Generative vs evaluative UX research

| 16 February 2024

UX research can call on many different research tools and techniques, depending on what needs to be uncovered. The easiest way to group them is to ask if the research question has to do with a solution or not. If the research question is about a concept or design, it’s probably evaluative, and if it’s before a concept or design exists, it’s probably generative.

Let’s look at the fundamental differences between generative and evaluative research and identify the best scenarios for employing each when gathering customer insight.


Generative research

Planting seeds of discovery

Picture generative research as the fertile soil where innovative seeds are sown and nurtured. This type of research is all about exploration, aiming to uncover fresh insights, understand user behaviours, and spot emerging trends. Through methods like customer interviews, surveys, and contextual inquiries, generative research plunges into the why behind user actions, yielding rich insights that fuel creativity and innovation.

So, when’s the right time to unleash generative research? Whenever you’re breaking new ground, embarking on a fresh project, or hunting for unmet user needs, generative research is your trusty sidekick. It’s like setting sail on an exhilarating voyage, armed with curiosity and a thirst for discovery.

Its important to note that generative research will not tell you what to build or even what exactly your customer’s Jobs to Be Done are. As Patrick Collison puts it, generative research helps form the mental model of your customers, which, in turn, helps decision-making. The more you know about your customer, the better your intuition about what you should do, gets better.


Evaluative research

Sharpening the focus

Now, let’s flip the script to evaluative research—a precise and potent lens through which we scrutinize designs, interfaces, and user experiences with pinpoint accuracy. If generative research is about exploration, evaluative research is about validation. It’s the critical checkpoint where we assess whether our designs hit the mark in meeting user expectations, preferences, and goals.

Methods like usability testing, A/B testing, and heuristic evaluations are the bread and butter of evaluative research. They enable us to gather user feedback, pinpoint pain points, and fine-tune our designs for peak usability and satisfaction.

So, when does evaluative research take the spotlight? Whenever you’re refining existing designs, troubleshooting usability snags, or striving to optimize user experiences, evaluative research steps into the limelight as your trusted guide.


Generative vs Evaluative UX research spectrum diagram

Choosing your path

When to harness each approach

Now, the burning question: How do you decide between generative and evaluative research? Think of it this way: Generative research is your compass for venturing into uncharted territories, while evaluative research serves as your compass for navigating known terrain.

When launching a new venture or diving into unexplored user needs, kick off with generative research. Delve deep into user behaviours, motivations, and pain points to unearth valuable insights that will shape your design decisions.

As your designs take shape and evolve, pivot to evaluative research to validate your ideas, iron out usability kinks, and ensure your designs hit the bullseye in meeting user expectations.



Navigating the UX research landscape

In the ever-evolving landscape of UX design, generative and evaluative research stand as twin pillars empowering us to craft meaningful, user-centric experiences. By understanding the unique strengths of each approach and knowing when to wield them, we chart a course toward innovation, insight, and ultimately, user delight.

So, whether you’re embarking on a journey of exploration or fine-tuning the finer details of your design, remember: Generative research sparks creativity, while evaluative research hones precision. Together, they form the bedrock of user-centred design, guiding us toward excellence in every digital interaction.

Here’s to blazing new trails, unlocking fresh insights, and crafting experiences that leave users smiling from ear to ear!

A big shoutout to Jax Fouche for sharing their expertise and massive contribution to the detail of this article.


Relative FAQs