20 Essential UX research methods and how they help you build better products

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22 Jan
2024
12 Dec
2023
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The product development process has many aspects to take care of with decisions that can lead to success or disappointment. Finding the right path might seem tricky, but UX research methods become invaluable insights, which we’ll talk about today.

When every business is battling for attention, the importance of understanding your customers cannot be overstated. User experience (UX) research stands at the forefront, providing valuable data about user behaviors, preferences, and pain points, which is essential for tailoring products that truly resonate with and captivate your audience. In this article, we’ll figure out what exactly UX research is and, as a bonus, provide the 20 essential techniques shaping the world of user-centric product design in 2023.

What is UX research?

UX research is all about understanding the people who will use your product. It’s a way to discover what they need, what they like, and how they behave. There are different methods to do this, like asking questions, analyzing how customers interact with a product, or studying data about their behavior. By doing UX research, you can avoid guessing what users want and instead give them something they will really like and find helpful.

UX research? It’s like chatting with your users to get what they want — no guesswork needed!

Why UX research is important for your product creation

You can’t create a product “just because you want to.” Well, in fact, you can, but will it be useful? Understanding why UX research is crucial in developing a product is the first step toward building something truly remarkable. There are a number of advantages you should consider, so let’s discuss them in detail.

  • User satisfaction. First off, UX research puts you in your users’ shoes. It’s the best way to uncover what they need, what frustrates them, and what makes them happy. When you understand these pain points and desires, you can create solutions that potential customers will love.
  • Reduced development cost. Investing in UX analysis might seem like an extra expense, but it actually saves you money down the line. While making changes after a product launch is expensive and time-consuming, UX research helps you get it right the first time.
  • Product usability. Usability is essential to any successful product, and this is where UX research shines. With proper analysis and focus on usability, you can enhance user satisfaction, making the website or app more appealing and encouraging for repeat usage.
  • Increase conversion rates. It’s pretty straightforward — when you understand what users need and how they interact with the product, you can make improvements that hit the mark. These tweaks can make their experience smoother, encouraging more people to leap from being interested to making a purchase.
  • Competitive advantage. Every business aims to gain a competitive edge, and UX research is exactly what you need for it. By understanding users and what they need, you can make your product stand out from the crowd. This isn’t just about being different — it’s about being better in a way that matters to your users.
  • Informed decision-making. UX research can significantly help when it comes to making decisions in the process of product creation. It gives real, user-based insights, so you’re not just guessing what might work but making informed choices based on what users want and need.
  • Brand loyalty. When users feel that a product is made with their needs in mind, they’re more likely to stick around. This loyalty stems from a sense of being understood and valued, a crucial outcome of effective UX research. In short, good UX leads to satisfied users, who, in turn, become loyal supporters of your brand.

With all of these benefits, it’s clear that starting with UX research, you’re starting on the path to success. It bridges the gap between user needs and business goals, leading to effective, efficient, and emotionally engaging solutions.

Crafting a great website is all about providing a satisfying user experience

Types of user research

There are various types of UX research, each with its goals and objectives. From unique insights to different aspects of gathering information, every method helps to craft products that truly resonate with your audience. Overall, there are six main types of user research, which we’re going to discuss below.

Attitudinal vs. behavioral

When we talk about user research, we primarily look at two types: attitudinal and behavioral. The attitudinal type focuses on what users say. It’s all about understanding their attitudes, preferences, and opinions by using tools like surveys, interviews, and questionnaires. Think of it as having a direct conversation with your users to learn how they feel about your product or what they wish for.

In contrast, behavioral research is based on what users actually do. It involves being an observer, watching how people interact with your product. In that case, you can use such methods as usability testing, session recordings, and heatmaps to get the necessary data. This approach is crucial for understanding the true user experience and pinpointing areas for improvement. 

Together, these two research methods give a comprehensive view of the customers, blending what they tell with what their actions show.

Qualitative vs. quantitative

Alright, let’s talk about more types of user research: qualitative and quantitative. They both play crucial roles in crafting a complete picture of customer engagement and preferences. 

Qualitative research gathers stories about users’ experiences, thoughts, and feelings regarding your product. Through interviews, focus groups, and direct observations, you gain insights into the “why” and “how” people behave while interacting with a website or app through interviews, focus groups, and direct observations.

Now, let’s switch to quantitative research. This one deals with the hard data and is full of numbers. To get exact answers about what is happening on the website, use tools like surveys with fixed responses, website analytics, and statistical analysis. How many people clicked here? What percentage completed their purchase? Quantitative research gives you these facts and, most importantly, stats.

Qualitative research is about the quality of data — the stories and experiences, while quantitative focuses on the numbers.

Generative vs. evaluative

Among the various user research methods, it’s worth discussing generative and evaluative approaches. Both of them are super important to get a well-rounded understanding of your users and, as a result, create a successful product based on these insights.

Generative research is the go-to at the beginning stages of product development or when brainstorming for innovative solutions. It is all about coming up with new ideas and understanding broader user needs and behaviors through interviews, field studies, and diary studies. This type of research outlines what users need and want, helping to figure out what products or features to develop.

Following generative research, as your product ideas take shape, shift to evaluative research. This phase is crucial for assessing what you’ve created. It’s focused on refinement and improvement, using tools like usability testing, A/B testing, and specific surveys. The goal is to test your products against real user expectations and experiences, ensuring that the crafted product resonates with them and effectively meets their needs.

UX research methods worth paying attention to

Top 20 UX design research methods and when to use them

Understanding users is the basis of impactful design, and the right research methods are key to gaining this insight. Scroll further as we explore 20 essential UX research techniques, each with its specific application context.

The right research methods help understand users and gain insights

1.  Surveys

In UX research, surveys are handy for getting user feedback and can be qualitative or quantitative, depending on the type of questions asked. Qualitative surveys include open-ended questions to gain insights into what users think and feel, while quantitative use closed-ended questions (like multiple choice or ratings) to get data that’s easy to measure. There are two ways to conduct surveys, namely:

  • Email surveys. Sent directly to users’ inboxes, these surveys help reach a broad audience by asking specific things about your product or service. To recruit participants for email surveys, utilize your existing customer database or sign-up forms on your website.
  • On-site surveys. They pop up while users browse the website or app, letting you grab feedback about their experience right then and there. For on-site surveys, you can target customers who are actively engaging with your site.

Surveys are versatile. You can use them at various stages of the product development process — from the initial conceptualization phase to after the launch. They help collect data from many users, spot trends in user behavior, and gather thoughts on specific features.

2.  Interviews

A key qualitative method in UX research is interviews, where a researcher meets one-on-one with users to discuss a particular topic. This method includes two main types: in-depth interviews (IDIs) and intercept interviews.

  • In-depth interviews (IDIs). They’re usually conducted in a relaxed and cozy environment where participants can talk through everything in detail. If you want to find people for IDIs who match your user profile, surf online, through social media, or use your customer list.
  • Intercept interviews. They happen right where the action is — on a website, wherever users interact with your product or service. You’ll approach visitors while they’re using the website or just after they’ve used it. It’s free-flowing, so you rely on their willingness to chat there and then.

This UX method fits perfectly at different stages of your project development, from concept to release. In the early phases, it acts as a tool for gathering the target audience and shaping the user base. Towards the end, this approach becomes a great possibility for getting the lowdown on how people find your product’s usability and appeal.

3.  Personas

Think of personas as characters in a story, but in this case, they are based on real users. This qualitative method helps you make design decisions in the early stages of product development based on what people need and expect. It means ensuring your website or product is a hit with your audience, not just an imaginary user.

But how do you start creating these personas? First, you need actual user data, which you can gather from online platforms, social media, or customer lists. This process isn’t about guessing who your users are but understanding them through in-depth interviews or observational studies. The great decision is to prepare a set of questions or scenarios to gain insights into people’s lifestyles, preferences, and challenges to paint a comprehensive picture of your user base. This way, every design decision you make is grounded in reality, not assumptions.

4.  Usability testing

You’ve got your product or service, and now it’s time to see it in action with people through usability testing. During this process, real users tackle tasks by interacting with your product while a researcher observes their experience, gathering insights on how they use it and where improvements might be needed.

Whether you are wondering when to conduct usability testing, here are some tips to help you make an informed decision:

  • Before the design stage. Such an early insight can influence the direction of your design, ensuring it meets the user requirements from the start.
  • After wireframe or prototype creation. It helps identify usability issues early on, saving time and resources by preventing costly redesigns later.
  • Ahead of the product launch. This step is crucial to eliminate last-minute issues and boost user confidence in your product’s reliability.
  • Regularly after roll-out. Ongoing testing helps identify areas for improvement and ensures the product remains relevant and user-friendly.

This method can be both qualitative and quantitative. On the qualitative side, you’re watching and listening to participants, getting their thoughts and feelings on the experience. Quantitatively, you measure how long it takes to complete tasks or count errors. Finding the participants for usability testing can be done through online ads, social media, customer databases, or recruitment agencies.

5.  Field studies

Another aspect of UX research is field studies, where the action happens in places users typically hang out, like their homes or offices. Social media, customer lists, or special outreach programs are your go-to tools for finding people, but remember, you’re asking to step into their space, and it’s crucial they’re comfortable with that.

This qualitative approach offers a reliable overview of your products during the discovery stage or a ready-made prototype to see whether it fits into customers’ daily lives. Researchers are there to watch and learn — how people interact with the product, what’s happening around them, and all that jazz. 

Field studies are about making sure your designs don’t just work in theory but really click in the everyday lives of your users.

6.  Focus groups

A classic tool in UX research is focus groups that bring together a small number of people (typically around 6 to 10 participants) to discuss and share their thoughts about your product or service. It’s kind of a hangout, but instead of casual chit-chat, you’re talking about what they think and feel using your creation.

You need a diverse mix of participants representing different facets of your target audience. To find them, try advertising, searching customer databases, or reaching out to communities relevant to your product.

This qualitative method is thoughtful research of people’s opinions, attitudes, and experiences while formulating your website or service concept. The cool thing is, when customers start talking and bouncing ideas off each other, you get to uncover insights that might not pop up in a one-on-one chat.

7.  Eye-tracking

Eye-tracking is one of the more fascinating and technological UX research methods used to analyze how users view a website or app. Special equipment follows the movement of a visitor’s eyes, showing what catches their attention, for how long, and in what order. Since eye-tracking is a bit more high-tech, you can search for participants through online platforms, social media, or customer databases.

It is a quantitative process that gives you hard data — numbers and patterns demonstrating where people’s attention goes on the screen. This info is super valuable in the mid to late stages of product development to understand what draws users in and what might be getting overlooked.

8.  Remote moderated testing

For remote moderated testing, you can reach out to people through social media, email, or online ads, as this method permits people to join from anywhere. Whether at home, in a cafe, or any comfortable place, this handy UX research technique allows everyone to chill in their favorite spot using video calls and screen-sharing software for testing.

Remote moderated testing can provide qualitative insights by observing and talking to users as they navigate your product in different stages of development. At the same time, you can collect quantitative data like task completion times or error rates. This combo gives you a well-rounded view of the user experience to make iterative improvements based on what real users do and say.

9.  Concept testing

Take a glimpse into how potential users might react to a new idea or design before you start the development phase with the concept testing. It involves presenting a concept — like a product idea, feature, or design element — to users and getting their feedback.

Concept testing can swing both ways — qualitative and quantitative. You can gather feedback by engaging users through social media or online communities to share their thoughts and feelings about the website idea. Hard data comes into play when you ask specific questions that can be measured, like rating scales or choice preferences.

10.  Diary studies

In the method of diary studies, you make participants keep a record — like a diary — of their experiences with your finished product over a period of time. They jot down their thoughts, feelings, and actions, providing a window into daily interactions with what you’ve created.

Diary studies are mainly qualitative and focused on customers’ personal and detailed experiences. You can reach out to users who are already engaged with your product or use a database, social media platforms, or community forums. By analyzing their information, you get rich, narrative insights into how people navigate and feel about your product in their everyday lives.

11.  Customer feedback

You can have a direct line to your users’ thoughts and experiences through customer feedback. That looks like a casual chat with your audience to find out what they love, what frustrates them, and what could be better about your product or service. This communication can be built through a prominent button on your website, a form in your app, or even follow-up emails after a purchase or service use. 

Qualitative customer feedback comes from open-ended questions where users share their thoughts in their own words about any stage of your product’s lifecycle. On the other hand, quantitative data is derived from closed-ended questions, such as ratings or multiple-choice queries, offering measurable insights.

12.  Desirability studies

With desirability studies, you focus on the visual appeal and emotional impact of your product’s design. In these tests, you show participants different style options for your product and ask them to match these ideas with specific feelings or attributes from a list. It’s a bit like a game, where your design elements correspond to feelings like “exciting,” “modern,” or “user-friendly.”

Desirability studies are primarily quantitative and rely on structured feedback, where participants, who you can find through social media, online ads, or user groups, choose from a ready-made list of attributes. This approach provides measurable data about how users perceive the visual aspects of your product, revealing critical insights into their preferences, design effectiveness, and potential areas for visual enhancement.

13.  Card sorting

When it comes to designing the layout and structuring content, card sorting — a user-friendly and insightful method in UX research — kicks in. The main idea is to give participants a set of cards, each labeled with a piece of content or a feature, and ask them to sort it into categories that make sense.

Qualitatively, this method helps you understand how users think and why they group things a certain way. Quantitatively, when you analyze the patterns in how different people sort the cards, you get measurable data on common groupings and preferences.

Your participants don’t need to be current users of your product but should have interests relevant to your offerings. To find them, surf through online forums and social media or rely on your customer database. 

14.  Tree testing

If you want to evaluate the information architecture of your product during the mid-design phase, try tree testing. 

Recruit participants through social media, online ads, or existing customer databases and ask them to find a way through a simplified, text-only map of your website or app — a “tree.” Their mission is to complete specific tasks like finding a particular piece of information or performing an action.

This quantitative research focuses on measurable outcomes like the success rate of finding information, the time taken to complete tasks, and the paths users take. This data provides clear insights into the effectiveness of your site’s or app’s navigational structure.

15.  Analytics

UX research analytics involves exploring user behavior through clues like clicks, form fillings, and other interactions when your product is out in the real world. It’s all about gathering little breadcrumbs of data from actual users to form an overall picture

This method is quantitative, measuring actions relying on numbers. By analyzing this data, you get objective insights into how users interact with your product, like which features are popular, where they might get stuck, and how they navigate through your site or app.

With UX analytics, every click tells a story, painting a clear picture of user journeys and experiences in the world of numbers.

16.  Clickstream analytics

There is a specific type of UX research — clickstream analytics. This method tracks the digital footprints of your users as they hop from page to page on your live site or app. It’s all about mapping their journey, seeing their paths, the stops they make, and for how long. By applying this research technique, you can gain valuable insight into how users navigate, what they like, and where they might run into trouble.

You don’t need to send out invites for a study or round up a group of participants because the data comes directly from the click and scroll of actual users. It’s a continuous stream of information that lets you tweak, adjust, and perfect a visitor’s experience over time.

Clickstream analytics is inherently quantitative. It deals with concrete data like the sequence of pages visited, the time spent on each page, and the transitions between different parts of the site or app. This data helps quantify user behavior, revealing trends and common navigation paths.

17.  A/B testing

Split testing, or A/B testing, is a method in UX research where you compare two versions of a webpage or app to see which one performs better. Essentially, you create two different versions — A and B — and show them to users. You analyze which is more effective based on specific metrics like clicks, conversions, or customer engagement.

A/B testing is a quantitative research method all about numbers and measurable results. You’re looking at data from current users to see which version leads to better performance regarding their actions and reactions. This approach provides concrete evidence about which design or content choices are more effective in achieving your goals.

18.  Five second testing

Quick and powerful — that’s exactly what five second testing is. The main idea is to show users a webpage, ad, or app screen — for just five seconds. After that brief glimpse, ask questions about what they remember or how they felt to identify the immediate impact and clarity of your designs. This method is flexible and fast, ensuring minimal disruption to your users, whom you can engage through online platforms, social media, or in-person meetings.

The five-second technique can provide both qualitative and quantitative data from the early to mid phases of design. Qualitatively, you can gather insights about participants’ initial feelings and thoughts. Quantitatively, you can measure aspects like recall accuracy, which provides data on the most memorable or attention-grabbing design elements.

19.  Prototyping

Another essential step in the UX design process is prototyping, where the design team creates a mini-version of a site or product. This mock-up can be as simple as a hand-drawn paper layout or as sophisticated as interactive HTML pages. The idea is to explore and visualize design concepts before fully implementing them, allowing for adjustments based on feedback.

You can gather qualitative information from the target audience to understand user reactions, thoughts, and feelings about the design. Quantitatively, you can test specific functions, like the ease of navigation or the effectiveness of user interfaces, by measuring task completion time and rates.

20.  Competitor analysis and benchmarking

The last critical method is to assess your product compared to others in the market. This involves analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of competitor products and benchmarking them against industry standards. The goal is to understand where your creation stands in the competitive landscape and identify opportunities for improvement or differentiation.

This method is valuable at every stage of your product’s life and can be both qualitative and quantitative. It allows you to analyze things like design style, how user-friendly its features are, and the overall website or app vibe compared to competitors. You can also acquire critical numbers, such as performance metrics, user engagement levels, and conversion rates, that’ll help you identify where your product stands in the market and how it can be improved.

What UX research technique is thought to be the best?

The best UX research technique depends on the specifics of your project, your goals, and the stage of development you’re in. For example, if you’re just starting out with a new app idea and want to understand your potential users’ needs and behaviors, generative research methods like interviews or surveys might be your go-to. These techniques help gather insights that can shape your initial design concepts.

On the other hand, if your app is already developed and you’re looking to refine the user interface, usability testing or A/B testing could be more beneficial. These evaluative methods allow you to observe how users interact with your app and make data-driven improvements.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer — the key is to match the research method with your specific needs at each stage of your project.

How to choose UX research methods

When it comes to picking user experience research methods, a great factor to consider is your company’s budget. The amount of money you’re able to allocate for analysis can guide which strategies are feasible and most effective for your needs. But it’s not the only one, as there are other aspects to consider, which we’ll cover in the following paragraphs.

There are different research methods, so find the one that suits you best

Define your objectives and problems

When starting with UX research, define your objectives and the problems you aim to solve. This step sets the direction of the study and helps you choose the most effective methods to achieve your goals. Knowing exactly what you want to understand or improve in your user experience guides your entire research process.

When defining your objectives and problems in UX research, we recommend you answer these key questions to set clear goals:

  • What are the user’s needs?
  • What challenges do the users face?
  • How can you address user requirements?

Understand the stage of the design process

Choosing the right UX research methods depends on where you are in the design process. Each stage of your project has unique needs and goals, which require different research approaches and can be divided into three main stages, namely:

  • Start of the project. This is the exploratory phase, where you gather initial insights to shape your concept. Methods like user interviews, surveys, and market analysis are ideal to understand user needs and market gaps
  • Formative phase. Here, you are in the process of shaping and testing your design. Techniques like prototyping, usability testing, and card sorting help refine your product, ensuring it meets user expectations and usability standards.
  • Summative part. At this final point, your product is complete, and you’re assessing its overall performance. Methods like A/B testing, analytics, and satisfaction surveys are used to evaluate the user experience, measure effectiveness, and identify areas for future improvement.

Each phase has distinct goals, and understanding where you are in the process helps you choose research methods that provide the most valuable insights for that particular stage.

Determine the type of information you need

In UX research, determining the necessary information type will guide you in selecting the most appropriate research methods. 

If your goal is to explore more the thoughts, behaviors, and motivations of your users, qualitative methods like interviews and observational studies are your best bet. They give a rich, narrative understanding of customers’ experiences. On the other hand, when looking for concrete, data-driven insights, quantitative methods such as surveys and analytics are more suitable. They provide objective, numerical data that can reveal trends and patterns in user behavior.

Sometimes, a mix of both qualitative and quantitative data is necessary to get a full picture. Such an approach allows you to understand not just what users are doing but also why they’re doing it, combining in-depth insights with measurable facts.

By pinpointing the information you need, you can select UX research methods that provide the most relevant and valuable insights for your project.

Before you start

Eye-tracking, A/B testing, surveys — each method offers unique insights that can shape and refine your website or app development process. By carefully selecting and applying these research techniques, you are equipped to deeply understand user needs, behaviors, and preferences.

Ultimately, the success of a product in the market hinges on how well it meets the requirements and expectations of its customers. Integrating the 20 essential UX research methods outlined above into your development cycle increases the chances of achieving this alignment. 

Whether you’re at the concept stage or refining an existing product, these practices provide the necessary data to make informed decisions, ensuring your product is user-centric, innovative, and competitive in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

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