ARTICLE: Trevor Minton

​Research vs. design: balancing your UX budget for better outcomes

In the mad dash to launch a new product or major upgrade, product teams tend to expend more energy on designing features than on understanding users. In organizations that don’t place a high value on user insight, there’s a perception that design moves a project forward, while research holds it up.

Yes, research adds time to a project. And when you’re dealing with projects that need to move rapidly, that’s a big ask. But there’s a law of equilibrium at work here: Investing days and dollars to assess user needs early on saves days and dollars later.

User Research Makes Products Better

Top digital product companies understand how to balance spending between UX research and design. They realize that investing the right amount into each discipline will lead to developing a product that delights consumers and delivers to the bottom line. Following the proper research and design process allows those resources to be spent wisely. And that process begins with understanding user needs to validate the product team’s assumptions, designing based on that insight, and then validating the design through user testing.

Fundamentally, there are two reasons why users don’t return to a product: It includes features they don’t want or need, or it doesn’t work the way they expect it to. If the product is a disruption rather than an aid, they get frustrated and they seek an alternative.

When product teams understand how users work they’re better equipped to deliver a functional solution. Research also illuminates users’ emotional states and professional relationships, how they feel while they work. That’s a particular challenge in EdTech: Instructors don’t exactly love chores like grading quizzes. Developing a tool that goes beyond functional (grading quizzes) to delightful (making grading fun) turns UX into a competitive advantage for the product.

Furthermore, research streamlines the design and development process, because it eliminates requests from stakeholders for ideas and features that aren’t warranted. It allows the product team to test out those “Could we add Feature X?” queries from higher-ups before investing design and development time. It identifies potential bugs when they’re easy enough to fix. Like carpenters who “measure twice, cut once,” the right research-design-test process prevents costly rework.

User Research Builds the Bottom Line

The business impact of high-performing experiences is evident in Forrester’s CX Index, which shows that digital brands that emphasize consumer experience reap dramatically better financial returns on the whole compared to their markets and direct competitors.

User experience is a key component of the overall consumer experience, and more tech CEOs are starting to recognize UX as a differentiating factor for their product or service. Even as a company’s public image takes a beating, consumers will stick with it if they still love the experience of using the product. Consider Facebook: Making headlines for all the wrong reasons, but still used multiple times a day by more than a billion users who enjoy the platform.

Understanding users allows tech companies to create experiences that make them feel good, which helps to increase loyalty. The bottom-line benefit? It’s six times less expensive to keep current customers than to gain new ones.

Two Ways to Manage UX Spending

The Right Budget

Product leaders may be hard-pressed to justify increases in spending on research to their leadership. The time and budget allocated to research varies by project, of course, but its cost-saving promise is hard to ignore: For every $1 spent on research to identify and resolve a problem before or during product design, you’ll spend $10 to address it in development, and $100 or more to fix it after release.

The Right Research

Perhaps your team is spending an appropriate amount on UX services, but you may not be utilizing the funds wisely. For example, if you’re not conducting the right kinds of user research at the right times, your design team cannot be effectively addressing the needs of users. Ultimately, you’ll release features and products that don’t really address what users want or need; those users become frustrated and may act out in various ways (such as rating the product poorly or abandoning it altogether). That usually leads to a major rework cycle, which is very costly.

The optimal time for user research is during the planning and design stages. Identifying problems and finding solutions for them is much easier and less expensive when you’re planning and mapping than when you’re building — or worse, after launch.

All the design skill in the world is worthless unless you’ve done the research to understand what your users actually want. If your organization hasn’t totally embraced UX, it may sound like research sucks up a lot of time. But once it’s part of your process, research, design, and development run in parallel; you research one feature while you’re designing another and testing a third. In this seamless workflow, you won’t even feel the differentiation in the time you’re spending on each of those components. And that’s how successful, UX-centered companies run.


  • Photo of Trevor Minton
    Trevor Minton

    As CXO at Openfield, Trevor collaborates closely with our clients and ensures that our team delivers world-class design thinking and execution that results in strong emotional connections between users and digital products. He is passionately enthusiastic about music, local and international soccer, automotive design and racing, and getting under the hood of his old but new-to-him BMW to keep it on the road for another couple of decades.

Spread the word – help avoid the traps of digital product development!