Essential Tools for User Research

Essential Tools for User Research

05 Jun 2020

User research is an integral part of design process. When a team conducts user research, it focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations and this understanding helps to design better user experience.

At the same time, user research is extremely complex activity. Not only a team needs to select a proper user research technique (or techniques), but the team also needs to summarize research findings and make them actionable.

In this article, I've listed essential tools that will help a team to maximize the outcome from user research.

Value proposition

A statement that maps out the key aspects of product: what it is, who it is for and how it will be used. Value proposition helps the team create consensus around what the product will be.

A thought value proposition help UX designers to keep the focus in the important things Image by UXMag

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Competitive-analysis report

Analysis of products competitors that maps out their existing features in a comparable way. Report helps you understand current industry standards and identify opportunities to innovate in a given area.

Competitive-analysis report. Image by yellowpencil

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Affinity Diagrams

Affinity diagrams are a method that helps product teams make sense of all research data that they have. When you create an affinity diagram, you organize your ideas into groups with common themes or relationships. Affinity diagrams are especially valuable when you have a lot of mixed data, such as facts, ethnographic research, ideas from brainstorms, user opinions, user needs, insights, and design issues.

Affinity diagram template by conceptdraw
Affinity diagram for IxDA by Jen Blatz

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Business Model Canvas

Business Model Canvas is a template for documenting existing business models. It is a visual chart with elements describing an organization's or product's value proposition, infrastructure, users, and finances.

Business Model Canvas. Image by Wikipedia

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Design thinking canvas

Design thinking canvas is a tool that will walk you through the steps of the design thinking from People (Who will we need to involve?) to Impact (What difference will we make?).

Design thinking canvas. Image by designthinkingcanvas

Empathy map

An empathy map is a collaborative visualization used to articulate what we know about a particular type of user. An empathy map helps product teams gain a deeper insight into their target audeince, their goals and their motivations.

Empathy map canvas. Image by Dave Gray

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Cognitive maps

A cognitive map is any visual representation of a person's (or a group's) mental model for a given process or concept. Cognitive maps have no strict visual rules that they need to obey.

Example of Cognitive mapping. Image by NNGroup

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User persona

User personas are fictional characters, which product teams create based upon their research in order to represent the different user types that might use their product or service in a similar way.

User persona example. Image by xtensio

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Hopes and fears

The hopes and fears activity is an effective way to gauge participants' attitudes about a project. "Hopes" reveal your teams' expectations about what can be accomplished. "Fears" reveal their doubts about making an investment to work together.

Hopes and fears. Image by IBM

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Use Cases

A use case is a written description of how users will perform tasks in your app. Use case is always written from a user's point of view. Each use case is represented as a sequence of simple steps, beginning with a user's goal and ending when that goal is fulfilled.

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User flow

A user flow is a visual representation of the many ways that can be taken when using an app or website. For example, the flowchart of an eCommerce service begins with the consumer's entry point on the product, like a homepage, and ends with the final action or outcome, like purchasing a product.

User flow example. Image by careerfoundry

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User journey map

A user journey map is a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. In its most basic form, journey mapping starts by compiling a series of user actions into a timeline. Not all the steps in the user journey will be about the interaction with an actual product.

A user journey map template. Image by NNGroup

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Mind map

A mind map is hierarchical digram that shows relationships among pieces of the information. A mind map is a perfect way to visualize any topic that has many steps, nodes or subsections.

Example of a mind map. Image by NNGroup

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Concept maps

Concept maps are a more complex version of mind maps. They place an emphasis on identifying the relationships between topics.

Example of a concepts map. Image by NNGroup


A storyboard is a tool that helps product teams visually predict and explore a user's experience with a product. It's very much as thinking about your product as if it was a movie in term of how people would use it. It would help you to understand how people would flow through the interaction with it over time.

Storyboard example. Image by Image credit: Chelsea Hostetter, Austin Center for Design

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SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a method to evaluate strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T) of a given product, service, or strategy.

SWOT. Image by packtpub

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For Adobe XD users

Sachin Mittal wrote an excellent article All UX Brainstorming Templates Under 1 Toolin which he shares ready-to-use templates for many techniques mentioned above. It is a must-to-read article for all Adobe XD users.

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