UX researchers use generative methods to describe and evaluate user experiences and behaviors, get up-to-date on user issues and needs, and synthesize user research results to build hypotheses and generate insights. A generative research study yields a more meaningful understanding of users’ motivations, behaviors, and problems.
A few generative research methods include remote field studies, online focus groups, and mobile ethnography.
When to use generative research?
Researchers use generative research at the beginning of a UX research initiative. In generative research, UX designers, product managers, and researchers talk to users, collect data, and create hypotheses. The hypotheses will guide the user research project and help inform product development decisions.
For example, when developing a brand identity, researchers might first leverage mobile ethnography to uncover the target user base without knowing precisely who they are and their identities.
- Some characteristics of generative research that researchers should keep in mind include:
- A researcher aims to get the “big picture” and understand the motivating factors and pain points that drive the desired behavior.
- Researchers aren’t trying to reproduce the “app” with different features but are just looking for clues about the solution.
- Asking and answering open-ended questions that stimulate people to share their feelings, emotions, and overall perceptions of their experience is one of the most powerful techniques of exploratory research.
What does generative research involve?
Identify a problem statement
The first step in any UX research process is identifying a problem statement. A researcher aims to understand what the user cares about, what makes the user feel good, how users perceive product experience, what problems they face when using the product, and how users respond to the solution researchers have proposed.
Researchers can start by asking questions like, “What do users care about?” and “What is the user experience like with the product?”. Next, researchers should define what the problem is. To get a sense of what kind of problems users have, researchers should get feedback from a group of users that are representative of the target audience. This feedback will help researchers better understand user problems and why they’re having those issues.
By working with a cross-disciplinary team to gather research evidence, researchers can uncover potential solutions to those problems. This is an ideal place to collaborate with product managers to ensure researchers get user feedback in a way that gets them excited to use the product and to identify the kind of solution that most closely matches the users’ needs and wants.
Some possible research questions researchers could explore:
- What are the most significant pain points?
- What is the smallest change users would take to improve their experience with the product?
- What is the primary problem researchers want to solve?
“The feedback loop is essential in research and Saas app development, as it allows us to evaluate our progress and make necessary changes along the way. It also allows us to make adjustments along the way to create the product we desire.” – Petri Maatta, DreamMaker
Identify a need
Once researchers have defined a problem, the next step is determining what the user wants. This will help researchers formulate what the solution should look like.
Researchers need to understand users and use user research techniques such as remote observation to gather this information. To make sense of what users want, researchers can ask themselves questions like:
- What are the primary concerns of users?
- What do users expect when using the product?
- When shopping for a product at a store, what needs are they looking to fulfill?
When deciding what problems to dive into, researchers should remember that they are not their users. Researchers won’t get answers to all the issues, so it’s essential to be selective about which questions they ask and to focus on understanding the issues that matter most to them.
Once researchers have identified a problem and a need, the next step is brainstorming and defining a solution. Researchers shouldn’t just brainstorm random ideas. They should brainstorm solutions that solve their problem.
For example, a startup website might want to research how it can encourage users to register their email addresses on its site. They would then work to determine how to have users sign up through the newsletter. They could also look at ways to boost the newsletter’s performance and improve the usability of the subscription form.
The goal of brainstorming solutions as a researcher is to get a flow of ideas. These solutions should be long-term, not temporary. To get their minds flowing with ideas, researchers can ask questions such as:
- What would users be excited about if our product solved their problem?
- What would users be disappointed about if our product didn’t solve their problem?
Researchers will likely want to research more than one solution to the problem. In this case, the research question will be, “Which of the solutions listed below would solve our users’ problem and is most likely to work?”. Researchers can start by designing a prototype with the help of their research findings. Once they have a prototype, they can test it with their users. For example, if researchers need to optimize a newsletter sign-up form, they can test different versions of the form. They might also test how well different copy and images grab users’ attention. Participants could share mobile screen recordings in such a study to capture their experience with the sign-up form and the newsletter content design. Using a platform like EthOS, the participants can be segmented to test different versions via an A/B test of the content and design.
Researchers can also use mobile ethnography to work with product managers and designers to determine which features will improve the experience of users. Researchers can also leverage generative research to test users’ needs. Researchers can use these studies to measure user behavior and help improve the user experience.
Present research findings to the team
Once researchers have identified a problem and potential solutions, it’s time to bring everyone in the company together to consider the solutions. Using the EthOS insights dashboard, researchers and product teams can review the videos, pictures, and mobile screen recordings participants have shared.
The best way to present the research results is to ask a question that cuts across all the research efforts and draws on different teams to respond. These questions are the heart of any product team presentation.
Research is an ongoing process. If researchers are conducting studies for the first time, they must approach it as an iterative process. It means that researchers are constantly looking for new questions and need to test different hypotheses to refine the solutions they develop. By leveraging generative research, UX researchers end up with a design that truly solves the problem they’re looking to solve. The hypotheses and conclusions they arrive at during a study should result from careful inquiry, analysis, and synthesis. It’s less about asking questions and more about figuring out why questions are important.