UX Uncensored is a series of blog posts published by NomNom in partnership with Designer Hangout, a Slack community with over 9,000 product and UX people. We asked the UX community to share their secrets and learnings completely anonymously. In five open ended questions, we explore war stories, industry misconceptions, and practical advice.

This series is soon coming to an end, just one more to go after this one. If you’ve missed the past posts, you can see what advice the UX community would give themselves five years ago. Then check out how they’d spend their ideal budget if money wasn’t an issue. Finally, see why and how other UX professionals get their teams involved in the research process.

For part four, we’re switching gears a bit. UX practitioners from around the globe shared the biggest user research misconceptions they face. Some — if not all — of these will sound familiar. Below, we shed light on what we can do as a community to smash these misconceptions and show our stakeholders the impact UX research has on business success. Read on for more!

— —

What would you say if I asked you the following question:

What is the biggest misconception about user research?

By far, the most popular answers from over 100 survey respondents were “it’s too expensive” and “it takes too much time.” Most participants shared a combination of these two.

When decision makers voice these concerns, they’re saying user research isn’t valuable enough to spend time or money on. That’s because they don’t truly know what goes into the process. This can be disheartening. But it’s also an opportunity for UX professionals to educate clients and colleagues on why neither are true. And if we didn’t love a good challenge, we’d be in a different line of work, #amiright?

Below, we dive into more detail behind why these misconceptions and more exist. You’ll notice that all five of them share a common theme: a misunderstanding of the value UX research provides to the entire business.

if-you-could-skip-user-research-1

Misconception #1: User research costs too much

We learned in part two that to get buy-in for research projects, we first have to demonstrate the value it provides to the entire business. At least, more often than not. When presenting a research strategy, lead with data and success stories that prove a significant ROI. That way, you can avoid these initial responses when asking for budget:

What misconceptions do you face about user research?

“It’s freaking expensive!!!!” — Product Manager — 15 person org.

“That it’s always expensive, and you can ship successful software products without it.” — Senior UX Designer — 60 person org.

“I think the biggest misconception is that it’s always an extra expense or not essential. Some believe that you’re there to design for the business’ goals, so what more do you need to research?” — UI Designer — 5,000 person org.

“That it’s expensive, or it takes too much time, or you need a PhD to do it.” — Senior UX Designer — 200+ person org.

“That it’s expensive, and ‘not scientific enough.’ That it won’t provide statistically relevant data to support decision-making.” — User Experience Designer — 3,000+ person org.

“That it’s expensive, cumbersome, requires expertise that’s out of reach, and doesn’t get actionable information.” — Product Strategy and Digital Inclusion — 1,500 person org.

Misconception #2: User research takes too much time

It’s frustrating when a project is stalled for what feels like a lifetime, then suddenly rushed. This often results in the “we don’t have time for research” response from team leads or clients. Other times, we’re working on self-imposed timelines that “don’t account for research.” In reality, the chances that the project needs to launch in that short of a time frame are slim.

As UX professionals, we know time invested in proper, well executed user research up front saves a whole lot of time (and money) in the long run. It allows us to build products people actually need. It helps us create a pipeline designed for the end user, not who or what we assume the end user is or needs. One of our survey participants put it this way:

“A common misconception is that it takes a long time and the teams do not have time to wait for it. But in reality, if it’s skipped, the project pays for it anyway because of misunderstood requirements and a design that may not be exactly what users want.” — Lead User Experience Designer — 200 person org.

Misconception #3: User research is unnecessary

Some companies have the time and budget for user research, and still don’t think that they need it. They think user research is for a specific type of company or product that’s not there’s. These might sound familiar to you…

“That we don’t need research because the stakeholders already know the customer.” — Design Director — 200+ person org.

“That it’s unimportant because the business already knows what users want.” — User Experience Design Principal — 6,500 person org.

But every product has an end user with needs. And without knowing those needs, you’re shooting blind into the dark. Or some other form of mixed metaphor. It’s our job to paint a full picture of the value user research adds for the business.

Misconception #4: That user research can be done by anyone

Ah, the most frustrating of misconceptions, and the one requiring the most amount of education. As mentioned, one of the big reasons it’s difficult to get buy-in for research projects is because people don’t understand the value of it. Another is because they don’t understand what it is.

UX practitioners answer: What misconceptions do you face about user research?

“That it’s just talking to people and anyone can do it and still have good outcomes.” — Director of UX — 100 person org.

“That anyone can do it and it’s just asking questions about existing products.” — UI / UX Designer — 10–20 person org.

“That it’s not necessary, especially for a redesign if the same agency/team built the original site.” — Sr. Digital Strategist — 65 person org.

“That, with just a bit of training, anyone can do it and reach actionable results.” — Lead Researcher — 100 person org.

“We don’t need it because we already know what people need. We’re the experts at this. — Senior User Experience Designer — 700 person org.

“That market research makes it unnecessary.” — Senior Manager, UX — 10k person org.

“It either doesn’t require any background, or that it’s extremely difficult and requires advanced degrees to learn.” — UX Research Manager — 80 person org.

Even when clients do see the value of user research, they often think it’s just a one-time thing you do before launch:

“That it ends when it’s done.” — UX Designer — 1,500 person org.

“That it isn’t needed. I feel effective research leads to the best product possible at that time. User research should be ongoing, as the product or offering evolves.” — Graphic Designer — 40 person org.

Misconception #5: User research is asking users what they want

Similar to the fourth misconception, some people simply have a false perception of what user research is. Read on for details.

Here’s how several respondents answered: What misconceptions do you face about user research?

“That you ask users what they want.” — UX team lead, 5,000 person org.

“That it means you’re going to directly apply what users say they want.” — UX Designer — 30k person org.

“That synthesis happens instantly, just by sitting in the sessions.” — Senior Product Design Researcher — 1,000 person org.

“Just collecting data gives you answers.” — Designer & Developer — 30 person org.

“The biggest misconception is that we can substitute valid user research practices by simply distilling our pre-existing notions of the user.” — Product Coordinator — 200 person org.

“That you can get actionable insights from it by reading a research report. That the stakeholder doesn’t need to communicate with the researcher.” — User Experience Designer — 10 person org.

Other common misconceptions

That wasn’t all. Here’s a quick look at some of the other false perceptions people have about user research:

  • That it should be in a silo.
  • That it lives in a vacuum.
  • That it answers all aspects of the user experience.
  • That users are difficult to communicate with.
  • That it’s the same thing as market research.
  • The fact it’s sole focus is on the user rather than a mixture of factors, i.e business needs.

The wrap up: smashing misconceptions together

As a community and industry, we can turn these misconceptions around. It will take time, work, and most importantly, collaboration. We have to share our successes with each other so we can share them with our teams and clients. We need to get out and present our findings and results. We need to educate other people in UX and beyond on what user research is, what goes into the process, who should be involved, and the impact it can have on your business.

Let’s make a pact. We’ll speak at events, write about our experiences, train junior-level UX professionals, and answer our team’s questions about users and research. We will speak up when we think it’s best to talk to our users first. We will design with users’ needs in mind. We will always put users first, and that starts with talking to them.

— — -

What will you do to change misconceptions about user research?

If you enjoyed this post, click the green heart 💚 Part 4 is coming next week, follow this publication to get notified.

Previous posts:

UX uncensored: What UX and Product people say when nobody’s looking — Part 1

UX uncensored: UX and product people talk money — Part 2

UX uncensored: How to get your team involved in the research process — Part 3

UX uncensored: user research advice passed down through the UX community (Part 5)