Getting Started

UX Research Basics

Welcome. Thank you. I’m so, genuinely, glad you’re here. (I'm Erin May by the way.)

Here’s the thing about user research. It’s incredibly important, but it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Hear me out. I know it’s hard to find the time, and the budget, and manage the logistics, and do the recruiting, gather and analyze insights, run presentations, and the list goes on. Those things are hard and this field guide exists in large part to make those things a little easier.

What doesn’t need to be that hard is getting started, doing something instead of nothing, regularly practicing the bold act of actually talking to your users, customers, and would-be users and customers. In this day and age, couldn’t we all use a little more talking to each other?

If you read nothing else, and I really hope you WILL read something else, read this. If you are already humming along with a kickass research program, feel free to subscribe to more targeted chapters that suit your needs by clicking anywhere you see "Subscribe." Or just navigate to the Field Guide index and explore.

Without further ado, here are some well-loved tips among the UX research community to conduct effective user research and interviews. Consider this your MVR (minimum viable research) cheat sheet.

A professional researcher might do better interviews, but most people are capable of research that is good enough.

Jonny Schneider, Finding the Fastest Path to Feedback

Minimum Viable Research Tips

Recruit about 5 “good” people

While qualitative research can be time consuming, the good news is you really only need to talk to about 5 people before you hit a point of diminishing returns in terms of insights. Of course that entirely hinges on finding the right people. This doesn’t have to be complicated.

  • Know your learning goals for research. Use that to determine your right audience.
  • Determine if you need existing or target users—a good rule of thumb is for new power features of your existing product, talk to existing users, for out-of-the-box perspective on a brand new feature or product, talk to your target users
  • Build a simple screener survey to identify and filter out people who will give you diversity and relevance of insight. Pro tip: Don’t over-screen. We see this a lot.
  • Distribute your survey to a list you manage or using a third-party service or platform.
  • Contact 5 people to set up in-person or remote sessions with the relevant directions, web meeting links, etc. You might do a second round if you get a couple no-shows or you didn’t get the insights you were looking for. It does happen.
  • Compress the timeframe of sessions so you can focus, build momentum, and get to action faster.

Here’s where I subtly throw in that User Interviews makes all this that much easier and sometimes cheaper, but of course you can do this manually if you like. Google Sheets + Craigslist + Mail merge FTW!

Write a quick moderator guide

This need not take more than 15 minutes or so for MVR. Don’t go into a session without a simple set of questions.

  • Plop your research mission and learning goals on top of your guide for a steady reminder and thing to go back to as your session progresses. Make sure whatever else happens—sessions are predictable in their unpredictability if nothing else—you get back to the matter at hand.
  • Have a hypothesis or assumption you want to test, but be totally prepared to be wrong and watch out for unconscious bias. The below point is your friend here.
  • Use open ended, why oriented questions, focus on past behavior vs hypothetical future behavior, and avoid adjectives—let your participant decide on the adjectives that describe their experience.
  • Write your opening and closing, verbatim. Choose something warm, authentic to how you actually talk, that puts the participant at ease. If you get flustered or things go off script, you can just read this in the moment.

Below is a template you can use for early, discovery stage interviews.


Run an effective session

You are a human, talking to another human. What an amazing opportunity to get permission to connect with someone you wouldn’t otherwise. Be warm, be authentic, be yourself, just don’t get toooo chummy or start influencing the participant’s ideas with your own enthusiasm. Be a professional.

  • Listen lots, talk little, get comfy with silence. Watch people too. What do they do with your prototype, site? Behavior, behavior, behavior.
  • Show something if you have something to show, but focus on one thing at a time.
  • Probe, give context, set expectations about why you’re here and what you’re trying to accomplish. Don’t share your assumptions or hypothesis.
  • If you can spare someone to take notes for you or use a transcription or recording service, that means you can really focus on being present in the session, which will help you pick up on all those juicy micro-moments.

Review, and share, results

Don’t let your research die in the session itself. Again, don’t over-complicate this if time is not a luxury you have.

  • Highlight key insights, quotes, thoughts from each session immediately after, if you can.
  • Review all your notes. Look for themes. Highlight those themes and supporting evidence in a document of your choosing, something that is easy for you and acceptable to your audience of stakeholders.
  • Share your insights! Different organizations do this different ways, and we’ll cover this in depth later. At a minimum, shoot a Slack or email linking to your document and host it somewhere people can access it on demand. You’ve done important work. Don’t hide it.
  • Connect with your stakeholders (product, sprint, design team, whoever you’re working with on the research) ASAP with your insights and move things forward!

That’s it. Of course there’s much more to cover, and cover it we will, but hopefully the above tips empower you to just get out there and do some research today. Building a regular research habit is the best way to build the discipline in yourself, your organization, and to consistently show its importance to your product and customers.

Cool, So Now What?

In this Field Guide we’ll dive deeper into research methods—discovery, validating and testing, and post-launch—, recruiting, research deliverables, the best tools of the trade, and the ever-important topics of politics, collaboration, and being successful in your organization. We’re launching with getting started, discovery methods, and recruiting.

You don’t need to read this full Field Guide to get started, and many of you out there might be seasoned pros just looking to brush up on a couple topics, hence “Field Guide.” You can sign up for the modules that suit your needs. You can sign up for the full experience. And of course you’re free to browse.

We’re a user driven company and would love to hear from you with any and all feedback. Hit me up at

Happy researching!


UX Research Process Fundamentals

Whether you’re an experienced moderator, a product manager who plays researcher from time to time, or someone new to the field, we hope this guide has a little something for everyone. Here, we’ll focus on the UX research process as we’ll describe it throughout the field guide.
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