However bold the question may seem it is still valid since how many UX Pros we are out there do we really know things before we test on real users?

UX teams are responsible for creating desirable experiences for users. Yet many organizations fail to include users in the development process. Without customer input, organizations risk creating interfaces that fail, writes Hoa Loranger of the Nielsen Norman Group.

“User experience cannot exist without users. Creating user interfaces involves intricate and complex decisions. User research is a tool that can help you achieve your goals.

Even the most well thought out designs are assumptions until they are tested by real users. Different types of research can answer different types of questions. Know the tools and apply them accordingly. Leaving the user out is not an option.”

Ref: UX without users is not UX

So the question is: can UX live without users? Can UX without research be UX?

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    I think it is probably the effectiveness or impact of UX without research that you are really after here? Without users there wouldn't be products to create, and there would be no design at all, regardless of the approach you take. I think the important question is whether customer input needs to be at the research or testing stage (or both) of UX design.
    – Michael Lai
    Aug 17 '14 at 0:02
  • @MichaelLai In a way - yes! I realize that bad UX also is UX, but I asked the question in a different way to raise eyebrows. Aug 17 '14 at 3:14
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    Technically the developer is also a kind of user who tests the UX. Unfortunately developers are not representative users and are biased due to implementation effort and "I'll fix it later"-blindness.
    – nwp
    Aug 17 '14 at 7:45
  • I think you need to fix this "how many UX Pros we are out there"
    – paparazzo
    Aug 18 '14 at 15:00

It is, of course, possible to produce a UI without involved the users. So yes, in a purely technical sense, you can create some kind of UX without directly involving the people who will actually use your product or service.

That said…

I've been involved with building software that people other than myself use since 1986. Nearly 30 years.

Every single time I've involved users in testing prototypes and products — we've ended up changing what we build to make it better. Every single time.

Every time I've talked to and observed users before we've started building — we've ended up changing the concepts behind what we're going to build, sometimes quite radically. Every single time.

So if you're not doing user research, you're not producing the best UX that you can. Which in the current climate is a dumb, dumb move.

  • Agreed. Especially in an agile environment, you're trying to reduce your work load. Doing it before hand will solve a lot of problems early on (both with time and money). On top of that, if you aren't building with the user in mind, then what's the point?
    – Majo0od
    Aug 18 '14 at 12:18
  • I'd actually disagree with that moderately ;-) When working with agile teams I'd much rather involve them with the research work, rather than try and do it all before hand. Good agile teams work incrementally. UX research folk work incrementally. Having both work together is stupidly effective in my experience.
    – adrianh
    Aug 20 '14 at 15:10
  • They have to. I'm sorry, I think my wording might have made it sound quite the contrary.
    – Majo0od
    Aug 20 '14 at 15:18

UX design is a philosophy and approach rather than a prescribed set of methods and tools, so theoretically it is possible. A similar question would almost be whether you can do Agile software development without SCRUM, and I am sure people would say that you can.

So what I am saying is that all good design processes should probably incorporate all of the phases of RESEARCH, DESIGN, IMPLEMENT and TEST. How you go about doing the all the phases is not set in concrete, but ideally can be based on good standards or best practices. Where the user input comes into each of these phases is also arguable, and sometimes there are limitations which means that you cannot reach out to the users at all stages.

I would therefore argue that you can do UX without ever interacting with the users at any level, but the effectiveness of the design will be difficult to evaluate. You can choose to do this at the research stage before the product is developed, or at testing stage when the product/service is provided to the end users, and this information will then feedback to the next iteration or release. Where it is most effective depends on your business model, software development model and also design process.

However, the question asks whether UX can live without users. I would say that if users stopped caring and did not voice their opinion or have influence on the products, then this particular philosophy of design would still exist, but be in the minority rather than the mainstream view about product design that it is today. In some areas such as government or financial services it is still very much a business-driven type of design approach (but it is slowly changing).

The other questions about doing UX without research is still possible but likely to be less effective compared to those that put in the time and effort for research. But since most of the organizations don't invest enough effort into measuring the effectiveness of their design, it is a difficult question to answer based on sales and marketing metrics alone. So I would hope that in the future more emphasis can be placed on research that highlights the ROI of research and testing at different stages of the design process.


No, you cannot have UX without research.

But I think there are many types of research : usability testing, surveys, usage logging, user forums, focus groups, observation, interviews, apply existing research done by others etc

According to the oxford dictionary research is : “The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions”

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    UX simply means "User Experience". If you have a usable product, it has a user experience, whether or not you put any effort whatsoever into making it a good experience.
    – devios1
    Aug 21 '14 at 22:47

Of course, every piece of UX design should be informed by research with real users, and tested with them. However, what doesn't get mentioned nearly often enough in discussions of user research is the vast wealth of research in the broad field of psychology, including cognitive science and behavioural economics (appreciate that there will be some debate over the academic boundaries here). http://coglode.com/ can be an interesting starting point, but a solid grounding in design research and human factors should be an essential part of every designer's training.


Short-form Answers: 1) We need to be careful not to perpetuate the idea that UX design represents a phase that can be researched, completed, and finished. UX design is a process -- not a phase. 2) User research can be done in any phase of product design and development, but the value of user research in some phases is far more important than in others.

In my experience, I like to think of UX design as an integral part of all phases of a Software Product's life cycle. I don't view UX design as a single "phase"; nor do I view UX design as existing without the context of the various phases of software development. For example, there are UX considerations in forming a product vision; there are UX considerations in identifying target user groups; there are UX considerations in establishing requirements; there are UX considerations in developing an internal data model etc...

The methods used to fulfill the UX design goals of any given phase of product development are specific to that phase -- and each requires its own kind of work.

Certain phases, such as "requirements gathering", absolutely and significantly benefit from user research. Phases such as "validating individual screens are parsed as intended" aren't even possible without involving other people.

On the other hand, in phases such as "forming a product vision", the biggest priority has to do with company strategy: "What angle of this market do we want to go after?" That said, hopefully the people making these strategic decisions have done some of their own research to back up their work.

Ultimately, doing user research involves cost and provides benefit, and the benefits of user research accrue differently for different phases of a project. And the reality is that sometimes we need to do triage, and pick and choose where and when we apply our resources


I think this depends on how you qualify what counts as research. I suspect there are UX pros, designers, and developers out there are satisfied with a Google search, while others will insist on in-person user testing.

The intent of both practitioners is the same, which is to provide the best user experience. I think you can have user experience without research, but I would give more credence to practices based on actual interaction between practitioners and their users.


You can still create designs without any feedback from the users, but UX is strictly based on your users problems. Each project got different touch points, personas, business goals etc. so it would be impossible to apply exactly the same outcome for each of it.

Doing "UX" without users is basically improving something based on your assumptions.


I think UX design without the process of researching can be only called UI design or graphic design.

The core of UX design is defining and solving the problems of your audience, you can't find the pain points or frustrations without being engaged with your target audience.


As a researcher when you've watched users stumble over the same old things time after time, you get a reasonable feel when the same old things come up again.

You won't find everything without users, but the more obvious blunders can be picked up by applying rules of thumb:


Nielsen. 1994

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