How to Conduct UX Research on a Budget

We are living in the Age of the Customer, and UX is leading the charge in web and mobile design. Humans have evolved beyond the point of buying products without researching or caring about reviews. The modern business must move past the old advertising methods that write in big bold letters, “Try X. We are the best!” There are too many comparable products out there that are also “the best.”

To survive in a market saturated with competition, companies must invest in developing their software products and other customer touchpoints around the user experience. The best way to assess your customer’s experience with company main touchpoints and products is through user research. There are plenty of methods to conduct user research, however, many of these are expensive and come with a long timetable. For companies on a shoe string budget, pushing out a working product is more important than quality UX design. However, not taking the time to do quality user research should not be an option even for companies on the tightest budget. Below, you’ll find a few methods to conduct user research on a budget.

Desk Research

In the old days, in order to conduct adequate research companies had to go out into the field to collect data. Now there’s an entire world of UX research available at your fingertips. If you want to get a jump on research, bypass traditional primary research and look for secondary research. The psychology of user interactions with computers and technology is a growing area of study. With a little creativity, it is possible to find great information about user behaviors and decision making from a variety of industries.

The key takeaway here is that you shouldn’t limit research on user behavior to just your specific industry. Browsing other industry data could answer questions you may have about your audience.

Usability Testing

The usability method involves inviting users to test prototypes and mockups. This is one of the most common types of tests run by companies doing UX research. Usability testing is almost a requirement for web and mobile app designers. It involves watching users actually navigate your websites and apps and recording their reactions and statements as raw data for your design team. Large companies can spend thousands of dollars on usability testing, but it doesn’t have to be super expensive. Take a gander at Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy on fantastic usability testing to learn more.

A/B Testing

A/B Testing involves showing users two different options and asking for feedback. Ask users for a list of pros and cons for both prototypes. The design team will then take this data and modify prototypes to eliminate flaws or combine pros to make a completely new hybrid prototype. The Handbook of Usability Testing does a great job of discussing usability testing and A/B Testing.

Online Questionnaires

Another inexpensive UX research method commonly used is online questionnaires. It is simple enough to disseminate questionnaires to hundreds or thousands of participants with just a click of a button, however there should be a significant amount of time dedicated to preparing surveys, publishing and analyzing findings. There are a variety of awesome online survey tools available to get you started — Wufoo or Typeform are a few. Be sure to write good screener questions to eliminate unwanted participants. Here are some great tips for writing surveys. Use social media, your professional network, and emails to scrounge up respondents for your questionnaires. If that doesn’t work, recruit people right on your site.

Remember that the point of a survey is to dig into the user’s psychology. How are they finding information? What types of information are important to them? The right questions will uncover your customer’s needs, desires and pains.

Guerilla Research

Guerilla research (a phrase popularized by Steve Blank) is a new age way of saying field research. Sometimes companies need fast answers. While surveys are great, the quickest way to get specific information is taking questions straight to the people.

To find the best data for your UX design research, target the areas where your particular audience likes to congregate. Go to places where your audience will have the time to help you, like in a restaurant, park, or coffee shop. This type of UX design research can be fun and enlightening, as people love to share their technological experiences with professionals in a position to improve them.

You can also use this method to test your prototypes in the field. Just take your prototypes on your laptop, smartphone or tablet and ask people for their feedback. You’ll be surprised at the usability issues that strangers can point out.

Focus Groups

Gather users together in an informal setting to discuss your products and services. Researchers have been using this method for eons, but it has been criticized for its propensity to encourage “group think” and ignore unmet needs. Check out this article on how to effectively utilize focus groups for UX design research.

Remote Interviews

Interviews can be a bear to schedule. Many researchers lose participants due to schedule challenges. Now we can use online tools like Doodle to sync schedules together and Google Hangouts or Skype to conduct interviews. This drastically reduces the time it will take to organize several in-person interviews. Remote interviews won’t give you the volume of data that other types of research methods will, but remote interviews can be useful in terms of uncovering major usability issues and analyzing various reactions to them.


A lot of research methods can fall under this category. If you are working on a budget, use free tools like Google Analytics as a starting point for data collection, or spend a little cash on tools like Betaloop to collect qualitative feedback from users. Betaloop’s software collects qualitative data from users on the design and performance of product features. Data is then organized and displayed in a feed that allows product managers to create GitHub issues on the go without leaving the app. Analytics tools answer questions like: How long does it take for users to complete a task? What features are most popular? What paths do people usually take? Once you’ve got the raw data, be sure to pair it with real qualitative research for insight.

It doesn’t take a ton of money to engage in solid UX research. By utilizing the power of digital tools, inexpensive research methods and interaction with consumers, your company will get the raw data and insights it needs to improve the user experience for your audience. Whatever methods you choose, don’t underestimate the importance of research.

Technology enthusiast, product designer, entrepreneur, world traveler, patron of the arts, student of life...

Technology enthusiast, product designer, entrepreneur, world traveler, patron of the arts, student of life...