There are two main UX design research categories: generative and evaluative. One is more exploratory and opportunistic, while the other is a more focused approach applied to a predefined problem. While both methods aim to improve the user experience, there is a time and place for each. In this article, we will cover the differences between the two categories, why they are valuable, and scenarios to use each of them.
What is Generative Research?
Why is Generative Research Important?
As with other methodologies, directly interacting with users is the best way to understand their behaviors, attitudes, and needs. With generative research, your users become an active part of the product development process. Skipping the generative research phase can have a negative impact on your product, as you could create something that doesn’t solve any real user problems.
When to Use Generative Research?
In general, generative research is useful when you want to track activities or understand attitudes and opinions in an exploratory fashion.
User Journey Mapping
Journey maps can be useful for understanding the order of events that your product is involved in and gives insights into the relationships your customers have with your brand. It can help identify obstacles and opportunities to improve the user experience.
What is Evaluative Research?
Evaluative research is used to assess specific problems by understanding user needs, wants, and desires. It is employed when it’s necessary to collect feedback on a product prototype and tends to be more direct and prescriptive. The data and insights from evaluative research should provide actionable feedback to make product improvements.
Why is Evaluative Research Important?
Evaluative research should be implemented early in the development phase and in an iterative manner. The feedback will help you validate your ideas and concepts by putting the product in front of real users. You will understand how they interact with the product in real scenarios and identify what does and does not work. This type of research plays a critical role in evaluating the fit and usability of your product.
When to Use Evaluative Research?
Evaluative research is used to test an existing solution to a problem that has previously been identified and test its performance in the field with real users. There are two types of evaluative research.
Formative evaluation should be leveraged early in the development phase before a feature is widely implemented. The data collected is used to make product updates before a wider rollout.
This method is often quantitative but can be adapted into qualitative projects. The main goal is to understand how your design performs in general. Usually, this will be conducted at the end of the development cycle to see if there are any final tweaks the product needs before launching.
Summative research can also be used as a benchmark to track the progress of your product over time. This way you can see how its performance is improving with the addition of new features or process improvements.
5 Evaluative Research Methodologies
There are 5 main methodologies for evaluative research, which should be carefully selected based on the objectives of your study. The methodologies include A/B testing, tree testing, card sorting, usability testing, and surveys.
Real Examples of Generative and Evaluative Research
Say you are tasked with creating new features for a smart home app. You are having brainstorming sessions internally to come up with ideas, but you don’t want to create anything that won’t fill a need for your customers.
You opt to start a generative research project with your users to understand what types of problems they are facing and come up with new features using the data collected. User journey mapping is where you decide to start, as this will help you understand how your technology fits into their everyday lives.
Now that you know your team needs to create more features for personalization, they can get to work creating. Now is when evaluative research will play an important role. Once the ideas are finalized, they will be field tested with users to see how they perform and if they actually solve the users’ problems.
As evaluative research is specific and iterative, it can be deployed numerous times until the features perform optimally. At this point, the features will be ready to implement at scale.
This example shows how both types of research are equally valuable when creating new experiences and solving real problems for your users.
What’s More Important, Generative or Evaluative Research?
While there is a suitable time and place for each, both generative and evaluative research are extremely valuable to the product development processes. The research questions and objectives should be taken into consideration when choosing between the two options. As previously mentioned, generative research is more exploratory, and evaluative research is more prescriptive.
Most companies who are focused on creating a great user experience will use a mixture of both methodologies along their development processes. In general, generative research is used in the primary stages of development, while evaluative can and should be used throughout.
In summary, both types of research play a critical role in creating successful products, and they can be used separately or in tandem. As always, it’s important to develop well-thought-out research plans when developing any new product, feature, or experience for your customers.