Tips for user research for a low/no budget project

February 19, 2021

Throughout my undergraduate education, as well as working on smaller projects in my role at Say Yeah, I’ve gotten used to maneuvering around a small budget when conducting user testing or research.

The main categories you’ll want to consider are: recruiting and participant management, conducting your sessions, synthesis and analysis, and presenting your research.


Recruiting the traditional way, with a research firm or dedicated recruiter, can get expensive really quickly. Even with slightly lower cost options like User Interviews, this method of finding users is out of reach if you’re working with a constrained research budget.

Instead,one way I’ve recruited has been through open postings, either online through Craigslist, Kijiji or Social Media, or via posters within the community. You might need to put in a bit more time into screening, but it’s well worth it when you don’t have to spend budget on a recruiting fee!

If you’re working with a semi-established service or product, you can also recruit via existing customer email lists, or by putting a message out on a highly trafficked homepage or other landing page. This method of recruiting has the added benefit of helping you/the company to establish a research panel of loyal participants.

Conducting sessions

Conducting sessions remotely is fairly straightforward to do at a lower cost. If you’re already using a video tool like Teams, Meet or Zoom, you can use these to record and host your user interviews.

For user testing, particularly on mobile, this is trickier, but having a participant record their screen while on a call can usually get around these barriers without having to pay for more expensive software like Lookback.

In lieu of expensive transcription software, try a tool like to automatically generate transcripts of all of your user sessions at a lower cost.


If you’re someone who does a lot of grounded theory/qualitative coding, you’ve likely come across tools like Dovetail and While wonderful, these tools have a hefty price tag.

Although there isn’t a perfect solution, one method that I’ve tried is using Airtable to input snippets from transcripts, and using “tags” within the table to apply all of my codes to these phrases. You can also set up some pretty robust filtering, even within the free plan!

Of course, in a remote context, you’ll also want access to online sticky noting. Miro is great since you can have a free account with up to three boards for making affinity diagrams and other forms of analyzing your research.


Reporting is the most straightforward of all. Tools like Pages or Google docs can help you pull together great reports.

I would encourage you, however, to not go it alone! There’s tons of templates made by experienced researchers to help you kick start a research report or presentation in less time.

You can find one of my favourite templates from Femke (Product Designer at Uber) here:

Doing research on a constrained budget is never easy, but with the advent of remote research, it’s never been a better time to start trying out user research in your projects. Let me know what some of your scrappier research methods are for conserving your project budget!