Two pillars of user experience legwork -- research and discovery*. But what's the difference between them, really?

In practice, I've heard the terms used nearly interchangeably, and sometimes it feels like "discovery" is invoked as just a fancy way of saying research. One answer that a quick Google search uncovered: in research we seek something specific, whereas discovery is open-ended in what we're trying to find. True?

And of course, in a dictionary sense, there's a clear difference between to research and to discover. When it comes to UX, though, do we mean something particular or different as it relates to our work, our methods, our process?


*Not to be confused with discovery as it relates to affordance.

4 Answers 4


Simply said, there is a causal relation between these two terms.

Research is the action, while discovery is the result. You discover something because you research it.

Research is the "process" and "discovery" is the product.

To name a few more differences, research can be extremely complex and diversified.

Research supports all kinds of strategies and proactive thinking, while discovery is simple, irrespective of its subject. You simply find something. Sure, afterwards you can embellish it and present it in a structured manner, but that's another process.

Discovery is also a subjective reality, whereas research is objective. As long as you engage in the process, you know that you are conducting a research. Discovery, on the other hand, is a matter of evaluating your outcome: you can either consider that you've made a discovery, or not. It is all about how you see the result of your research.


I think in terms of the core competencies of a UX practitioner being RESEARCH, DESIGN, PROTOTYPE and TESTING, it would be easiest to explain the difference in such a way that it would pass the "lay person's test".

That is, RESEARCH encompasses the process and procedure for removing uncertainty by collecting data, processing it and then analysing the information so that you can form an opinion about something. The outcome of doing research is to provide input towards the design process rather than basing the proposed solution on assumptions.

The term DISCOVERY, using the above general description of research, refers to the stage or phase in the research process where you are mapping out the problem domain or uncovering information that provides context to the research work that you are carrying out.

The outcome of the discovery phase is to narrow the scope of the UX work to something that can be summarized in a problem statment.


There is not one common definition: some say that research is a step in the discovery process; others seem to use research and discovery interchangeably; someone even described them as one skillset; or like the comment by @benny-skogberg understand discovery as an initial idea before doing research.

All are valid in their own sake; the one that makes sense to me is that discovery follows research, in the sense that good research of what is out there and analysis of results can lead the researchers to discover new aspects of a domain. I find that the idea that good research facilitates discovery works.


Relating to the UX process this is quite simple.

Discovery is the period spent finding out the extent of the job at hand. This means studying the brief, running internal workshops with the client, holding stakeholder interviews, etc. Stuff that really adds to the definition of the the task.

Research is trying to find out what product the users what at the end of the process - Now you know what the client wants, you need to find out how that sits with the users and how to keep them happy while solving the business problem.

Discovery usually only happens at the beginning of a project where research continues throughout design and development, right up to the delivery.

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