Table of contents
What are UX research methods?
Behavioral vs. attitudinal research
Exploring UX research methods
How to choose the best UX research method for your needs
Wrapping up
UX Research

UX Research methods and when to use them

Thriving products are built around their users’ needs. Learn how you can leverage UX research to create a successful customer-led business.
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UX research methods introduction

UX research is an essential prerequisite for an enjoyable and frictionless user experience. Only by understanding your users, their needs, and aspirations, you can create a product that exceeds their expectations.

There's a broad spectrum of UX research methods, and each of them has its own strengths and limitations. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the most important ones and explore when they should be used to extract more value. 

Let's get right into it.

What are UX research methods?

There are many different UX research methods, but they can be broadly divided into three categories:

  • Qualitative 
  • Quantitative
  • User testing 
illustration of a man sitting on a pile of papers

Qualitative methods

Qualitative methods are used to understand users' feelings and perceptions. They include interviews, focus groups, usability testing, and many others. What sets this research method class apart is that it's predominantly used to extract detailed accounts as to how users feel about something. There's very little objectivity in these studies, and that's what makes them so valuable. 

Every single stakeholder can learn a lot from qualitative user data—but it's especially useful when developing hypotheses about your customers' needs and preferences. 

For instance, user interviews involve asking users questions about their experiences with a product or service. This data can be analyzed and leveraged to create better interactions.

Focus groups involve gathering users together to discuss their thoughts on a product. The data from focus groups can be used to identify pain points and determine how well the product meets their expectations and standards.

Usability testing involves giving users tasks to complete or watching them use the product. This data can be used to measure task completion rates, usability scores, and other user experience metrics.

Ethnographic research is qualitative research on a group of people and their behaviors and social interactions within their own, native environment.

Quantitative methods

Quantitative research methods are used to gather data that can be analyzed numerically. This type of research is typically used to measure user engagement, acquisition, retention, and a host of other statistical metrics. While qualitative studies are more exploratory in nature and are aimed at developing hypotheses, quanatitative research methods allow user experience professionals to confirm or disconfirm them. Oftentimes, it's only by combining quantitative and qualitative user research that you can get the best results.

Here are a few common types of quantitative studies:

  • User surveys ask questions about people’s experiences with a product. The data extracted from surveys can be used to measure user engagement, satisfaction, and other UX metrics.
  • Web analytics track how users interact with a website or app. The data from web analytics can be used to measure user engagement, acquisition, and retention.
  • A/B testing compares how two versions of a product perform against each other. The data from A/B tests can be used to measure user engagement and conversion rates, as well as validate certain design decisions over others.

User testing methods

User testing methods are used to assess how users interact with a product. They usually involve asking people to complete a series of actions or watching them use the product, and the data is often analyzed using user experience metrics such as task completion rates or usability scores.

User testing methods are either moderated or unmoderated. In a moderated test, a researcher is present to guide users and ask questions. This provides for a more controlled interaction between the researcher and the user, which can be useful for getting feedback on specific features or designs. However, moderated tests can be expensive and time-consuming to set up.

Unmoderated tests, on the other hand, are less expensive and faster to set up and conduct, but they lack the interaction between researcher and user. Instead, users complete tasks independently, and their interactions are recorded and documented by the platform on which they are conducted, which allows UX professionals to have a clear breakdown of things like mouse movements or clicks. This data is then analyzed by researchers to identify usability issues and avenues for improvement.

Behavioral vs. attitudinal research

Attitudinal research is concerned with users' attitudes, opinions, and feelings about a product or service. This type of research is useful for understanding why users might prefer one design over another or why they might dislike a particular feature.

Behavioral research, on the other hand, focuses on how users actually interact with a product or design. This type of research analyzes what people do in specific scenarios.

Both types of research are important, and you may find that you need to use both types in order to get a complete understanding of how users are interacting with your product.

One common attitudinal research method is user interviews. In these interviews, researchers communicate with a participant to understand their thoughts on a product or prototype. This type of research can be useful for understanding what users appreciate about an experience and what aspects they think need to be reworked.

User interviews can also help researchers understand how users feel about an experience. For instance, if a user says that they feel frustrated when using a particular feature, this information can be leveraged to inform future design iterations.

Behavioral research is often conducted through usability testing. In usability testing, a researcher observes how users interact with a product or design. This type of research can help UX professionals understand how users complete tasks on a website or app and which features are confusing or difficult to use.

Exploring UX research methods

Qualitative research methods

User interviews

User interviews are are a fairly intuitive and straightforward method—the researcher talks to a participant about their experience with a product or service. The interviewer can ask anything about what the person liked or disliked, what they found confusing, how they would have improved the product, and any other questions that come to mind.

When to use: User interviews are best used when you want to learn about a user's opinion or experience with a product.

Contextual inquiry

Contextual inquiry is a more immersive method, where the researcher visits the participant's work or home environment and observes them while they work. The researcher takes note of what the user is doing, how they are doing it, and document the problems they encounter.

When to use: Contextual inquiry is best used when you want to see how the user interacts with your product in their natural environment.

Focus groups

Focus groups are a qualitative research method in which a small group of users is brought together to discuss their experiences with a product or service. The researcher can ask any questions they like, but typically focus groups are used to get a sense of how users feel about a product and what features they like or don't like.

When to use: Focus groups are best used when you want to get a sense of how users feel about a product and what features they like or don't like.

Diary studies

During diary studies, participants are asked to keep track of their thoughts and feelings about using a product or service over time. This can be done in written form or through other means such as audio or video recordings.

When to use: Diary studies are a great way to get an in-depth understanding of how users feel about a product or service over time.

Quantitative research methods

A/B testing

A/B testing, or split testing, is a method of comparing two versions of a web page or app to see which one performs better. A/B testing can be used to test anything from a CTA to the layout of a form.

When to use: A/B testing is best used when you want to know whether a change to your website or app is likely to lead to more users completing a task or spending more time on your site.

Click tracking

Click tracking is a method of measuring how often users click on different elements of a web page. This can be used to measure the effectiveness of different types of calls to action or to see which elements on a page are most popular with users.

When to use: Click tracking is best used when you want to know what users are clicking on and how effective different elements of your website or app are at getting users to interact with them.

Session replay tools

Session replay tools allow you to record and playback user sessions so that you can see how users interact with your website or app. This can be used to identify any usability issues or to see how users are navigating through your site.

When to use: Session replay is best used when you want to see how users are interacting with your website or app or when you want to identify any usability issues.

Five-second testing

Five-second testing is a quick and easy way to test whether users understand what they see on your website or app. You show users a screenshot or design and ask them to tell you what they think it is for in five seconds or less.

When to use: Five-second testing is best used when you want to quickly test whether users understand what they see on your website or app.

Online surveys

Online surveys are a quantitative research method in which participants answer questions about their experiences with a product or service. Online surveys can be used to get feedback from a large number of people very quickly, and they can be used to gather data on many different aspects of user experience.

When to use: Online surveys are a good way to get feedback from a large number of people quickly, and they can be used to gather data on many different aspects of user experience.

How to choose the best UX research method for your needs

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Choosing the right UX research method can be difficult, but it's important to consider the goals of your research and the needs of your users. The following questions can help you to choose the best method for your needs:

What are you trying to achieve with your research?
What do you already know about your users?
What kind of feedback do you need?
What resources are available to you?

Once you have a good understanding of what you're trying to achieve and who your target audience is, you can start to select the right UX research methods. Here are some examples:

  • If you want to understand how users interact with your website or app, then session replay or user testing may be useful.
  • If you want to know what users think about your product, then surveys or interviews may be the best option.
  • If you're looking for feedback on specific features or designs, then usability testing or card sorting may be more suitable.
  • If you need to track user behavior over time, then longitudinal studies or analytics may be the way to go.

When doing your research, it's important to store, organize and manage your the data you collect effectively and efficiently. UX repositories are an often overlooked tool in the design process.

Wrapping up

No method is perfect, so it's important to use a mix of methods that will give you the most comprehensive understanding of your users. By using a variety of UX research methods, you can get a better picture of how users think and behave, which will help you create designs that meet their needs.

Want to learn more about UX Research? Read our comprehensive UX research guide.

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