User Research — more than you expect

Andrei Urse
7 min readSep 21, 2021


Stakeholders granted you time and budget to do User Research. That is very good news! I can feel that you are eager to actually get in contact with your users, regardless of the research method you choose — user interviews, usability testing, card sorting, surveys, etc. And this is understandable, the sooner you get insights, the better. Especially in a very time-constrained corporate context, with a lot of pressure from your managers, and other parties that are involved.

But I didn’t choose the iceberg image randomly. Actually facilitating the sessions with your users, or sending the surveys, or whatever other method you choose, is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface, there are A LOT of other things to be done, both before and after the facilitated research sessions. I know it sounds a bit daunting, icebergs are massive and scary, but beautiful at the same time.

Let’s explore a bit the image above. As you can see there are a couple of things others see we do, and a lot more than they actually don’t see. Exactly those hidden activities have a great impact on how the research study will go and what insights it will yield, therefore great attention is needed. No pressure! 🙂

Preparing a user research study

As I mentioned above, I know you can’t wait to jump directly in getting the insights you need. But a strategy is needed. First things first — design a Test Plan, a place where the whole team will have all the details needed to understand what is happening in this user research study at any given point in time.

It’s a living document, and collaboration is needed. I’ve written an article about how to design a Test Plan in case you are not familiar with how to do it, but feel free to make your own version of Test Plan based on your context:

As the skeleton of the Test Plan is in place, there are two things you and your team need to agree on: the objectives of the study and the research questions you want to answer after the study is over. I can’t stress how important is to have this shared understanding and agreement.

Otherwise, you may find yourself in a situation in which people from your team are not satisfied with the findings, because they had a different perspective, and then the fun begins. You don’t want that! It’s not the kind of fun you want to have!

Ok, so you have agreed on the objectives and the research questions, you have chosen the research method. Now what? Is it over? Can I talk with the users? No way, Jose! Hold your horses! What users? You didn’t even recruit or screen any! Therefore the next natural step is to do this, screening and recruiting qualified users.

Of course there a lot of things to be discussed here, like the difference between recruiting for a B2B versus a B2C context, choosing to screen via email or via telephone or even by going in the field, and the list can continue, but this is not the scope of this article. The whole idea is that you need to do this endeavor, and it can take some time and you might need to get help from your Salesforce team, or other colleagues that have an already established relationship with your users.

Going fast forward in time, assuming that you did your test plan, you screened and recruited participants, you are finally ready to get the job done and get in touch with your users, regardless of the user research method you chose. Yuhuu!!

The main takeaway from this first part of the article is that the devil is in the details. I am not saying that you should do a full-blown academic research study. No way. I am just emphasizing that you need to have a methodology in place, you should adapt it to your context, and you should be aware that it takes time. Make sure to have this in mind and include it when negotiating time with your stakeholders that will be granted for a user research study.

And most important, don’t research more than you analyze, you will find out later why!!!

User Research findings

You had a wonderful time discussing with your users, surveying them, or whatever other method you chose. That’s it, thank you! Wish you all a good… Wait a second. I have some bad news for you. You are actually halfway with your endeavor of doing a user research study.

Cluster, cluster, cluster

You most probably have a ton of raw data that you need to, you guessed it right, cluster it and make sense of the mess. I know you may have some empirical insights, but that is not enough. You should start by transcribing the recordings or preparing the survey for cluster analysis.

Here is where the negotiation from the beginning with your stakeholders will influence what you do next. If you opted to gather more data than you can analyze in a reasonable amount of time agreed with your team, you are in big trouble.

If you used a qualitative user research method, quotes are incredibly important, and you should not skew them when transcribing the recordings. You can transcribe by yourself or get in touch with an agency that does that for a fee. It’s all about context and how much time you have. Depending on these variables, you should consider what options are best for you.

Analyzing User Interviews? You cluster data.
Analyzing Usability Sessions? You cluster data.
Creating a mental model? You cluster data.
Creating personas? You cluster data.
Facilitating workshops? Participants cluster data.

To make sense of the mess, the most used activity in UX and User Research is to cluster data. And since you now have everything you need, it’s time to cluster some data! Ideally, this should be done by the whole team, but again, context is kind, time is limited, and blocking a day for this activity is going to be super hard.

You can do it by yourself if you have no other choice, but make sure to keep everybody in the loop while doing this. You don’t want to come after 2 days of hard work and prepare a “Ta-daaaa presentation” and see everybody raise their eyebrows because they don’t agree with your clusterization.

If you ask two different people to do an affinity map using the same set of raw data, you will be surprised how different they may look, therefore make sure you have everybody in sync if you do it all alone.

Storytelling and presentation

You are so close to the finish line! You have one more artifact to create: that would be a light presentation for your stakeholders. They will don’t care about the nitty-gritty details, what methodology you used, and all the tiny details. They care about what problems you found out and what potential solutions you have.

Therefore this presentation should be light and easy to understand by literally anybody. Include in the introduction the context and the links to all the other artifacts like the test plan, the affinity diagram (maybe somebody is interested to explore them), then dive directly into the insights. I found out that including real quotes creates a very powerful reaction from the audience.

And since we are discussing about the audience, you should know very well who will be present at the meeting. Based on that you should structure your presentation and what should you emphasize. Knowing your audience is key.

But regardless of how well you structure your presentation, you should sharpen your storytelling abilities as much as you can. You don’t want to be boring! If you bore to death your audience, you risk endangering future user research studies, because your stakeholders might find this kind of activity unattractive, therefore they will not grant you time and money next time.

Crossing the finish line

Making all the research studies available to colleagues from other departments or other UX Designer teammates is crucial. Data should not be hidden and locked in a vault underground. This documentation that you will prepare can be a good learning for others that are just starting their journey. Or maybe some other colleagues will find some findings insightful and find solutions for their part of the product or service.

Regardless, you should document your research study. Make it accessible. Don’t keep it just for you and your team.


Hope you made it until the end of the article. My goal was to make you aware that there are a lot of hidden activities that nobody will see, except you. People think doing user research is just sending a survey or talking casually to a bunch of users.

It’s not the case. The preparatory phase is extremely important, you set a solid ground for scaling the study. Analyzing the findings is time-consuming and requires you to be ultra-focused on patterns, quotes, or any other tiny details that can yield incredibly insightful findings.

When negotiating the time and budget of your user study, make sure to have in mind everything, from the beginning to the very end.

User research is not casually talking to users or sending poorly designed surveys.