User research has the two-fold aim of i) understanding a problem and ii) finding the best solution for that problem. A very important distinction needs to be made between two types of research: generative / exploratory, which focuses on problems and users, and evaluative, which focuses on solutions and testing. They both equally crucial for UX but have different places in the product design cycle and make use of different types of research methodologies and tools.
Generative research / Exploratory research
Generative research is exploratory in nature and allows you to uncover things that you don’t know yet, or investigate problems that you do not know much about. The goal is to better understand a problem in order to inform the design of new solutions, services, or products. It is also used to find out more about your target users, in order to design solutions tailored to their needs.
Generative or exploratory research is a type of research aimed at better understanding a little-known problem, phenomenon, or target user base, in order to uncover opportunities for innovation and inform the design of solutions tailored to the user's needs.
Generative research methods
- “Problem” interviews
- Focus groups
- Contextual Inquiry
- Secondary research / Benchmarking
You can think of evaluative research as “testing” – whether it refers to an already shipped product, of a lo- or hi- fidelity prototype, or of a yet-to-be-conceptualised idea. It allows us to assess whether the thing being tested is going in the right direction or needs some adjustments. The goal is to identify issues with your existing solution and identify room for improvement.
Evaluative research is a type of research aimed at evaluating a product or concept by means of collecting data or feedback in order to identify potential issues and improvement opportunities.
- Usability testing
- “Solution” interviews
- Product evaluation surveys
- Web analytics
Understanding Generative and Evaluative research
Generative research is particularly relevant for experienced UX researchers and strategists who aspire to get to know their users in-depth to understand problems that don’t yet have a solution and for service designers who aspire to identify potential for innovation to create solutions that don’t exist yet; whereas evaluative research is more relevant for product teams (designers, developers, product owners should all be involved in the evaluative research process) with existing solutions that need to be tested. In the ideal product development cycle, generative research always comes first, and evaluative research takes over after every iteration of product design. This is because generative research is an inductive approach (= it helps you develop a theory), while evaluative research is a deductive approach (= it helps you test that theory). Think of it like this: inductive reasoning will lead you to have many ideas based on observations that you make, and you will then need deductive reasoning in order to test those ideas and find the one that works best.
|Generative Research||Evaluative Research|
|Focuses on problems and users||Focuses on solutions|
|Mostly user research||Mostly usability testing|
|Mainly qualitative||Both quali and quanti|
|Collects user requirements||Finds usability issues|
|Early in design cycle||Later in design cycle|