User research questions: Questions I explore the most as a user researcher

Discover the top 8 user research questions to ask to guide product development. From identifying target audiences to evaluating features, this article covers how asking the right user research questions can help teams build effective products that meet user needs.

Research
User research questions: Questions I explore the most as a user researcher

User researchers are tasked with answering a range of questions. Our work helps internal teams and external clients better understand the people we are designing for and guide product and service development. 

Here are eight questions I explore most frequently and how they relate to the design and development process

User research questions

1. What should we build?

This question often arises when a team identifies a potential need or opportunity they believe they are well suited to solve, however may not know the best steps to take next. 

Exploring this question can help us understand the focus and severity of the pain point or impact of the opportunity, what the target audience is doing in lieu of having a solution (e.g. the workarounds they employ), and how they think about the topic (e.g. their mental model). This information helps us narrow down and clarify the scope and direction of a preliminary concept, aka the MVP, intended to meet user expectations and provide value. 

This is a generative research question that can be explored with a variety of research approaches, including primary research, market research, secondary research, analytics, and competitive analyses. 

2. Who are our customers?

This question facilitates a deeper understanding of your target audience. The goal is to learn more about their behaviors, preferences, and motivations, which in turn can enhance the user experience

Various user research methods can be used to answer this question, such as surveys, interviews, and usability testing. Oftentimes, the learnings are repurposed into visual representations such as empathy maps, journey maps, and personas to convey the target audience’s mental models throughout their customer experience, or a specific portion of their journey with one or more touch points. 

3. Are we building the right thing?

When you’re in the early stages of the design and development process, there are often questions about whether the approach will be interpreted as intended, if the initial direction meets the target audience’s mental models, and whether the proposed experience will address the actual need or opportunity. 

This is an evaluative research question that should be addressed iteratively. It helps us evaluate if the initial strategy, concept, and intended course of action is intuitive, meaningful, effective, and efficient. By identifying any flaws and finding ways to course correct before substantial resources and costs are invested in the actual development, we can save the product team from significant rework down the road. 

4. Are we building the thing right? 

While similar to Q3 above, this question is different. Are we building the thing right focuses more on validating the idea’s execution and ensuring it aligns with user needs and expectations. It helps in identifying any gaps in the product or service and finding ways to address them, especially when there is a lack of confidence or uncertainty about the current development or implementation process.

The goal is to identify any fatal flaws in the design, messaging, interaction, and otherwise that could result in a poor user experience or low adoption rates. By course-correcting and making adjustments during the design phases, the team can increase their confidence in the subsequent dev stages. 

This question is critical for ensuring that what we build is effective and efficient while meeting (or ideally, exceeding) user needs and expectations. An iterative approach to this type of evaluative testing is considered a best practice.  

5. Why did this metric go up or down?

This question helps in understanding peaks and valleys in our analytics. To begin, it’s paramount that you have a clear understanding of the metric you’re analyzing, and that it’s defined in a way that is specific and measurable. 

Analytic shifts may happen as a result of intentional or unintentional product or service changes and/or outside conditions (e.g. economic or political factors, a global pandemic, a change in the competitive landscape, etc.). 

Exploring this question helps us identify the contributing factors that result in the metric’s differential, develop a hypothesis based on quantitative data and qualitative assumptions, find ways to address them, and test future solutions that impact the metric. 

6. Does our target understand this?

Evaluating the clarity of a product or service’s description, value, naming, messaging, tiered bundling, navigation, preference, pricing, and other factors ensures that these aspects are understood as intended, and are easy to comprehend and use. The results often reveal opportunity areas. When these opportunities are addressed, we reduce customer frustration and enhance product innovation. 

A variety of moderated and unmoderated evaluative methods can be employed to gather this feedback, such as comprehension testing and task verification.  

user research questions
A task-based unmoderated prototype test in UsabilityHub.

7. How can we make this better?

This question identifies opportunities for improvement in what we offer. It can help us find ways to optimize the user experience, increase satisfaction, engagement, loyalty, and revenue, and lead to a better understanding of needs and preferences. The results can be applied to create more targeted and effective experiences, marketing, and messaging. 

This type of user research can provide insights into the competitive landscape. It can also help identify opportunities for subsequent innovation and reduce development costs by identifying and fixing issues early in the development lifecycle. 

Various methods including interviews, surveys, usability testing, A/B testing, and observation can be employed to ascertain opportunities for improvement. 

8. Should we sunset/implement this feature?

This question helps in evaluating the value of a feature and deciding whether to keep, improve, or remove it from the offering. We can learn which features are most valued, are not being used, which are causing usability issues, and why, to identify ways to optimize the product. 

Conducting UXR when deciding whether to sunset or implement a feature can help to:

  • Avoid investing time and resources in features that users do not find valuable or useful.
  • Ensure that features are aligned with user needs.
  • Increase user satisfaction and engagement.
  • Identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Enable organizations to optimize features to better meet user needs.
  • Help organizations prioritize features, ensuring that resources are allocated effectively.

The drawbacks of not conducting UXR when deciding whether to sunset or implement a feature include the potential cost and time involved in making the wrong decision,  the rework that will result to address it later on, and a negative impact to customers. 

Consider your culture and context: Tips for taking the best approach

user research considerations

It’s important to know that I am not working on these questions in this specific order and that not all questions will be explored in every product development cycle. Oftentimes, I focus on just one or two of these questions. Ideally we begin our research in the generative phase (before any development or concept creation) but the reality is that research can start at any point – even long after a product is launched. 

Lastly, while these are the questions I most commonly explore, keep in mind that each team, client, and project is unique, and you should adapt or expand these questions to fit the specific context.

As user researchers, we need to be flexible and adaptable to ensure we are considering:

  • The best possible approach 
  • The constraints
  • The right questions
  • Gathering feedback from the people best suited to provide it
  • Our ethical responsibilities
  • Confidence level desired 

This article was authored by Michele Ronsen, Founder and CEO of Curiosity Tank. Michele is a user research executive, coach and educator. She teaches design and user research to people around the world. Her corporate trainings and workshops are inspired by working with Fortune 500s and start-ups for more than twenty years. Fuel Your Curiosity is her award winning, free, user-research newsletter. In 2020, LinkedIn honored Michele with a TopVoices award in the Technology category. She is the first and only researcher to receive this award. 

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