Mar 05, 2024

Want your business to perform like a Google or Meta? Focus on user research.

Anna Greenleaf
Matt Daughtry
Jerilyn Huddleston

Anna Greenleaf, Matt Daughtry, and Jerilyn Huddleston

Want your business to perform like a Google or Meta? Focus on user research.

Google spends $40 billion on user research. Forty billion dollars. FORTY. BILLION. DOLLARS. That's $10 billion more than the gross domestic product of Iceland and $20 billion more than Jamaica. That jaw-dropping amount represents Google’s annual budget for research (Meta is not far behind, at about $35 billion). Why? User research has played a pivotal role in shaping their most successful products, from Google Meet to Google Search to Instagram.

Fortunately, your business doesn't have to spend billions to start reaping the benefits. As Betty Crocker learned several decades ago, even smaller-scale user research projects and budgets produce critical insights and extraordinary value. Bottom line, top-performing businesses invest in user experience research.

User research in action

In the mid 1900s, Betty Crocker introduced an instant cake mix that was hailed as a groundbreaking innovation in the food industry. Despite its convenience—just add water!—the mix failed to resonate with consumers. Sales quickly plateaued, perplexing executives. Why weren’t people embracing such an effortlessly easy cooking solution?

Rather than opting for a mere marketing tweak, executives turned to the power of customer research. Ernest Dichter, a psychologist and marketing consultant, delved into the mystery and unearthed a surprising culprit—guilt. Homemakers, invested in crafting delightful meals for their beloved families, felt a sense of detachment when using the instant cake mix. Simply adding water contributed little, robbing them of the typical ownership and pride they associated with cooking.

The solution? Require a few eggs. The simple act of cracking and adding eggs amplified customers’ emotional investment, making it feel more like the meaningful baking they were used to. Betty Crocker implemented this change, resulting in a surge of sales.

While the complete narrative is more nuanced, the key takeaway remains: Assumptions about user needs can lead to product failure. Executives assumed customers wanted the most efficient product, but success required more than just speed. It took user research and empathy to design a product and experience that not only triumphed but genuinely met consumers’ needs and desires.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper to explore how efficient and affordable user research sets businesses up for success.

What is user research?

The Interaction Design Foundation defines user research, or user experience (UX) research, as the comprehensive study of users aimed at cultivating empathy and unraveling user needs. Employing a myriad of methodologies, this practice unearths actionable insights that guide product and service development. Through user research, Betty Crocker learned a hard truth when reworking their product: Research, rather than assumptions, best informs design.

Conducting user research throughout the product lifecycle prevents costly mistakes, as it is far easier to change features or cut products altogether before development and release. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, for every $1 invested in UX research, $10 is saved in development and $100 is saved in post-release maintenance.

UX Research Savings
UX Research Savings

While avoiding mistakes and saving money sounds great, a common sentiment we hear is it’s just not realistic. The return on investment is simply not worth the extra time and money needed for user research. These claims, however, are not supported by the evidence.

Let’s break down these arguments:

“It’s not worth it”

Consider Anthropologie, where a UX-driven checkout redesign led to a 24% increase in conversion rates. Staples, too, experienced a remarkable 80% surge in site visitors, a 45% reduction in drop-off rates, and a 67% increase in repeat customers following a research-driven site overhaul. Across companies, superior user experiences elevate visit-to-lead conversions by up to 400%, debunking the notion that user research is not worth the investment.

“We don’t have the budget”

The cost of rectifying errors post-development skyrockets to 100 times that of pre-development fixes. And companies investing in user experience witness a cascade of benefits—lower customer acquisition costs, reduced support expenses, increased customer retention, and an expanded market share.

These dividends often mean the research even pays for itself. American Airlines slashed the cost of fixes 60–90% by addressing usability problems when designing their website, while the Staples redesign sent third-quarter sales soaring 491% compared to the previous year.

“We don’t have the time”

User research and comprehensive UX design, far from elongating product lifecycles, streamline decision-making and task prioritization, slashing product development cycles 33–50% and saving 50% of development rework time.

User research processes do not necessarily need much time, either. Testing with just five users can uncover 85% of usability problems. And with the advent of sites such as dscout,, and Optimal Workshop, coupled with adept researchers asking the right questions, getting swift access to on-demand participants and high-quality data has never been easier.

Testing with users
Testing with users

Across the spectrum, user research consistently yields increased conversions, reduced costs, and time saved. If these compelling statistics haven't tipped the scales, check out this wealth of additional data that will sway even the staunchest skeptics.

Getting started with user research

For those no longer in need of convincing, how can you get started and apply user research in your own product cycles? At first, it can be difficult to know when to initiate user research, but the best approach is to listen to the questions your team is asking itself. Depending on those questions, there are two types of user research that might be helpful: generative research (are we building the right thing?) and evaluative research (are we building the thing right?).

Generative research: Are we building the right thing?

Initial research is helpful any time you start a new product lifecycle and find yourself wondering any of the following questions:[SB(3] [KH4]

  • What is the root problem we're trying to solve?

  • What are the goals, attitudes, and behaviors of the target audience?

  • How do competitors address this problem and how can we differentiate ourselves?

It’s important you don’t use the wrong method to research specific questions, problems, or challenges. In these scenarios, you’ll want to take an exploratory (or generative) research approach to avoid assumptions, pinpoint problems your users are experiencing, and ensure your team is building the right thing. This can be done by employing methodologies like:

  • Diary studies: Longitudinal method that involves participants maintaining a diary over weeks to a month, providing a deeper understanding of long-term user behaviors such as product usage and thoughts and feelings during daily service interactions.

  • User Interviews: One-on-one conversations that delve into participants' day-to-day tasks, scenarios, and challenges, offering a deep understanding of motivations, behaviors, and pain points.

  • Contextual inquiries: Ethnographic method that involves observing and interviewing users in their natural environment where they would typically use a product or service, providing profound insights into workflows, habits, and pain points within the context of real-world usage.

Evaluative research: Are we building the thing right?

Once your team begins designing a solution, you may find yourself asking, “Are the designs moving in the correct direction? And how should this content be organized?”

If so, it’s time to turn to evaluative research methodologies to help validate the envisioned solution, assess whether it aligns with user needs before it hits the market, and ensure your team is building the thing right. Common methodologies include:

  • Moderated usability testing: This evaluative-, task- and stimuli-driven user interview is conducted one-on-one and raises qualitative insights about user experience issues and design opportunities. Its moderated nature empowers researchers to establish trust, probe users for more information, and gather candid feedback.

  • Unmoderated usability testing: Ensuring a rapid turnaround, this asynchronous methodology gathers user feedback that is highly targeted to specific questions, pages, or flows on a design.

  • Card sorting and tree testing: Often leveraged when designing a complex menu structure or site navigation, card sorting involves participants organizing content into predefined or self-labeled groups, laying the foundation for intuitive categories. Tree testing validates the proposed menu structure or site navigation by having participants search for content, ensuring the navigation is seamless and aligns with user expectations.

While each of these research methodologies have their benefits and challenges, they all make certain that product and service design are correctly informed by data, rather than assumptions.

Learning more

As Jakob Nielsen at the Nielsen Norman Group so eloquently sums it up, “User research is a reality check… You can speculate on what customers want, or you can find out. The latter is the more fruitful approach.”

Avoid the pitfalls of making assumptions, investing hours of work only to realize a product has failed. Instead, embark on the right path from the outset by actively involving and empathizing with your users.

Whether your company needs to reinvigorate its user research process or is just beginning to explore this practice, the key is to start dipping your toes into the waters of generative and evaluative methodologies throughout the product lifecycle. For more information on how a research-driven approach pays off, download Credera’s UX Research Overview Guide.

How Credera can help

We have extensive experience helping organizations of all kinds gain a stronger understanding of their audiences and customers. If you have an initiative in need of user research support, be sure to get in touch with us at

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