down arrow
hands applying a sticky note with an illustration of binoculars

The Ultimate Guide to UX Research Strategy

How to get stakeholders on board, decide what research to do when, and make it all count for your business

You are not your user.

User-centric designers, PMs, and researchers often repeat this phrase, like a prayer, as they try to convince internal stakeholders that user need is not the same as stakeholder want.

Of course, sometimes even the most user obsesses among us can fall victim to false consensus. That’s the fancy scientific term for the little voice that says, “It’s ok. Users will probably interact with this thing I’m building in the same way I would.”

One of the best ways to minimize the power of that little voice, for stakeholders, researchers, and anyone in between, is to set up a fundamental UX research strategy.

"Acknowledge your vulnerability and establish checks. Don’t validate; instead investigate." ~Raluca Budiu, Director of Research at Nielsen Norman Group

Creating, deploying, and revisiting a strategy is a hallmark of a “mature” UX research practice. It enables teams to prioritize, organize, and accomplish meaningful work. Most importantly, a strategy is not “just” for large, enterprise organizations. Teams-of-one need strategy, too.

Finally, strategy—not just the research variety—is also important for research-adjacent or insights-consuming roles like design and product. UX Collective flagged the importance of creating a strategy in its 2024 UX trends report, writing:

“While UI processes tend to become more automated in the future, skills such as UX Research and UX Strategy will become more critical than ever. …be strategic in your design thinking, more purposeful in your design decisions, and assertive in imprinting your perspective onto the work you produce.”

Not only is strategy fundamental to the day-to-day of doing product, design, or user experience work, it’s also an activity that supports user-centered professionals of all kinds to navigate the ever-changing landscape in which we work.

This guide unpacks everything needed to create a UX research strategy:

  1. The definition(s) of a UX research strategy
  2. The difference between research strategy and strategic research
  3. The four steps to create a UX research strategy

Defining a research strategy

At its most foundational, a research strategy describes what research looks like in practice, how a team’s activities will contribute to larger organizational goals, and defines the boundaries of what it kinds of projects a team will and will not address (having a research strategy can give researchers the confidence and rationale to say “no” to a request). 

Without a research strategy, project work can feel disconnected, lacking a north start or an iterative impact.

“Doing the work of strategy well requires making visible and discussable that which was felt but was previously invisible.” ~Dave Hora

Devin Harold, Director of UX Research at CapitalOne, believes that a UX strategy should remain open to feedback and flexible to the business as it, too, changes and grows. Check out our conversation with him below for more.

Comparing a research strategy to strategic research

A research strategy might include strategic research, but it doesn’t have to. Strategic research (also known as design strategy research) focuses on longer vision (or horizon) questions

“The value of [strategic] research is that it provides awareness of assumptions and the variety of previously-unknown approaches people have to a defined purpose. It illuminates the broader picture of how people accomplish a goal or satisfy a need…” ~Indi Young

Judd Antin, former head of Design for AirBnB, offers examples of strategic research questions:

  • What insights does the board of directors need to decide on the M&A strategy?
  • How should the company prioritize business goals next half?
  • Which user problems, product, and design trends should executives focus on over the next 3–5 years?
  • What consumer trends really matter for the business, and how should we translate them to action?

Strategic research designs often employ qualitative research methods such as contextual inquiry, diary studies, and interviews. This is not always the case, however. Some leaders maintain that more tactical and evaluative research—such as prototype and usability testing—can have strategic impact.

But how does one go about building a UX research strategy? We offer four steps, which are conceptualized here as questions that require thoughtful, reflective responses:

  1. Who is your research for?
  2. What will you research?
  3. When will you conduct research?
  4. How will your research support the business?

Together, the answers to these questions create the foundations of an actionable UX research strategy. Let’s take a look at each of these questions, and the considerations when formulating your answers.

💡Pro Tip: User Interviews is the fastest way to recruit participants for any kind of research. Talk to sales or sign up for a free account today.

Four questions to ask when building a UX research strategy

1. Who Is Your UX Research For? 🙋

To build a successful UX research strategy, you need to understand who your research stakeholders are. Research stakeholders could be anyone from the CEO, who has in-depth knowledge of the business strategy overall, to the junior developer, who will end up actually building that really cool feature research helped uncover. These are the people research will impact. Stakeholders can vary from research project to project, depending on the focus and scope.

We talked to Holly Hester-Reilly, who helps companies of all shapes and sizes embrace research, about how UXR teams can work with stakeholders.

Keep in mind that in a typical org the people higher up will have a lot more access and information on the company's strategy, the resources that are available, what is the company's competitive advantage. And there may be cases where you hear something in research that seems like a great opportunity but just doesn't actually fit with those elements.

There are three different kinds of stakeholders you’ll need to consider when building your UX research strategy: Leaders, implementers, and executives.


These are people at your organization who lead teams and/or projects that will be affected by research. They’re also likely to be your audience for any research recommendations you may give. Think the VP of Design who wants to know the viability of a new UX flow, the Head of Marketing who wants to investigate an acquisition strategy, or a Senior Engineer who wants to test a new prototype.


These are the people who will actually be building the stuff you learn about through research. Think the Junior Engineer who is responsible for building improvements on a feature, or the Product Designer who will create the new designs you investigate through research. Often, Implementers are also involved in executing the research, meaning they may sit in on sessions or even set up projects themselves.


These are the executives at your organization. They likely have a lot of information on where your company is going, why, and how much money the company is willing to spend to get there. They’re likely not active participants in the nitty-gritty of research, but they probably have the power to stop research if they feel it is unprofitable or a waste of time.

All of these stakeholders are important to the success of your UX research, and thereby, your UX research strategy. Each stakeholder will have different things they want and expect to get out of research, so it’s important to understand their perceptions to build a research strategy that’s impactful for everyone. You can learn more about what each stakeholder wants and needs from research by conducting stakeholder interviews.


Here are a few resources to help you answer this question:

2. What Will You Research? 🔍

What do you and your stakeholders hope to learn from research? How you answer this question will change what kind of research you need to do. Micheal Margolis, UX Research Partner at Google Ventures, identified the most common reasons startups need to conduct research. They are:

  1. Improve a process or workflow
  2. Understand customer shopping habits
  3. Evaluate concepts
  4. Test usability
  5. Refine a value proposition
Table of objectives and questions guiding UX research.
For a larger view, right-click on this chart and select "Open in a new tab"

Each of these reasons for research requires using different research methods and asks different research questions. For example, research about whether or not a product is usable probably involves doing a usability test, and the request for this type of research likely comes from your product department. Research to better understand customer shopping habits could involve doing a shopalong or a field study. The request for this research could come from your marketing or product department.

The most successful research programs have stakeholder buy-in, which means decision-makers are consuming and using research findings, budgeting for research, and trusting researchers. You’ll learn more about what kinds of research are important to your stakeholders through your stakeholder interviews. Take what you learn from these interviews and combine it with the current state of research at your company. This will help you form your ideas about what to research next.

Finally, be sure to leave time for prioritization reflection. Creating a rationale for which research to greenlight and what to backburner demonstrates expertise, authority, and engenders a sense of credibility with your stakeholders. They wouldn’t say “yes” to every project and neither should you. There are resources below to help you start working through not only what to research, but what order those projects might take place.


To help you answer this question, check out these:

For more help on research prioritization, try these:

3. When Will You Conduct Your UX Research? ⏰

Making time for all this research is a strategy in itself. But it’s likely you already have a timeline you can follow, your product development cycle. Your product development cycle most likely affects all of your stakeholders (implementers, leaders, and executives). It’s an existing schedule, or method of shipping, and your research needs to work with it, not fight against it. We’ve mapped three key types of research to steps in the product development cycle, but this isn’t a set-in-stone, do it this way every time kind of deal. Research can be flexible and you can tailor this framework to what works best for your team.

A good rule of thumb is to always do research early and often. This way, you’re not wasting time building things no one needs or wants. Dr. Susan Weinschenk, with Human Factors International, ran research that showed that the cost of fixing a problem post-development was 100x that of fixing it beforehand, and developers spent 50% of their time on rework that could have been avoided.

But always doing research early and often may not be in the cards for your team, and discovery research isn’t the only research out there. So here’s how research can line up with specific stages of a product development cycle, from pre-prototype to post-launch.

Discovery (pre-prototype)

Discovery research usually happens before you have a prototype or product at all. In this stage, you’re learning more about the market for the thing you’re building, its potential users, and keeping an open mind about how you can best build the product your users actually need.

In this stage there are a few methods that work best when you want to learn more about your users and the products or features they need:

  • Generative interviews: These can be especially effective early on in your product development cycle. They involve sitting down one on one with participants, usually five is enough, and asking them questions, testing your problem and solution hypothesis.
  • Diary studies: These are great for capturing long-term data. They’re also a cheaper and easier alternative to a traditional field study or ethnography. Diary studies involve participants keeping logs of actions and thoughts, helping you understand habits, changes over time, motivations, and long-term customer journeys.
  • Ethnography: This is all about observing people in the context of their actual lives. It’s great for understanding how people interact with your product outside of a lab environment. It can help you consider use cases, problems, and solutions you might not have otherwise. Ethnography is a type of field study in which the researchers totally immerse themselves in the participant’s environment. The drawback to ethnography is that it is typically costly and time consuming. In some cases, you can cut costs by using digital ethnography tools for remote ethnographic research.
  • Focus groups: These can be helpful for getting a broad view of the audience you seek to serve, offer you an insight to a group of people in a short amount of time, and can be cost-effective.

Validation and testing (prototypes)

When you’re in the validation and testing stage, you typically have a prototype to test with and a good sense of your users needs and pains. The goal in this phase is to understand if these designs help users solve their problems, how they interact with them, and where they get hung up.

There are a few key methods you can use in the validation and testing phase, each with different benefits and applications:

  • Qualitative Usability Testing: This is the process of testing how “usable” your product is. Qualitative usability testing involves having participants test the usability of your prototype, while thinking aloud. Like generative interviews, you really only need 5 users to get a good idea of what users are thinking.
  • Tree Testing: This involves testing the architecture of your website. This is useful when reorganizing your site, or when building a new one. Tree testing helps you see how users navigate through your site.
  • First Click Testing: This is exactly what it sounds like, it measures where users first click on your site. Why does this matter? When users fail to click the right thing the first time, their chance of getting the whole task right goes down to about 50/50. This can be useful when testing a new task, or trying to determine why users are failing an existing one.
  • Task Analysis: This involves analyzing how users do certain tasks. This can be helpful when testing a new product or feature to get a better idea of the users JTBD.
  • A/B Testing: This involves testing one option against another. It’s often useful to do A/B testing when trying to choose nitty gritty details, like colors or styles.
  • Accessibility testing: As with so many systems and institutions, a lot of unconscious bias is built into many designs, and accessibility testing is a great defense against these pervasive issues in our society.

Ongoing listening (post-launch)

The research doesn’t stop once you’ve launched your product though, it’s important to keep research going even after the launch of your project. At this stage, qualitative data ties in closely with quantitative data, which is likely closely tied to your business metrics. You’ll want to make sure whatever solution you put out into the world is actually accomplishing the goal you hoped it would.

Here are some methods researchers working in this product development phase often employ:

  • Surveys: User intercepts, sourced participants, short surveys—like NPS—longer surveys targeted at a particular aspect of the user experience; there are a variety of survey types and tools to help you meet your ongoing listening goals.
  • Analytics: These can be a treasure trove of great quantitative data if you know how to analyze it and connect insight to action. Keeping a close track on key user flows and business metrics will help you see changes over time. Analytics may help you define your metrics for your research initiatives.
  • Bug tracking and reporting: Bugs come up and need to be fixed, users have questions about how to use your products. Hopefully, your product or engineering team already has a process in place for dealing with bugs. The value here is to link those improvements—where possible—with projects that spotlit the need for them in the first place. This is a repeatable, visible, and practical way to track your impact.
Remember: Post-launch does not mean post-research. Many of the most innovative teams employ a continuous research framework, where customer interaction is a regular (think weekly) practice. There are a host of benefits to weaving this method into a UX research strategy. Head here to learn more information on what continuous discovery is and how to get started.

4. How Will Your UX Research Support the Business? 📈

Your research strategy will work best when it’s aligned with your business strategy. This means having an open and honest conversation about where your business is going and how research can help your team get there (alignment on metrics, growth trajectories, reinforcing the line from UX insights to business decisions). Your stakeholder interviews hopefully helped you learn about the business strategy and where research can fit into that.

Like any other part of your business, research should be valuable in a clear and measurable way. The best way to establish research metrics is to make sure the data you’re collecting is clear, align with the rest of your company on metrics, and store your findings meticulously.

Collect clear data

In order for your research to truly be effective for your business, you’ll need to make sure you’re collecting clear data from research. This means getting on the same page about metrics, research goals, and questions you’ll ask in moderated research sessions.

Employing templates is a way to balance rigor with scale. Templatizing intake or request forms, stakeholder feedback, and certainly research instruments is a great way to save time, align stakeholders, and ensure participants are set up to share data in an easy way. Here are templates for interview guides, UX research plans, and note taking. And here are tactics for making the most of your user research recordings.

Ursula Shekufendeh describes how she leveraged templates to align her stakeholders across sales, customer support, and research (see video below). Folks were not only more informed on why research was happening, but were able to take action on data more quickly having been involved in the process early.

Align on metrics

After you’ve collected your data in a way that’s clear for everyone, you’ll need to tie that data to actual metrics. Your stakeholder interviews should have helped you establish what metrics are important to stakeholders and to the business as a whole. Whether it’s MRR, conversion rates, or NPS scores, it’s important to align your research to the metrics that are most important to your stakeholders. This will help you show the value of UX research and continue to grow your practice.

When you start your research projects, take the time to gather data about where your baseline metrics are pre-research. This helps you focus on what you really want to get out of this effort, and gives you metrics to compare post-research.

Store your findings

You’re probably not creating a research strategy to do one research study and then forget about research altogether. A great research practice that supports your business builds on itself as time goes on, resulting in a library of insights to draw on for future efforts. Create well-documented projects with clear and easy to track data, that are focused on moving the needle for specific metrics. Then, store your findings just as meticulously (and revisit these systems to ensure they’re still working for your org).


Here are resources to help you answer this question:

So there you have it, the four steps to creating a UX research strategy that will make stakeholders happy, keep your UX research manageable and accountable for real, business metrics, and help build a community around UX research. Now go do some fantastic UX research!

Carrie Boyd
Former Content Writer at UI

Carrie Boyd is a UXR content wiz, formerly at User Interviews. She loves writing, traveling, and learning new things. You can typically find her hunched over her computer with a cup of coffee the size of her face.

Subscribe to the UX research newsletter that keeps it fresh
illustration of a stack of mail
Table of contents
down arrow
Latest posts from
Research Strategyhand-drawn arrow that is curved and pointing right