If you want great UX, you have to invest in conducting user research.

When you create a new site, product or feature, you can’t cross your fingers and hope that it will appeal to everyone. Striving for everyone will likely mean that you’ll appeal to no one. And there’s nothing worse than launching a site or product and having no one use it. This is why it is critical to define your target customer and user. You must get very specific about what problem your product or service solves and the people who have this problem.

Everything in development is easier when you have an intended customer in mind. Treat your target customer like an anchor or a thesis — they will guide every decision that you make including product features, pricing, branding and marketing. When you frame everything around the target customer or user, you’ll increase the chances that your product will succeed because each touch point will appeal to their specific needs, beliefs, values and desires.

The same focus should also apply to your participants for user research. If you want to get quality feedback and insights to shape your product, then you must talk to specific people who have the traits and qualities of your intended user.

Don’t Just Find People – Find the Right People

I’m sure you’ve heard of the popular coffee shop user research method. Asking random strangers in coffee shops for feedback about your product or idea is seen as a quick, easy, and affordable way to do research with little advanced planning. The key problem with this method is that you have no idea about type of people you are talking to. You don’t know if these people have any of the traits or qualities that your intended customer has. If you’re creating a product that has to do with coffee, then sure, a coffee shop is a great place to do research.

But, let’s say you’re creating a product that has to do with buying your first home, you’d want to talk to people who were serious about home ownership. The problem with the coffee shop method is that you don’t know if the random stranger you approach is interested in homeownership. Maybe they already own a home. Maybe they move a lot for their job and their company pays for their accommodation. Maybe it’s not within their financial reach right now.

In order to talk to people who are likely to be interested in your product, and as a result provide more relevant feedback, you must invest the time to recruit the right research participants.

Finding the right participants involves two key steps:

  1. Identifying the research goals
  2. Identifying criteria for ideal participants

1. Identifying The Research Goals

Before you start recruiting participants, you have to understand the business goals. What is the purpose of the research? What teams will use the research? What does each team hope to learn?

Research normally falls into two categories, strategy and usability. Strategy based research focuses on understanding a problem, desirability for a solution, and exploring the need and if it’s a big enough pain point for them to want a solution.  Usability based research focuses on more functional things and whether or not someone can complete a task, understand a product, find features, and more.

Some basic examples of research goals include validating a customer segment, confirming a consumer problem, understanding how repeat customers use the product, and testing a new feature or prototype.

2. Establish Criteria For Ideal Research Participants

Now that you understand your research goals, you can start to think about what types of people you need to talk to in order to achieve those goals.

It’s important to think of your ideal participant but also that types of participants you should exclude. A simple way to think about this is to list out the criteria such as “people who are between 30 – 55” or “people who are physically active.” Keep your criteria specific and write down as many criteria as possible.

Once you have all your criteria identified then you can start to write out questions that you could ask someone to see if they meet your criteria. Age is a simple one because you can just ask or use age ranges. For the fitness criteria, you could ask “On average, how many times are you physically active or work out per week (a minimum of 30 minutes)?” Then, you can have a range of answers for them to choose from. Create a question for each criteria and that will help you get specific about your research participants.


User research can take on a lot of forms. That’s why it’s important to get specific about whether your research needs to focus on strategy or usability. Once you know your research goals, you can start to identify the criteria for your ideal participants.

If you don’t take time to recruit the right mix of people, your feedback will be vague and it will be very difficult to synthesize your research because it will be all over the map. If you want to invest in creating a great UX then you must be prepared to invest the time and budget necessary to conduct great user research.

Are you ready to start doing more research? You can get my free PDF with over 35 user research questions that you could use in a research interview.

Want to go deeper and understand exactly how to do research — including recruiting users, making a screener, creating a discussion guide, conducting interviews, and synthesizing your findings? Then check out my course on user research, The 5-Step User Research Formula.