Effective Ways to Plan and Budget for User Research

As we delve into Q4, and with 2019 right around the corner, many of our clients are in the process of planning budgets for the new year. We often receive questions about how to plan, maximize, and be “strategic” about where to spend money on UX services in the coming year – specifically when and how to use research to get the most value and impact for the organization. This article will focus on our research services and outline the value they provide as well as considerations for what stage to use them.

As User Experience Consultants, we recommend different approaches and services based on the business goals and user objectives our clients surface. Our goal is to never duplicate work that has already been done. Therefore, we don’t recommend research solutions or approaches before we have an understanding of our client’s budget, timing, and objectives. Below we outline some of the services that we provide and when they are most effective.

User Research and Strategy

What services could be included:

  • Stakeholder and end user interviews
  • Feature prioritization and project definition
  • Contextual inquiry
  • Competitive analysis

These services are generally about helping clients understand and/or validate if an idea has enough value to pursue and further develop. These services are intended to provide clarity and direction about user behavior and business goals as well as uncover technical requirements and limitations that may need to be considered as the project moves forward. In the end, the goal is to have a clear picture of the “why” of the project and the “what” of how the business will define success as a result.

Reasons for engaging in a User Research and Strategy project:

  • You have a great idea about a new digital product but you don’t know if your customers will buy it
  • You have an antiquated website or online application that has a loyal user base and you need to understand what you need to do in order to change it
  • There are many stakeholders and business units making demands and there are conflicts and turf wars erupting
  • It has been more than two years since you checked in with your customers to understand what they want from you

When not to engage in a User Research and Strategy project:

  • When you’ve already done the work. Make sure whoever you hire or talk to understands the scope of what work has already been completed so you don’t waste your budget duplicating an effort. If they insist on using their own methodology, ask them to identify the gaps they see and to explain what value there will be in doing additional work.
  • You have a number of known functional problems in your application that you need to identify, prioritize, and solve quickly. A usability evaluation may be a better choice.

How much does a User Research and Strategy project cost?

  • Planning Budget Range: $15,000-30,000 
  • Typical Timing: 4-6 weeks

Usability Research Services

What services could be included:

  • Unmoderated Usability Testing
  • Heuristic Analysis
  • One-on-One Usability Test

Usability research can be done in a number of ways. There are online testing services such as usertesting.com where you can conduct simple, effective unmoderated test of a website or application. These types of studies can provide quick insight about a direction to go in and validate that you’re going down the right road. This is a great solution for a limited budget and short time frame, or if you are iteratively developing something and want to get fast feedback at multiple points along the way.

Heuristic analysis provides an expert opinion about an existing application or website but there is no end-user interaction. You are relying on the ability and knowledge of the expert you hired in order to give you effective recommendations. You need to make sure that your consultant is both an expert in User Experience and best practices in usability AND understands the market you are in.

Facilitated one-on-one interviews are the most expensive to conduct but can provide the deepest insight into the mind and behaviors of your users. These sessions can be conducted in person or remotely/online. When sessions are conducted in person, you will be able to observe your user’s body language and facial expressions and ask deeper questions about their experience. Make sure you are using an experienced facilitator if you decide to conduct this type of research. Reports should both identify the problem and provide an actionable way to solve that problem that is also technically feasible.

Reasons for engaging in Usability Research Services:

  • You know that your users are missing or abandoning parts of a critical process but you are not sure why
  • The metrics you are seeing are not consistent with the actual outcome you are expecting even though the numbers should say otherwise
  • Your customer service center continues to get complaints about a group of consistent issues and you want to prioritize your efforts based on budget and timing requirements

When not to engage in Usability Research Services:

  • You have a bunch of concepts you want to get in front of users to see what works best. While an unfacilitated test could work for this, a focus group style interview is the best way to understand what visually feels right to your customer. A traditional usability test is best suited to uncover functional problems.
  • You know you are going to start from scratch and there is nothing to salvage from the legacy application. Conducting some traditional interviews would be a better use of your budget.

How much do Usability Research Services cost?

  • Planning Budget Ranges: 
    • Unmoderated Usability Testing: $12,000-15,000
    • Heuristic Analysis:  $12,000-15,000
    • One-on-One Usability Test: $22,000-30,000
  • Typical Timing: 2-5 weeks 

As you embark on budget planning, one thing to remember is that cost and timeline vary a lot between agencies, consulting firms, independent contractors, and your internal team. It is always wise to ask to see sample deliverables and/or case studies of projects to understand exactly what you will get in the end and if it will provide value for the business and your users. 

Our next article in this series will focus on concepting and design services. In the meantime, if you have any questions about how to approach your budget for next year and you will need a better strategic UX plan for next year, get in touch. We’d love to chat.

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