How to Do Great UX Research on a Budget

Don’t have much to spend on UX design? Low- or no-cost approaches exist for the price of a little more effort, instead.

Have a user experience project but not much budget? There are ways to do it with fewer resources that still give you a good outcome. These tips will help your user experience team succeed while keeping costs low.

Use the talent you’ve already got

User interviews are often the best place to start with UX research, and your own team can conduct the interviews directly with end users. This takes investment up front in designing a standard interview format and training on how to conduct the interview, but the DIY approach can yield high-quality results. 

Of course, depending on the product you’re designing, the end user might not be available. UX research doesn’t have to be large-scale or expensive to be effective. It’s about leveraging the resources you have. And one of the best resources in any organization is its people.

There is usually someone in an organization who has significant knowledge of the end user. Perhaps that is a customer support technician or someone who used to be in the role of the end user. Maybe it is someone who has deep knowledge of the industry, even if not product experience. Get creative and ask around until you have gathered as many data points as possible. You can always decide to weight feedback based on how many degrees of separation exist between the user you interview and the product itself, but don’t overlook the resources you have in-house. 

Tip: When you have a deliverable in the prelaunch phase, consider reaching out to your sales team to ask whether there are customers in the pipeline who might want to test the product before it is released. It’s free and provides an opportunity for end-user input. The potential customers’ feedback loops back into the research phase of UX design and gives your sales team another follow-up point.

 

Prioritize your needs

Part of the research process is gathering enough information to help you prioritize what needs to be built to establish a minimum viable product (MVP) and what functionality is not mission-critical. If features and functionality have already been laid out before you begin your research, use the data you gather to validate what is a must-have and what can wait. If your UX budget is tight, this will help your team to focus its resources on where you’ll have the most impact. That, in turn, helps the business’s bottom line and increases the product’s chance of success.

The same approach applies to investment in third-party apps and tools. You likely don’t need an expensive design tool to give visual context when conducting user interviews. There are a multitude of free sketching apps, such as Sketchbook, or simply the classic pencil and paper. It doesn’t have to be fancy to get the job done. In fact, sometimes the less finished the drawing, the more it’ll elicit feedback, since participants won’t view it as something that’s already polished and ready to be shipped.

 

Use analytics tools

If there are already analytics tools in place, such as Google Analytics, mine that tool for data points. Particularly on existing web-based applications, analytics tools help to identify what customers find interesting, how long they linger, and where and when they drop off. These data can and should be incorporated into your research.

 

Look to your competition

Is there a competitor for your product? Take a look at what they offer—it’s as easy as that. Note how long it takes to onboard someone onto their platform, the steps they require, what flows well and what doesn’t. Understanding the existing landscape helps your team to set expectations to meet or, ideally, exceed.

 

Think outside the product box

In terms of usability, ask anyone—employees in your organization, friends, family, neighbors—What app do you use that you really like using? And why? This can help establish the emotional experience of what you are trying to achieve, and it can help you understand what the usability expectation is. 

Here’s an example: A few years ago, I was working on a mobile app for a large organization. One of the managers whom I interviewed mentioned that he missed the days of PDAs (personal data assistants, like Palm Pilot) because those devices often shipped with a built-in stylus. Comments like these might help your team design a product that meets common challenges that hadn’t been considered in the original product design, such as dexterity issues when entering a high volume of data on a small device.

 

Conclusion

Whether you’re at a swiftly growing startup company that’s expanding faster than your existing team can manage, an established organization trying to change the way you work, or just looking for a place to start when it comes to UX research, remember that good UX design doesn’t have to be expensive. In future iterations, you can—and should!—invest more back into the UX design process. But using these tips when you’re on a tight budget can still provide you with enough quality data to get started.

 

For more on UX research, check out Understanding UX Design for Agile Environments.