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.

For this series, 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. In the first post, we uncovered what advice they’d give themselves five years ago based on what they know today.

For the second post, we dive into how they’d spend their ideal budget on research if money wasn’t an issue. What a dream, right? Read on for more.

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

If money was not an issue, how would you spend your ideal budget on research activities or processes?

With this question, we wanted to understand what made designers and researchers excited about their discovery work. We also wanted to explore what they felt they were missing out in their process. Based on the responses we were able to identify 5 areas they would like to invest more resources in.

Those areas are:

  1. More time to conduct deeper research
  2. More face-to-face time with users
  3. Increased team and stakeholder involvement
  4. A bigger team
  5. Continued research past launch

Armed with this intel, we hope that you’ll spend the budget you do have more effectively. Read on for more!

More time to conduct deeper research

The number one area UX practitioners would spend more money on, according to our findings, is more research. More specifically, more time to conduct deeper, richer, more contextual research. They’d spend greater time interviewing users and would rely less on surveys that only skim the surface of users’ needs. They’d take a more holistic approach.

“Abraham Lincoln once said if he had six hour to chop down a tree he would spend the first four sharpening the axe. I would dedicate a majority of the budget to research and talking to users.” — Director of UX — 3 designer team.

Let’s dive into just how deep they’d go with their research if money wasn’t an issue:

“User interviews! Learning motivations, goals, and needs of a particular audience is key because even if you don’t get the answers you expected, you can then change the audience for the product or change the product for a particular audience. Lining up the audience/market with the product goals is most important to get right in the beginning.” — UX Architect — self-employed

“Ideally, I’d have a full discovery process: observations, client interviews, field research, company and business canvas, prototyping, validation. The whole enchilada!” — Product Manager — 15 person org.

“Contextual interviews to see how the users really work, baseline usability testing to measure where the product is now which would help refine improvements, any other UX strategy method that can help shape a clear vision.” — Lead User Experience Designer — 200 person org.

“I would spend it on a wider net of exploration, going outside the environment/situation that the product/service is situated.” — UX Lead — 25 person org.

“I would spend more time researching, designing, and testing a full workflow before it even gets to engineering instead of breaking the workflow into smaller parts and hoping they still line up at the end. This would slow down the shipping process, but result in higher quality experiences.” — Lead Designer, 40 person org.

We were surprised by the level of detail missing in the research process of some enterprise-level companies (taking into consideration this is a small sample size when looking at the big picture). Here’s a couple of examples from professionals working with larger companies:

“Detailed user stories. Our users are varied and interact with many different departments. Having a robust understanding of all our users’ roles would be helpful to provide context.” — UX Designer — 12,000 person org.

“I work in enterprise. I would spend that money on really understanding every touch point the users have, how they feel about them, when they experience them, and what part of the business supports them and how. In other words, a huge end to end journey map.” — User Experience Lead, 20,000+ person org.

Specifically, respondents want deeper ethnographic analysis. They want to know more about who their users are — about their culture and habits. Researchers want to identify any mutual differences among users — where trends do and don’t align across cultures. They even want to take this a step further and experience their users’ culture first-hand. They explained:

“I’d do lots of storytelling and ethnographic (generative) research to truly understand the needs of the people we’re creating products or services for. It means we are closer to having a product that will be useful and will get used by our ideal customers.” — Design Director — 200+ person consultancy.

“Ethnography. Embedding within your audience group to fully understand all factors which contribute to their behaviours and routines. This would allow the research to span a long period of time to really understand users needs and pain-points.” — UX researcher, 200+ person org.

“I’d do significant upfront ethnographic research, invest early in analytics, and do longitudinal customer satisfaction and KPI studies, as well as tactical usability studies as needed. I’d also regularly go out into the field again for ethnography to look for new innovation opportunities. — Solo Consultant

Face-to-face research practices

It seems that most respondents want more face-to-face time with their users. Survey responses indicated that too many nuances are lost when interviewing someone remotely or through surveys. It’s only when you’re in the same room as your users that you’ll truly be able to understand how they interact with your product. They explain why below.

If money was not an issue, how would you spend your ideal budget on research activities or processes?

“Site visits. Talking over the phone can only go so far. It’s hard to get context.” — UX Researcher — 5,000 person org.

“Contextual inquiry would definitely be in the mix: spending an extended period of time with a user, seeing how they engage with your product (or a competitor’s product) in a real-world situation is so valuable. I also like hands-on design thinking exercises with users, asking them to design their ideal X.” — Senior UX Designer — 50 person org.

“I’d observe users in their environment at least twice a month and take different team members with me because frequent observation by all team members is an effective way to get everyone to truly understand who you’re building for. — Director of UX and Product Design — 2000+ person org.

“Moderated testing with users in person — it’s been the most effective way to tell whether a design feature is working.” — Self-employed UX Professional.

“I would have a cross discipline teams travel on site to clients and watch them do their everyday job/use our product much more often.” — UX Team Lead — 5,000 person org.

Increased team and stakeholder involvement

Yes, researchers want more time with their users. But ideally, they’d share the responsibility. They’d get more members of their teams and/or their clients’ teams involved. You’re far more likely to achieve company-wide buy-in when team members interact with your users or experience the research process themselves. Here’s why members of the community want to get key stakeholders more involved with the research process.

How would you spend your ideal budget on research activities or processes?

“I would bring in users, on-site every week for usability sessions and interviews. I would love for the rest of my product team to have access to these sessions and see the users interact on a regular basis to better understand the user base and their needs.” Senior UX Designer — 4000 person org.

“Generally, I’d gather initial goals/KPIs with stakeholders followed by an initial smaller phase of customer research. This research would guide additional synthesis that would map out a second, larger round of highly focused research. This approach essentially lets the team go broad, then deep on prioritized areas of customer need.” — Senior UX Designer — 60 person UX consultancy

“Experience Mapping the as-is with all department representatives first. So even if they say or think they know where they’ve been and where they’re going, we all align together. Then create continuous product discovery throughout the mapping of each phase. Then hold workshops around the user research sessions to gather insights together.”- Freelance UX Researcher & UX Designer.

“Contextual enquiry at the early stages, but bring the design team into this so everyone starts with empathy and creates ideas from first-hand knowledge.” — Freelance UX Consultant

“More upfront research during the discovery stage of a project, followed by or including team synthesis and co-designing. Our company really likes to build first, ask questions later.” — Sr. Product Design Researcher — 1,000+ person org.

A bigger team

It’s no surprise that design and UX professionals of companies ranging from 40 to 5,000 people said that if given the resources, they’d expand their team. Here’s how a few of the survey respondents would dedicate the talent’s time.

If money was not an issue, how would you spend your ideal budget on research activities or processes?

“That really depends on the project. I’d first hire a dedicated user researcher(s), as my primary role is UX designer. The rest of the budget to be spent on (in order of most to least cost) user compensation, session recording software, other software (card tests, tree tests, surveys, etc.)” — UX Design Lead — 40+ person org.

“In my experience, time has been a bigger deciding factor against extensive user research activities. Given an ideal budget, I’d like to be able to keep a dedicated team of researchers to develop easily deployed processes to quickly gather research data for every project.” — User Experience Lead — 80 person org.

“Ongoing longitudinal studies, as well as hybrid researchers/business analysts who are continually looking at ways to improve our offerings as well as identifying new opportunities.” — User Experience Design Principal — 6,500 person org.

“I would set up a team and run constant research sessions weekly/monthly, so they could become an integral part of designs sprints (proper lean ux).” — Senior UX Designer — 100+ person org.

Continued research past launch

Of course, pre-launch research is necessary to design a valuable product for your target market. But if given the resources, UX professionals would spend more time on continuous research post-launch. That way, feature and product expansion sprints would be informed by user data rather than be based on assumptions. Your users’ needs will change over time. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of those needs so you can evolve with them. Members of the community expand on that below.

If money was not an issue, how would you spend your ideal budget on research activities or processes?

“Scheduling regular time with users through the life of the product design and development.” — Experience Design Lead — 4,000 person org.

“User lab with continuous research and testing independent of a given project.” — Director of UX — 70,000 person org.

“I’d spend it on auditing existing content, examining competitors/comparables. A/B test designs or patterns if necessary.” — Sr. Digital Strategist — 65 person org.

“I would spread it out before, during, and towards the end of the project.” — Lead Designer — 40 person org.

Final thoughts: the wrap up

Taking a step back and looking at the big picture of how the UX community would spend their budget without limitations, they’d invest in:

  • more time setting workflows before getting started
  • contextual interviews and ethnographic research to learn more about users’ cultural nuances and trends across users
  • face-to-face time with users
  • a bigger research team
  • more team and stakeholder involvement
  • continued research post-launch for more informed feature development

One more thing worth considering is that maybe we should be thinking about new ways to get the depth we want from research without having to spend a ton of money. Think about how fast innovations are being developed and how they’re altering the way we live.

Will VR allow us to be present in our user’s environment without having to travel there? Will other future technologies help us interact deeper at scale, just as social media has helped us connect (at least superficially) at scale? These concepts can feel far out but by combining creativity and technology, there is hope for accomplishing deep, meaningful research with the budgets we have. Perhaps this future is closer than we think.

What do you think the future of user research is?

If you enjoyed this post, click the green heart 💚 Part 3 is coming next week, follow this publication to get notified.

Want more? Previous posts:

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

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

UX uncensored: The 5 biggest misconceptions about user research — Part 4

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