good user researchers know how to test, iterate, and think. 
  3. Iterate. User researchers know they won’t get it right on the first try — nobody does! Don't try to be perfect on the first try — just keep iterating until you get it. Stay curious and have fun.  

Does user research look different at a small company versus a large organization?

User research can look profoundly different at different companies, from non-existent to existent! More than the size of a company, what matters more is the culture of research inside a company. 

  • Bigger teams can afford to have dedicated researchers, but sometimes they don’t value research, even with a budget. 
  • Smaller companies tend to conduct research quickly by comparing themselves to other similar tools, instead of going directly to their users. 
  • Established companies that have a successful product tend to have better data because they're getting analytics from the use of their own product. 

Should all UX designers know how to do UX research?

It's a good idea to know both UX design and UX research, and I think they should respect the process of each discipline. As UX expands and grows, I think UX will get more specialized, with new roles like interview specialist or design systems manager, rather than just UI or UX designer.

Tech is always changing! What are your predictions for the UX career?

Design Ops and Design System Management are two areas expanding inside UX. These will be architectural roles that consider components and how they evolve and look in different devices. They’ll also be thinking about how to make designers’ lives easier by creating the right components with the right variations and applying them in the right places.

9 Top User Research Tools 

UX researchers will use a variety of tools to process data and ideate.

3 Design & Whiteboarding Tools

  1. Sketch 
  2. Figma - This tool has an excellent whiteboarding tool and is great for research and synthesizing!
  3. Miro - Miro is good  for analyzing and studying.

4 Analytics and Processing Tools

If you already have an audience and an app out there, it's important to go to your analytics, customer satisfaction indicators, user feedback, sales teams or conduct customer service, and to get the data from both current and new users. 

  1. Google Analytics
  2. Usermaven
  3. Hot Jar - Great for understanding how users are flowing through your page!
  4. Notion - Can be used for documenting and analyzing data.

Fig Jam and Miro are also great alternatives for summarizing the results of data. Many have pre-made templates that ease the process as well! 

UX Researchers On the Job

What is the process for recruiting participants for user research?

There are several tools available to recruit participants for user research. Our Springboard students go into their world to get participants for their user research projects. These participants may be found through friends, Reddit, and community forums. People are surprisingly willing to help and really love to have their opinion heard!

How do designers share their UX research with other stakeholders?

Many designers summarize their techniques and main conclusions in a legal presentation that they can take to stakeholders, like product managers and marketing teams. These presentations share their insights, based on the data collected from interviews and personas, that identify what needs to be addressed and how to move toward a solution. A legal presentation is helpful, as well as a PDF report consolidating their findings into something digestible and easy to process. 

Learn User Research at Springboard

UX design is an emerging field and there is nothing that is established as the one right answer. There are many different ways to approach a problem and understand the needs of your users. The real value of learning at Springboard is connecting with a mentor one-to-one every week who is guiding you through that process, motivating you, and keeping you there. There is a value to that that no article can give you. 

In Springboard’s UI/UX Design Bootcamp, the first project goes through the whole UX process (research, ideation, final design), and then there is a project focused on research, followed by a UI project. When you graduate from Springboard, you are prepared to be a UX designer, both on the research side and the UI side. 

If you’re interested in UX Design, we recommend checking out our Intro to UI/UX Design Course!

Jaime’s Favorite UX Resources for Career Changers

The main thing career changers need to foster is curiosity. If you're not curious, not empathetic enough, or not interested enough, you won’t be a good UX researcher. If you want to get started on this path, there are plenty of resources online that can help. 

There are also helpful blogs that have great insights and articles, like: 

Find out more and read Springboard reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Springboard.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

Also on Course Report

Get our FREE Ultimate Guide to Paying for a Bootcamp

By submitting this form, you agree to receive email marketing from Course Report.

Get Matched in Minutes

Just tell us who you are and what you’re searching for, we’ll handle the rest.

Match Me