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Generative research: Everything you need to know (2024)

Take a deep dive into the heart of generative research with our meticulously crafted guide that covers the essentials from concept to execution.

January 25, 2024
Team Blitzllama

In product development, product owners and designers often struggle with the challenge of creating solutions that truly resonate with users. 

Understanding user needs is pivotal, and traditional research methods may fall short in capturing the intricacies of user experiences. 

Empathy is the key to unlocking meaningful insights, and this is where generative research steps in. It goes beyond surface-level data, delving deep into user motivations and behaviors. 

This article serves as a comprehensive guide, illuminating the significance of generative research, offering practical insights, and empowering product owners and designers to craft products that genuinely connect with their audience.

What is generative research?

Generative research is a crucial phase in product development, where insights are actively sought to inspire and inform design decisions. It involves engaging directly with users, observing their behaviors, and understanding their needs to generate fresh ideas. 

Product owners and designers employ this method to gather qualitative data, fostering innovation and creating user-centered solutions. By conducting interviews, surveys, and usability tests, they uncover valuable user perspectives. 

This proactive approach aids in identifying pain points and opportunities early in the design process. Generative research empowers product teams to build products that resonate with users, enhancing overall user satisfaction and ensuring successful product outcomes.

Why is it called generative research?

Generative research earns its name by actively generating valuable insights. It focuses on exploring, understanding, and uncovering user needs, behaviors, and preferences. 

This approach goes beyond merely collecting existing information; it generates fresh perspectives to inspire innovative solutions. By delving into the users' world, generative research lays the groundwork for creating products that genuinely meet user expectations. 

Its "proactive nature" distinguishes it, making it an indispensable tool for crafting user-centered designs and steering product development in the right direction.

Now that we understand the naming convention, let's discern the key differences between generative and evaluative research methodologies.

What’s the difference between generative and evaluative research

When it comes to research in the realm of product development and design, two essential approaches emerge: generative research and evaluative research. 

These methodologies serve distinct purposes, aiding product owners and designers at various stages of the development cycle. Let's break down the key differences in a straightforward manner.

 Aspects  Generative research  Evaluative research
 Objective  Uncover new insights and ideas.  Assess and validate existing concepts.
 Stage in process  Early stages of ideation and planning.  Later stages of refine and improve.
 Focus  Exploratory and open-ended.  Specific and targeted.
 Methods  Interviews, observations, brainstorming.  Usability testing, surveys, A/B testing.
 Output  Ideas, concepts, user personas.   Usability metrics, feedback on features.
 Time frame  Longer duration and in-depth exploration.  Shorter, focused on quick feedback.

In essence, generative research lays the groundwork for innovation, while evaluative research fine-tunes and validates those innovations, ensuring they meet user expectations. Both are crucial tools in the arsenal of product owners and designers, working hand in hand to create successful and user-centered products.

With a clear understanding of the differences, let's uncover the significance of generative research in the product development landscape.

Why is generative research important?

Generative research lays the groundwork by exploring user needs. Here are the 7 key reasons why it hold immense significance in the product development lifecycle:

Why is generative research important?

1) Identifying new market opportunities

Generative research is crucial for product owners and designers in identifying new market opportunities. By exploring new use cases, broader market trends, and understanding user lifestyles, teams gain valuable insights that can inform strategic decisions. 

This proactive approach allows businesses to stay ahead of the curve, uncovering unmet needs and potential niches before they become widely recognized. By delving into the intricacies of user behavior, generative research becomes a compass guiding product development towards markets ripe for exploration, fostering innovation and competitive advantage.

2) Guiding feature prioritization and product strategy

Generative research serves as a compass for feature prioritization and product strategy. It ensures that teams address the most urgent and important user needs first. By understanding user pain points and desires through in-depth research, product owners can make informed decisions about which features to prioritize. 

This not only maximizes the impact of product development efforts but also enhances user satisfaction. Aligning the product strategy with user needs is paramount for success, and generative research acts as a guide in steering teams towards solutions that truly matter to their target audience.

3) Reducing risks and uncertainties

Generative research is a powerful tool for reducing risks and uncertainties associated with new product development and market entry strategies. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of the market and user needs, teams can make informed decisions, minimizing the chances of failure. 

This research-driven approach helps in identifying potential pitfalls and challenges early in the process, allowing teams to adjust their strategies accordingly. Whether entering a new market or launching a novel product, generative research acts as a risk mitigation strategy, providing a solid foundation for decision-making.

4) Enhancing user understanding

At its core, generative research is about enhancing user understanding. Through direct engagement, observation, and feedback collection, product owners and designers gain profound insights into the thoughts, behaviors, and preferences of their users. 

This deep understanding is invaluable for creating products that resonate with users on a fundamental level. By putting the user at the center of the design process, generative research ensures that products are not only functional but also delightful and user-friendly, fostering long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.

5) Ideation and concept development

Generative research plays a pivotal role in ideation and concept development. By immersing themselves in the user's world, teams can generate innovative ideas and concepts that directly address user needs. 

This process goes beyond incremental improvements, inspiring teams to think creatively and push the boundaries of what's possible. Through generative research, product owners and designers can tap into the latent potential of their target audience, resulting in breakthrough concepts that have the power to reshape industries and captivate users.

6) Mitigating assumptions and biases

Generative research acts as a safeguard against assumptions and biases that may skew product development. By grounding decisions in real user data, teams can challenge preconceived notions and avoid falling victim to unconscious biases. 

This rigorous approach ensures that products are developed based on objective insights rather than assumptions about user behavior. Mitigating assumptions and biases is essential for creating inclusive, user-centric designs that cater to diverse needs and preferences, ultimately contributing to the overall success and acceptance of the product.

7) Early problem identification and iteration

Generative research facilitates early problem identification and iterative development. By actively seeking feedback and uncovering issues during the early stages of product development, teams can address problems before they escalate. 

This iterative approach minimizes the likelihood of costly mistakes and accelerates the refinement of the product. Generative research enables a continuous feedback loop, allowing teams to adapt and evolve their solutions based on real-world user experiences, ensuring that the final product meets and exceeds user expectations.

Now that we recognize its importance, let's explore five effective methods for conducting generative research.

How do you conduct generative research? (5 methods)

Conducting generative research involves employing specific methods tailored to uncover user insights. By understanding and implementing these five key methods, product owners and designers can extract meaningful insights to inform their design decisions effectively:

Methods of generative research

1) Interviews

To conduct generative research, start with interviews. Engage directly with users to understand their needs, preferences, and behaviors. 

Craft open-ended questions to uncover insights and explore the user's perspective. Keep the conversation focused on their experiences and emotions related to the product. This human-centric approach allows you to gather rich qualitative data, offering a deep understanding of user motivations that guides product design.

2) Diary studies

Implement diary studies to gain insights into users' daily lives and routines. Provide participants with a structured diary or digital platform to record their experiences over time. 

This method captures real-time information, offering a holistic view of user interactions with your product. Analyzing diary entries helps identify patterns, pain points, and moments of delight. Diary studies enable a nuanced understanding of user behavior and contribute valuable context for designing user-centric solutions.

3) Contextual inquiry

Embrace contextual inquiry to observe users in their natural environments. This immersive approach involves direct observation of users interacting with your product within their context. 

By witnessing their actions, challenges, and workarounds, you can uncover hidden insights that may be missed in a controlled environment. This method fosters empathy by understanding users' environments and workflows. Contextual inquiry provides actionable data to refine and optimize your product's design based on real-world usage scenarios.

4) Surveys

Leverage surveys as a scalable method for generative research. Craft targeted questions to collect quantitative data from a large user sample. Surveys allow you to analyze trends, preferences, and demographics efficiently. 

Use clear and concise language to ensure participants understand the questions. The data gathered from surveys complements qualitative insights, providing a comprehensive understanding of user needs at a broader scale. Surveys are a valuable tool for validating qualitative findings and informing data-driven design decisions.

5) Card sorting

Apply card sorting to understand users' mental models and information architecture preferences. Present participants with a set of cards representing content or features and ask them to categorize and prioritize them based on their logic. 

This method helps uncover user expectations, preferences, and potential usability issues. By organizing information collaboratively with users, you can refine the structure of your product to align with their mental models. Card sorting is a participatory method that empowers users to contribute to the design process, fostering a sense of ownership and usability.

Armed with diverse methods, the next step is crafting a robust generative research plan.

How to create a generative research plan

Creating an effective generative research plan is a cornerstone in the pursuit of user-centric design. A thoughtfully crafted plan ensures a systematic approach, maximizing the yield of valuable insights. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to craft a generative research plan:

How to create a generative research plan

1) Define the research questions

Creating a generative research plan begins with crystal-clear research questions. Clearly outline what you aim to discover or understand about your product. Define questions that guide your research and provide valuable insights. Ensure they align with your overall product goals.

  • Start by identifying gaps in knowledge: What don't you know about your users or product?
  • Prioritize questions based on their impact on design and user experience.
  • Phrase questions concisely for a focused research approach.

2) Identify your target audience

Understanding your target audience is pivotal. Know who your users are, what motivates them, and how they interact with your product. This step lays the foundation for effective generative research.

  • Create user personas to represent your diverse audience.
  • Consider demographics, preferences, and behaviors for a comprehensive understanding.
  • Identify specific user segments that align with your research goals.

3) Choose appropriate research methods

Selecting the right research methods is crucial for obtaining meaningful insights. Tailor your methods to suit your research questions and the nature of your product.

  • For in-depth insights, consider methods like interviews, usability testing, and diary studies.
  • Use surveys and card sorting for quantitative data.
  • Employ a mix of methods to triangulate findings and ensure robust results.

4) Develop research guides

Well-structured research guides provide a roadmap for your research activities. They ensure consistency across sessions and help you stay on track.

  • Outline the research objectives, questions, and expected outcomes.
  • Detail the step-by-step process for each research method.
  • Include prompts and probes to delve deeper into participant responses.

5) Recruit participants

Effective generative research relies on recruiting the right participants. Actively seek individuals who represent your target audience and can provide diverse perspectives.

  • Define participant criteria based on demographics, product usage, or specific characteristics.
  • Use various recruitment channels, including user databases, social media, or professional networks.
  • Ensure a mix of participants to capture a broad spectrum of user experiences.

6) Conduct research sessions

Executing research sessions demands a structured and well-managed approach. Keep participants engaged and comfortable to extract valuable insights.

  • Begin with a warm-up to establish rapport.
  • Clearly explain the purpose of the research session and the tasks involved.
  • Encourage open-ended responses and avoid leading questions.

7) Analyze the data

Effective data analysis transforms raw information into actionable insights. Approach this step systematically to derive patterns and themes.

  • Utilize qualitative analysis techniques such as thematic coding.
  • Create visual representations like affinity diagrams or journey maps for a holistic view.
  • Look for commonalities and outliers to identify key findings.

8) Create a research report

The final step involves communicating your findings to key stakeholders. A well-crafted research report ensures that your insights drive informed decision-making.

  • Structure the report with an executive summary, methodology, findings, and recommendations.
  • Use visuals such as charts and graphs for clarity.
  • Clearly articulate the implications of the research on product design and user experience.

Now that we have a plan in place, let's see how efficient product teams use generative research in their product development efforts.

How do the best product teams use generative user research in day-to-day work?

The best product teams seamlessly integrate generative research into their day-to-day operations, following a structured process to inform their decisions and drive innovation:

How do product teams use generative research

Step 1: Identifying user pain points and needs

Understanding the challenges users face is paramount. The best teams actively engage in discovering:

Daily task challenges: Through user interviews and observations, they unveil the hurdles users encounter in their daily tasks, ensuring a more targeted problem-solving approach.

Unmet needs: Going beyond surface-level issues, teams delve into unmet needs users may not be fully aware of. This proactive approach sparks innovation by addressing latent desires.

Step 2: Understanding user behaviors and motivations

To design products that resonate with users, top teams focus on:

Studying interactions: They closely observe how users interact with existing products or services, extracting insights into habitual behaviors.

Identifying motivations: By exploring the reasons behind user actions, teams gain insights that guide the creation of more intuitive designs, ensuring a seamless user experience.

Step 3: Segmenting the user base

Recognizing the diversity within the user base is key. Leading teams:

Identify personas: Through data analysis and user interviews, they create personas based on behaviors, needs, and preferences.

Tailor solutions: Armed with a deep understanding of each segment, teams tailor product features and marketing strategies to meet diverse requirements effectively.

Step 4: Concept testing and idea generation

Innovation is fostered through creative collaboration. Successful teams:

Generate ideas collaboratively: They host workshops and brainstorming sessions involving users to co-create solutions, ensuring a multitude of perspectives.

Test viability: New concepts are rigorously tested with potential users, providing valuable feedback that informs product development.

Step 5: Mapping the user journey

A seamless user journey is pivotal for product success. Top teams:

Understand end-to-end experiences: They meticulously map the user journey from initial awareness to regular usage.

Identify opportunities: Pinpointing gaps or friction points in the journey becomes an opportunity for improvement, enhancing the overall user experience.

Step 6: Exploring market trends and opportunities

To stay ahead, product teams must align with evolving market dynamics. The best teams:

Investigate market trends: Actively explore emerging trends and align them with user needs and expectations.

Identify new niches: Through understanding user lifestyle and usage patterns, teams discover potential new markets or niches for product expansion.

Step 7: Validating assumptions and hypotheses

Real-world validation ensures product strategies align with user realities. Leading teams:

Test assumptions: Actively seek opportunities to test assumptions or hypotheses about users using data and insights.

Refine strategies: Continuous refinement based on user feedback and observations allows teams to adapt and pivot as needed, ensuring ongoing success.

By systematically incorporating these seven steps, product owners and designers can create products that not only meet but exceed user expectations, fostering innovation and sustaining long-term success in an ever-evolving market.

Generative research best practices

To ensure the success of generative research, adhering to best practices is paramount. Product owners and designers can leverage the following best practices to navigate the complexities of generative research and maximize its impact on product development:

1) Participant recruitment and selection

Selecting the right participants is paramount for generative research success. Begin by creating detailed personas that represent the target user base. 

Actively seek participants who match these personas, ensuring diversity in demographics and behaviors. Utilize various recruitment channels, such as social media, to cast a wide net. 

Establish a screening process to filter potential participants based on predetermined criteria. This meticulous approach ensures a representative and insightful participant pool.

2) Effective interview techniques

Conducting interviews is a core element of generative research. Employ open-ended questions to encourage participants to share their experiences, preferences, and pain points freely. 

Use a conversational tone to create a comfortable environment, fostering honest responses. Keep the interview focused on the participant's perspective, avoiding leading questions that may bias their answers. 

Additionally, employ active listening skills to capture nuances and gather rich qualitative data. This participant-centered approach enhances the depth and authenticity of research findings.

3) Prototyping and iterative testing

Generative research should seamlessly integrate with the design process. Create low-fidelity prototypes based on initial insights gathered. 

Test these prototypes iteratively with participants to validate design decisions and refine solutions. This iterative testing approach ensures that the final product aligns closely with user expectations. 

Regularly update stakeholders on the progress, sharing insights gained and incorporating feedback into subsequent iterations. This collaborative and iterative cycle enhances the overall design process and product outcomes.

4) Collaborative analysis and documentation

After data collection, engage cross-functional teams in collaborative analysis sessions. Encourage diverse perspectives to uncover hidden insights and facilitate comprehensive understanding. 

Document findings using concise and accessible formats, such as personas, journey maps, and key takeaways. Share these insights across the organization to foster a shared understanding of user needs. 

Collaborative analysis and documentation lay the foundation for informed decision-making, promoting a user-centric approach throughout the product development lifecycle.


In conclusion, generative research empowers product owners and designers by uncovering valuable insights for informed decision-making. Through proactive exploration, it unveils user needs and preferences, fueling the creation of user-centric products. By engaging participants in open-ended discussions and observations, teams gain a deep understanding of their audience. 

This method, with its active approach, lays the foundation for successful product development. Embracing generative research ensures that design decisions align seamlessly with user expectations, ultimately enhancing user satisfaction and product success. 

As product owners and designers harness the power of generative research, they embark on a journey of continuous improvement, steering their creations toward excellence.

FAQs related to generative research

1) What does generative research mean?

Generative research involves gathering insights and ideas to generate a deep understanding of user needs, behaviors, and motivations. It aims to uncover patterns and trends that guide the development of products or services. This type of research helps product owners and UX researchers gain valuable knowledge to inform their decision-making process.

2) What is a generative approach in research?

A generative approach in research focuses on creating new knowledge and ideas. It involves open-ended exploration and aims to uncover fresh perspectives rather than confirming existing assumptions. In the context of product development, a generative approach helps teams identify innovative solutions by delving into the root causes of user problems and understanding the context in which products are used.

3) What is the difference between generative and formative research?

Generative research is about exploring and understanding the problem space, whereas formative research is more concerned with shaping and refining solutions. While generative research seeks to uncover user needs and insights, formative research focuses on evaluating and iterating on specific design concepts. Both are essential in the product development process, with generative research laying the foundation for informed decision-making.

4) Is generative research the same as discovery?

While generative research and discovery share similarities, they are not synonymous. Generative research encompasses a broader range of activities, including understanding user needs and exploring potential solutions. Discovery, on the other hand, specifically refers to the initial phase of a project where teams seek to identify and define the problem space. Generative research is an ongoing process that extends beyond the discovery phase, providing continuous insights throughout the development lifecycle.

5) What is the aim of generative research?

The primary aim of generative research is to uncover valuable insights that inform the design and development of products or services. By gaining a deep understanding of user behaviors, preferences, and pain points, teams can make informed decisions that lead to the creation of more user-centered and effective solutions. Generative research plays a crucial role in ensuring that products meet user needs and expectations, ultimately contributing to their success in the market.

6) What is the opposite of generative research?

The opposite of generative research is evaluative research. While generative research focuses on exploration and understanding, evaluative research involves the assessment and validation of specific design solutions. Generative research helps identify problems and opportunities, while evaluative research tests and refines potential solutions. Both types of research are complementary and work together to create a comprehensive understanding of user needs and preferences throughout the product development process.