Web design
Web design

The Power of UX Research

Published on
September 19, 2022
The Power of UX Research
Founder & Creative Director at Mercury Jane Media, Jennifer Ross
Jennifer Ross
Founder & Full-Stack Designer, Mercury Jane Media
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Think about the last time you encountered a bad user experience. Maybe you had trouble finding what you were looking for on a website, or the app you were using was difficult to navigate. Maybe even something as simple as filling out a form was headache-inducing.

By conducting user research, I can identify these types of problems before they negatively impact our clients. In this post, I'll explain why UX research is so important, and I'll give some examples of how I’ve used it to improve my website designs.

Crissy Stile, owner of Barrel of Books and Games, showed me her existing e-commerce website and helped me understand what functionality she was lacking.

Auditing competitors and the client's existing digital marketing infrastructure leads to more comprehensive, long-term solutions

When I start a new project, one of the first questions I ask my client is "Who are your top three competitors?" No matter the industry, it's important to understand what competitors are doing well, and where there may be opportunities my client can take advantage of that they aren't.

A few key things I look for in a competitor audit are:

- Their website design and user experience

- Their overall digital marketing strategy

- Their use (if any) of digital automation

- Their search engine rankings and SEO strategies

Once I've established a strong understanding of how my client's competitors are and aren't leveraging their websites, I need to thoroughly examine their digital marketing infrastructure. I've learned to look at this holistically rather than focusing on their website alone (even though that's the ultimate thing we will be creating or overhauling). I do this because, in this initial research phase, it's important to determine how the website can integrate with other third-party tools that automate processes or extend functionality in ways that make the clients' lives and their end users' lives easier. I also want to make sure the design aesthetic, language, and overall branding are consistent across different channels (social media, email marketing, etc.). Putting in this time and effort on the frontend allows me to create a website that helps my client work smarter and scale their efforts. It isn't just a quick, pretty UI update.

These are a few key things I examine and evaluate when auditing a client's digital marketing infrastructure:

- Any problems with their current website (outdated or poorly-designed UI, branding is consistent, broken or missing functionality, not accessible, difficult to navigate, unclear who their product or service is for and how to get it, etc.)

- The other tools and systems they're using (social media, CRM, email marketing, appointment-booking software, etc.)

- Their overall digital marketing strategy

- Their search engine rankings and SEO strategies

Conducting these audits provides a solid foundation to work from as I move on to the next step in my UX research process: creating personas and user stories.

Creating personas and user stories helps the right people in the right way

A persona is a fictional character that represents a specific type of user who will be interacting with my client's website. Creating personas helps me pinpoint the needs, wants, and motivations of my client's target audience.

Personas typically include:

- A name

- A picture (visualizing really does help!)

- A quote that captures their personality or problem/goal

- Their demographics (age, location, job title, education level, etc.)

- Their tech savviness

- Their goals (what do they want to achieve by using the product or service?)

- Their challenges (what pain points are they experiencing that we can help them with?)

Here's an example from the initial UX research I conducted for the Barrel of Books and Games website redesign:

Name: Beverly

Picture: A grandmother standing next to her two grandchildren (a middle-school-aged girl and an upper-elementary-aged boy)

Quote: "I'm always looking for gifts for my grandkids and like to buy them books they'll really enjoy, especially ones that are part of a series. That way I can keep adding to their collection and know they'll actually read it."

Demographics: 70 years old, lives in Mount Dora, FL, retired public school teacher

Tech savviness: She is comfortable shopping online, but needs to be able to find what she needs quickly and purchase with as few steps/friction as possible.

Goals: Easily find and purchase popular book series for children and young adults.

Challenges: She gets overwhelmed when there are too many different products to look at and, depending on how they're grouped, can be difficult to identify which books are all part of a series and their proper order.

Personas help me understand what kind of content, language, and design will appeal to my client's ideal customer as well as what challenges they might face while using their product or service. Personas can also help me understand what kind of user stories to create to ensure the new website is effectively meeting their needs and making their life easier. User stories are short, simple descriptions of a feature told from the perspective of the person who will be using it. Using Beverly's persona, they typically follow this format:

- As a grandmother (demographic or role-based identifier), I want to easily purchase books that are part of a popular series for my grandkids online (action that will help them).

Creating personas and user stories is powerful because it allows the client and I to put ourselves in the target audience's shoes and understand their needs. It also helps us to create more targeted, user-centered content, which can lead to a better overall experience for the people using the website and make them more likely to use/purchase the client's product or service.

Check out another example of a helpful user persona and journey map in my case study for Melissa Ems Insurance Agency.

After surveying Barrel of Books and Games customers, we decided to group books in a series in order and allow users to make selections with a dropdown option.

Surveying and conducting usability tests ensure we're getting meaningful feedback from actual users and can make adjustments accordingly

Once I have a solid understanding of the target audience's needs, wants, and motivations, I move on to creating outlines for the site's pages,  wireframes, and prototypes.

When the user flows are more fleshed out, we can start to get more granular. During this phase of determining how information will be organized and how specific interactions will work, I've found surveying the website's users and conducting usability tests to be invaluable.

Usability testing is a type of user research that helps us understand how easy or difficult it is for people to use the website. It involves having real people use the site (or see a demo) and give us feedback. This feedback is usually in the form of written or verbal comments.

For the Barrel of Books and Games website redesign, I had store owner Crissy Stile show her customers options for how products could be organized and selected on the new site and provide direct, immediate feedback. They did this as quickly and simply as possible while they were already at the store checking out. The feedback we received helped us definitively choose between two options (typically) and feel confident that those would provide the best user experience moving forward.

Usability tests and surveys can be extremely helpful during the initial design process, but doing this on a regular basis is equally as important because it allows us to also get feedback on the changes we make over time and ensure that they're helping rather than hurting.


Utilizing user research is critical during the website design process in order to create a user-centered experience. Personas and user stories help us understand the target audience's needs, while surveys and usability tests provide valuable feedback that can be used to make adjustments to the design. Regularly conducting user research helps to ensure that the website continues to meet the needs of its users over time.