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What is User Experience Research (UX Research)? Definition & Methodologies

To be a good UX Designer, you need to know a number of skills. You need to know about Design Principles, UX Laws, User Testing, Data Analysis, and, most importantly, UX Research Methods.
  • “Why is UX research necessary?”
  • “When do I UX research?”
  • “What are the different UX research methods?”
  • “Which method do I use and When?”
As a new UX designer, I had a lot of trouble with these questions, so I'll try to answer them in as few words as possible today. Make sure you look at the sources listed if you want to learn more.  

UX research

If you are a designer, you know that it has something to do with designing for the end user, right?
“User research is how you will know your product or service will work in the real world, with real people. It’s where you will uncover or validate the user needs which should form the basis of what you are designing.” – Chris Mears
UX research is the process of learning about the person who will be using your product in the end, including their personalities, attitudes, behaviors, needs, motivations, and pain points. It's a planned way to find out how people use a product and get information that will help guide the UX design process.  

Why is UX research needed?

Before you can start designing anything, you first need to suss out what user problem you’re trying to solve.
Any UX solution needs to be based on a deep understanding of the problem. Then a UX professional will be able to solve the problem. It's important to do UX research because:
  • Helps figure out who the users are, how big the market is, and the competition.
  • Helps figure out what the user's problems are.
  • Helps put the design process into a system.
  • Helps decide which features or ideas are most important.
  • Helps users tell their stories.
  • It helps prove or disprove ideas and assumptions before and during the design process.

When should I do UX research?

Even though UX research is best done at the beginning of a project, it is important at every stage. But it makes the most difference when done early on. So, you won't have to go back and make changes as often, and the end product will be user-focused from the start.  

What are the different UX research methods?

Quantitative vs Qualitative Research Methods

Quantitative research is any kind of research that has results that can be measured. For example, how many users speak Spanish? or How many people use the button to filter? Quantitative research looks at the “what”. Qualitative research is research that can't be measured, counted, or plotted on a chart. For example, a user might talk about how hard it was to book a cab during an interview. Qualitative research can be used to find out how people feel, why they do what they do, and what drives them to do what they do. Qualitative research tries to find out "why."

Behavioural vs Attitudinal Research Methods

What people say and what they think are two very different things. Attitudinal research looks at or measures attitudes and beliefs, while behavioral research looks at how people act. For example, usability testing is a type of user research that looks at how people act and how well something works. User research methods, on the other hand, like user groups, interviews, and making personas, look at what people think about a product. Here is a chart that shows how some of the most common ways to do research compare.    

1. User Interviews

User interviews, which are also called "in-depth interviews," are one-on-one conversations with participants that last 30 to 60 minutes. During these conversations, a moderator asks questions about a topic of interest to learn more about the user's attitudes, beliefs, desires, and experiences. Interviews with users are usually a quick and easy way to get a lot of qualitative data. But the moderator has to make sure it goes smoothly and asks the right kinds of open-ended questions. User Interviews are explained in more detail below: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/user-interviews/

2. Focus Groups

A focus group is a way to do research in which a small group of people (usually between 6 and 9) meet face-to-face and answer questions. It is a qualitative method that helps find out what people think and believe. This is usually done for market research or to find out what people think about products, messaging, etc. The people in the group are chosen based on their demographics, and the questions are meant to shed light on an interesting topic. Focus groups can be very helpful when making a system, but they shouldn't be the only way to find out how users to act. Click on the link below for more information about Focus Groups: https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/focus-group/

3. Diary Studies

In a diary study, researchers keep track of the user's thoughts, feelings, and actions over time. It gathers qualitative data by keeping track of specific information about how the product being studied is used. Researchers can check in with themselves more than once, write down how their thoughts and feelings change over time and think about their answers. It helps people learn more about themselves by giving them a different way to look at things. Read more about Diary Studies by clicking on the link below: https://maze.co/guides/ux-research/diary-research/

4. Field Studies

Field Studies are research that is done in the environment of the user instead of in the researcher's office or lab. The participant watches the user while they do their own things and are not interrupted. It's a great way to find out about the user's environment, unknown motivations, or any limitations that affect their experience. The main benefit of field studies is that the people who take part get to put themselves in the shoes of the users and see the problem for themselves. This helps the participant get more detailed stories from users. Read more about Field Studies by clicking on the link below. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/field-studies/

5. Usability Testing

The phrase “usability testing” is often used interchangeably with “user testing.”
Usability testing is basically putting the users to the test by letting them use the product and making notes and observations about how they use it and how they act. There are different ways to do usability tests, like moderated vs. unmoderated or qualitative vs. quantitative. Choosing the right one depends on your research goal, resources, and time frame. Depending on the method used, the goals of usability testing can be different, but they usually include:
  • Uncovering opportunities to improve.
  • Learning about the target user’s behaviour and preferences.
Read more about Usability Testing by clicking on the link below: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-testing-101/

6. Tree Testing

Sometimes described as “backwards card sorting,” also bears a certain resemblance to first-click testing.
Tree testing shows the tester how the website is put together and asks them where they would click to reach a goal. It helps figure out how topics on the website are organized, how easy they are to find, and how easy they are to get around. Tests on trees can give answers to questions like:
  • Is my content grouped logically to people?
  • Can people find the information they want easily and quickly? If not, what’s stopping them?
Read more about Tree Testing by clicking on the link below: https://www.userzoom.com/ux-blog/what-is-tree-testing-and-how-can-it-improve-ux/

7. Eye-Tracking

Eye tracking is a way to measure where people look and how long they look there. Most of the time, it is recorded so that it can be watched again later. Eye-tracking is a research method that is similar to heat-mapping, in which the movements and clicks of the cursor are tracked and recorded. Eye-Tracking is explained in more detail below:
  • https://usabilitygeek.com/what-is-eye-tracking-when-to-use-it/
  • https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/process/user-research/eye-tracking-and-usability/

8. A/B Testing

Also known as split testing or bucket testing. A/B testing is a way to find out which version of a product, web page, app, or idea works best by showing the user two versions of the same thing. It's a way to figure out which version of your product is the best. A/B testing can help you learn how small changes affect how users act, choose which design approach to use, and make sure that a new design is going in the right direction. Read more about A/B Testing by clicking on the link below: https://www.uxdesigninstitute.com/blog/benefits-of-a-b-testing/

9. Analytics

UX Analysis is the process of measuring and analyzing how people use a website or app. This shows how the design can be changed. With the help of web analytics tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics, heat-map tools like CrazyEgg and Hotjar, and real-time analytics tools, data can be collected and then used to make design decisions. Click on the link below to learn more about Analytics: https://mixpanel.com/blog/what-is-ux-analytics/#:~:text=What%20is%20UX%20analytics%3F,be%20quantitative%20and%2For%20qualitative

10. Five-second Testing

Five-second testing is a type of usability testing that lets you see how well a design gets a message across in a short amount of time. This kind of test gives you both numerical and qualitative information that helps you improve a design. In a five-second test, an image is shown to a participant for just five seconds, and then the participant is asked questions about the design based on what they remember and how they feel about it. Why only five? Studies have shown that people only look at your website for a few seconds before they decide whether to stay or leave. Read more about Five-second Testing by clicking on the link below: https://userpeek.com/blog/the-five-second-test-in-usability-testing/

11. Surveys

UX Using surveys, you can get useful information from a group of users. They can be used for both qualitative and quantitative studies. For qualitative studies, you can ask people for open-ended feedback and comments. For quantitative studies, you can use a larger number of responses. There can be both closed- and open-ended questions on a survey. Click on the link below to learn more about Surveys: https://uxplanet.org/this-is-all-you-need-to-know-to-conduct-a-ux-survey-50400af45920

12. Card Sorting

Card sorting is a method used in UX research to find out how people understand and organize information. Users are given cards that have been labeled and told to put them in the order that makes the most sense to them. This method finds out how the domain knowledge of the target audience is organized in an information architecture that meets users' needs. You can do card sorting with real cards, pieces of paper, or one of several online software tools for card sorting. Read more about Card Sorting by clicking on the link below: https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/process/information-architecture/card-sorting-best-practices/  

Other UX Research Methods

Some of the methods I didn't mention (but will talk about in future posts):
  • User Flows
  • Competitive/Comparative Analysis
  • Heuristic Evaluation

What method do I use, and when?

Before you can choose the right UX research method, you need to know and understand the problem you're trying to solve. To do this, you need to think of questions like:
  • “What are the users struggling with?”
  • “How can I help the users?”
Methods like Field Studies are usually used at the beginning of a project. Methods like Usability Testing and Tree Testing can't be used early on in a project when the product isn't even close to being ready. It's also a good idea to start with what you already know. Using information from secondary research helps the researcher figure out where they are and which research method to use. Ask questions like:
  • “What do we need to discover?”
  • “Do we need to introduce a new feature do we want to improve on the existing ones?”
Think about your goals, resources, and the time frame when choosing a UX research method. If you know these things from the beginning, you'll be able to choose the best method for you.
The best UX research method is the one that provides relevant, complete answers to your research question. The ideal method to use varies depending on your research project — what stage you’re in, what goals you want to achieve, and what resources you have.

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