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Top 8 UX Research Methods & When to Use Them
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Chapter 3
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Top 8 UX Research Methods & When to Use Them

When embarking on the development of a new digital product, it is paramount to keep the user experience (UX) at the top of the mind. However, there needs to be extensive research on what our target audience wants and how their thought process works when it comes to using technology.

The idea behind user research is to examine how a system, service, or product is utilized by its users to learn more about their needs, behaviors, and goals. The research is helpful in designing and developing the product to improve its usability and user satisfaction.

User research methods let you learn more about users' needs and motivations. Regardless of what type of project you are designing, user research will help make sure you have all the necessary components to facilitate your audience. There are various user research techniques being utilized to pinpoint problems and opportunities and enhance user experience.

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Choosing a UX Research Method Based on Your Project Phase

When choosing a UX research method for your project, it's crucial to consider the specific phase you're in. As you move into the different stages, different methods are adopted to effectively optimize the user interface. It is crucial to align your research methods with the project phase, only then can you gather relevant data and make informed decisions.

At the Beginning of the Process

During the Initial phase of any UX research, the focus is on understanding end users, their preferences, and their needs. The research problem is stated and the objectives are set, involving the identification of knowledge gaps and formulating hypotheses to guide the research process. Different methods are utilized at this stage that include conducting interviews to understand user mindset, needs, and challenges.

“When conducted wisely, user interviews can provide a good amount of qualitative data by probing users with the ‘Why’ question.”
Yuliya Martinavichene, User Experience researcher

Conducting such interviews allow you to gather information through conversations with your users. These direct interactions can help analyze users’ inner behavior, ultimately getting to the problem and its solution. Carrying out surveys and questionnaires helps gather statistical data and feedback. Also, analyzing the user experience of competitors' products can aid in identifying areas for improvement.

Giving a contextual perspective also plays a critical role in inspiring design products. Contextual inquiry unravels hidden insights about customers through interpretation and collaboration. In this method users and their behaviors are directly observed. Researchers tend to visit participants in their natural environment, be it home, or workplace, and communicate with them. This is one of the most effective methods to inspire design products.

Once the Design Stage Begins

“People ignore design that ignores people.”
Frank Chimero, Designer

The UX design process is a multi-stage, end-to-end methodology that incorporates design thinking to develop UX projects. User-centered design is all about prioritizing the user. A website, app, or piece of software that doesn't take the needs of the user into account is eventually bound to fail.

The whole process involves an iterative method used by UX teams to finish projects. Although the UX process varies depending on the organization and the product, most businesses start following the same design method:

1. Designing Prototype:
The design team then begins creating high-fidelity prototypes that resemble the finished product in both appearance and functionality. Designers try to utilize top designer tools to create interactive prototypes if the business has a design system in place.

2. Usability Testing:
Usability testing involves observing users as they perform tasks that are given to them by the researcher. They observe the user’s behavior while completing that particular task. This method helps assess the effectiveness of design solutions and gather feedback for any improvements.

3. Diary Studies:
User logs (diaries) involve participants recording their experiences, thoughts, and behaviors over a specific period of time. This kind of user research method allows researchers to gain a deeper understanding of user contextual insights and uncover patterns that may not be established in a single-time framework.

After the Release

The work of a user designer is never really completed. Once a product has been created and released, different UX research methods need to be applied to assess its performance and gather feedback for future considerations.

1. A/B Testing
These kinds of research techniques involve comparing two or more versions of a design or app to understand which one performs better. This type of testing provides companies to make careful changes and gain insights regarding the user experience. You can use different design tools to increase your core skills in product design.

2. Quantitative Surveys
These surveys are similar to those conducted during the initial phase. They are also carried out after the release to collect data on user satisfaction and overall product performance. The questions are about asking respondents to select from a predetermined list of answers (such as ratings, scales, or yes/no answers). These types of questions can provide valuable insights about the product experience.

3. UX Metrics Analysis
UX metrics are quantitative datasets that can be analyzed to get insights that aid decision-making. Such metrics analysis determines if your product strategy is performing or not. It involves analyzing data collected from user interactions with a digital product. The analysis is done based on behavioral and attitudinal metrics.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Methods

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UX research methods fall under two categories, qualitative and quantitative. Both have different purposes in research design. The main difference between these methods is the type of data collection and its nature.

A qualitative user research method is focused on collecting and analyzing subjective information that helps designers in making formative decisions. Qualitative user research data is typically presented in the form of quotes, stories, observations, or narrative descriptions to determine how usable a product is.

The quantitative user research method involves gaining information from a larger sample size and providing statistical analysis. This type of UX research involves the collection and analysis of numerical data to measure user behaviors and preferences. Quantitative methods include surveys, co-relation research, and experimental research.

It is also important to understand that both these UX research methods are not mutually exclusive. On many occasions, these research techniques can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the user experience.

Qualitative UX Research Methods

Qualitative studies are focused on analyzing user behaviors, attitudes, and motivations in-depth. Qualitative data is considered to be far more challenging to analyze and interpret. These UX research methods are usually presented in the form of structured or semistructured findings.

Although qualitative user research can take many different forms, each technique has the potential to reveal priceless information about a product's usability. Qualitative research is highly flexible and less likely to get affected even if your study is not perfect. Secondly, participants are considered to be the key. A good profiled participants will always yield great results

“People are the key, If you are not talking high-quality participants, that's kind of a non-starter. If you are not talking to the right people, it will really get hard to make the right decision.”
JH Foster, Senior Vice President - Product, User Interviews

Let's discuss the types of Qualitative UX research methods

1. Competitive Analysis

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Such type of UX research techniques enables you to gain strategic insights into the features, functionality, processes, and overall user experience of the competitors' design solutions for digital products.

This analysis involves studying and comparing the user experience of competing products or services. When you identify your main competitors (both existing and potential), opportunities to fill, and threats in the current marketplace, competitive analysis becomes a strategic step.

2. Card Sorting

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Card sorting is a type of qualitative UX research technique in which the designer creates a set of cards, each containing a piece of content or an idea. Users are then asked to sort the cards into various categories like open sorting, closed sorting, and more. This UX research method helps to develop an information architecture that adheres to users' expectations by revealing the organizational structure of the target audience's domain knowledge.

It can also be used to inform the design of navigation menus, site maps, and content structures. Traditionally this method was used in the preliminary stages of the design process for the assessment of information architecture.

3. Ethnography

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This user research technique is qualitative in nature. The researchers in this UX research try to immerse themselves in the culture and behavior of the environment they are examining. Observing users in their natural environments helps in the contextual understanding of their needs. This method also helps to uncover group behaviors, culture, conventions, and social interactions that influence their experiences with a product or service.

Direct observation, diary studies, video recordings, photography, and artifact analysis are all examples of ethnographic approaches. Observations can be made anywhere, including the user's home, place of employment, or when they are out and about with friends and family. Depending on the type of research being done, study lengths can change. They can be as short as a few hours of observation or as long as several months' worth of research.

4. Participatory Design

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These research techniques include participation with all stakeholders (such as clients, staff members, partners, citizens, and consumers) in order to better understand, cater to, and occasionally anticipate their requirements.

A wide range of professions, including architecture, graphic design, software, and product design, use participatory design activities. Through collaborative activities and workshops, users contribute their ideas, feedback, and preferences, which can lead to more user-centered design solutions.

Quantitative UX Research Methods

Clients adore hard facts. Although gathering statistical data to support a strategic research agenda with management is far from the only reason to conduct quantitative UX research, it frequently serves as an inspiration for significant research initiatives. Such research methods are mostly used when attempting to assess the usability of a working product. It can also be highly useful for finding the solutions to large, general questions using statistical analysis to support or refute your theory.

Quantitative UX research methods focus on collecting numerical data to measure and quantify user behaviors, preferences, and patterns. Quantitative approaches can be categorized, similar to qualitative research, and the best quantitative approach depends on the nature of the problem you are addressing, the sort of data you need, and the study protocols that will be used.

Below are quantitative UX research methods mostly used today!

1. Eye-Tracking Method

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A type of quantitative research that detects where and how long people look. It enables researchers to observe people from their point of view and gain knowledge on visual attention. It accomplishes this by casting a reflection in the subject's eyes using a specific light.

The position and movement of the eyes are inferred from these reflections by the tracker's cameras. The participant's viewing behavior is visualized using that data after it is projected into the user interface. Since the eye-tracking technology records the route without obstructing users' normal behavior, it can be incredibly helpful for usability evaluations.

You can also develop a deep understanding of how users interact with your product design with the help of eye tracking based UX testing tool. This knowledge can be helpful to you at different stages of the design process and, in many circumstances, can improve the information you get from other test methods

2. SUS Scores (System Usability Scale)

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This tool is just like a standardized questionnaire used to measure how satisfied a user is with their digital experience. The grading gives your project a useful quantitative measure of experience and is frequently used in conjunction with results for effectiveness and efficiency.

The key to using SUS successfully is to determine which projects might benefit from including this measure. SUS can be easily incorporated into any research or test effort, but accumulating data only for the purpose of it is pointless. SUS is a great way to benchmark and improve, so iterative projects greatly benefit by evaluating how well a digital product is evolving through an Agile process, for example.

According to studies, a SUS score above 68 would be deemed above average and anything below 68 is below average. However, the simplest way to understand your results includes “normalizing” the scores to produce a percentile ranking.

3. Tree Testing

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“Tree testing is a highly valuable exercise to get a clear view of what real users expect as topics in the navigation of a website and how these topics are clustered from primary to secondary. Tree testing should be the starting point for designing better digital applications.”
Mario Tedde, Senior UX Researcher, Florius

These types of UX research methods enable you to assess the organization and discoverability of topics on a website or mobile application. It is considered a crucial stage in your research strategy. Participants in a tree test are shown a text-only hierarchy of the website and asked to perform a series of tasks. Ultimately, the question of "Can users find what they are looking for?" must be addressed. The tool is perfect for gaining feedback before you design your ideas.

4. User Analytics

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User analytics or analytics data, also known as user behavior analytics, is a post-launch user research method of continuous, quantitative data collection and evaluation. Teams utilize analytics tools to gather information about how people interact with their website, app, or product. After that, they examine this information to learn more about user mood and engagement.

This research method offers many benefits. Firstly, it significantly reduces lead time as data is readily available, allowing for quick analysis and insights. Secondly, the large sample sizes in analytics enable statistically significant observations, providing a more accurate understanding of user behavior. Also, Analytics capture people's natural conduct, reflecting their real-world behavior rather than behavior influenced by a research context or test environment.

What Results Can You Expect from Your UX Research?

A UX researcher's job is to identify user demands, behaviors, and motivations in order to improve the usability and appeal of websites, services, and products. The results of carrying out effective user research would be to make the overall design process smoother and more productive.

We have to keep in mind that addressing user needs is everything. As Vice President of the Nielsen Norman Group Hoa Loranger puts it:

“UX research without users is not UX.”
Hoa Loranger, Vice President(Neilsen Norman Group)

So, Let's shed light on some of the potential results you can expect

Deeply understanding user needs

Practicing different user research methods can reveal insightful information about user preferences, behaviors, and motives. The design process can be guided by this deeper understanding, which will result in more user-centered goods and services.

Design solution validation

Design decisions can be validated via UX research methods, also providing supporting data. Results of user testing and user feedback can aid in boosting confidence in the efficiency of design ideas. Researchers gain expertise as they conduct UX research, gather data, identify issues, and create fresh solutions.

Decision-Making Supported by Data:

Quantitative UX research techniques offer statistical information that can aid in the decision-making process. Prioritizing design changes based on quantifiable impact and user preferences, for instance, can be done with the use of A/B testing and analytics research.

Usability Issues Identification

Usability testing and other evaluative user research techniques can be used to identify usability problems and pain spots in a design. Taking care of these problems can increase user engagement.

Key Takeaways

If you are looking to improve your design skills or excel in becoming an effective UX researcher, strive for continuous learning. Prioritizing staying updated on the latest trends, tools, and methodologies in UX research and design is essential. Qualitative approaches delve into user behaviors and attitudes, while quantitative techniques provide numerical data on preferences and behavior. Start a UX research course with Uxcel and earn a professional UX design certification in no time.

Frequently Asked Questions

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