The Four Types of Research Design — Everything You Need to Know

When you conduct research, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how to accomplish it. A good research design enables you to collect accurate and reliable data to draw valid conclusions.

In this blog post, we'll outline the key features of the four common types of research design with real-life examples from UnderArmor, Carmex, and more. Then, you can easily choose the right approach for your project.

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Research design involves choosing the right methodology, selecting the most appropriate data collection methods, and devising a plan (or framework) for analyzing the data. In short, a good research design helps us to structure our research.

Marketers use different types of research design when conducting research.

There are four common types of research design — descriptive, correlational, experimental, and diagnostic designs. Let’s take a look at each in more detail.

The Four Types of Research Design

Researchers use different designs to accomplish different research objectives. Here, we'll discuss how to choose the right type, the benefits of each, and use cases.

Research can also be classified as quantitative or qualitative at a higher level. Some experiments exhibit both qualitative and quantitative characteristics.


An experimental design is used when the researcher wants to examine how variables interact with each other. The researcher manipulates one variable (the independent variable) and observes the effect on another variable (the dependent variable).

In other words, the researcher wants to test a causal relationship between two or more variables.

In marketing, an example of experimental research would be comparing the effects of a television commercial versus an online advertisement conducted in a controlled environment (e.g. a lab). The objective of the research is to test which advertisement gets more attention among people of different age groups, gender, etc.

Another example is a study of the effect of music on productivity. A researcher assigns participants to one of two groups — those who listen to music while working and those who don't — and measure their productivity.

The main benefit of an experimental design is that it allows the researcher to draw causal relationships between variables.

One limitation: This research requires a great deal of control over the environment and participants, making it difficult to replicate in the real world. In addition, it’s quite costly.

Best for: Testing a cause-and-effect relationship (i.e., the effect of an independent variable on a dependent variable).


A correlational design examines the relationship between two or more variables without intervening in the process.

Correlational design allows the analyst to observe natural relationships between variables. This results in data being more reflective of real-world situations.

For example, marketers can use correlational design to examine the relationship between brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. In particular, the researcher would look for patterns or trends in the data to see if there is a relationship between these two entities.

Similarly, you can study the relationship between physical activity and mental health. The analyst here would ask participants to complete surveys about their physical activity levels and mental health status. Data would show how the two variables are related.

Best for: Understanding the extent to which two or more variables are associated with each other in the real world.


Descriptive research refers to a systematic process of observing and describing what a subject does without influencing them.

Methods include surveys, interviews, case studies, and observations. Descriptive research aims to gather an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon and answers when/what/where.

SaaS companies use descriptive design to understand how customers interact with specific features. Findings can be used to spot patterns and roadblocks.

For instance, product managers can use screen recordings by Hotjar to observe in-app user behavior. This way, the team can precisely understand what is happening at a certain stage of the user journey and act accordingly.

Brand24, a social listening tool, tripled its sign-up conversion rate from 2.56% to 7.42%, thanks to locating friction points in the sign-up form through screen recordings.

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Best for: Gathering unbiased data that reveals behaviors or recurring phenomena.


Diagnostic research determines the root cause of a problem and finds the most effective solution. It’s often used in marketing to identify areas of improvement or potential opportunities for growth.

The diagnostic research design consists of three steps:

  • Inception, which includes data collection and problem definition.
  • Diagnostics, which comprises data analysis, hypothesis testing, and setting objectives.
  • Solutions, which define the best possible solution.

In product teams, a diagnostic design would involve analyzing customer feedback and reviews to identify areas where a company can improve. This would help identify where a product offering needs to change — pricing, missing features, customer service, etc.

Diagnostic research provides an accurate diagnosis of a problem and identifies areas of improvement.

Best for: Understanding the underlying causes of a problem and how to address it.

Research Design Examples

Let’s explore how leading brands employ different types of research design. In most cases, companies combine several methods to reach a comprehensive overview of a problem and find a solution.


types of research design: UnderArmour

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UnderArmour doubled its market share among running shoes by referring to diagnostic and descriptive research.

The team aimed to design a breakthrough product by constantly improving their shoes in response to athletes’ real-time feedback. To do so, the company shipped free shoes to over 10,000 athletes. Using Qualtrics, the company surveyed participants for their feedback.

Then, with all of the insights gathered, the team iterated their design. Thus, the UA HOVR™ cushioned running shoe was born.

The resulting product received a 2019 Runner’s World Recommendation Award.

Pro tip: Use descriptive research design to tailor your product to the customers' needs by observing their natural behavior and addressing the feedback.


research design examples, Carmex Labs qualitative tech-enabled research

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Carmex Labs worked with research company MRR to measure customers’ reactions to the lip-care company’s packaging and product. The goal was to find the cause of low sales in a newly launched market.

The team moderated a live, online focus group. Participants were shown w product samples, while AI and NLP natural language processing identified key themes in customer feedback.

This helped uncover key reasons for poor performance and guided changes in packaging.


research design example, tweezerman

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A beauty brand Tweezerman turned to descriptive research design to track its brand health and validate product ideas.

Tweezerman utilized SurveyMonkey Audience to collect quantitative consumer feedback and inform its global business strategy. This approach helped Tweezerland validate 10 out of 50 products and get an in-depth understanding of their audience.

Remember: To conduct market research, all you need is to launch a simple survey with the right targeting.

Getting Started with Research Design

Research design is your blueprint to answer questions through collecting data. When done right, it gives granular information on an issue and informs business decisions.

To start, map out your questions, define your problem, and think of what data you want to receive as a result. Then, choose the right research design method.

Now you're all set!

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