User-centered design calls for user research.
No matter what a design is or who the users are, before commencing any design journey, it is crucial for the designers to understand the users. This is to help them create better-informed designs that will hit the sweet spot of the users. Because to be able to provide the best solution for users, you must first know what it is that they need.
What is UX Research?
UX research is a means to know the pulse of the users by implementing various user research methods.
It is an approach to look at a design from the end-user perspective.
“What are the users trying to achieve?”
“What difficulty do they face?”
“What do users like and dislike?”
UX Research will help you find the answers to this question. And when you realize the insights from these answers into a UX design process, you succeed in creating a result tailored for your users.
A standard definition of UX research can be given as the systematic investigation of users, and their behavior, performed to gather insights that will aid the design process. It uses several investigative methods to understand user needs, attitudes, behavior, and pain points.
UX research is all about gathering data and interpreting the feedback to understand what makes users tick. Several UX research methods are implemented to achieve this, about which we will see in the later sections. Now, let’s try and understand the reasons for UX research.
What is the Purpose of UX Research?
“The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have” – Steve Jobs.
The purpose of UX Research can be summed up in this one quote. It is to broaden your user understanding- to enable you to know your users- their expectations and problems.
Performing user research helps to:
- Shed light on user needs and goals
- Design based on facts and not on guesswork
- Find common patterns over different target groups
- Identify design challenges or problems
- Create designs that are relevant
- Understand the value of investing in UX design
Ultimately, UX research encourages design with the user in mind. The aim is to add context to the design and develop a UX design methodology that gives value to the user.
What is Key in a User Research?
The key things in user research are empathy and analysis.
Empathy is the ability to share the users’ mindset- their needs, expectations, and problems. Empathy requires two skills, observation, and understanding.
Observation is a much-needed talent for a UX researcher. While conducting UX research methods, the researchers should be alert and observant to notice even the minute actions or reactions of users. They should train themselves to fully focus, observe, and discern the slightest details.
Understanding the user is another key point. Empathizing with the user and understanding their perspective will help researchers to realize the why behind their actions. Each user will be different, and their reactions may be dependent on their life experiences. Researchers must be able to empathize with them.
As crucial as gathering information is being able to process them into insightful points to influence the designing process. Analysis means working on the research data to find critical data and presenting them in an easily understandable format. As such, research data would end up unused as processing is what filters them and makes them usable.
Analysis triggers the logical part of the brain, while empathy requires researchers to give more focus on the emotional aspects.
What Are the Two Approaches to UX Research Methods?
Ideally, throughout the application of UI UX design principles, UX research should be an ongoing procedure. Research is required at the beginning to gather insights, throughout the design phase to validate or invalidate assumptions, and at the end, to market the product.
Depending on the phase when research is being conducted, the type of the product and target users, the choice of UX research methods will vary.
There are two approaches to UX research methods, Qualitative research, and Quantitative research.
1. Qualitative Research
The UX research methods deployed at the beginning of a design process come under qualitative research methods. These UX research methods take an exploratory path, with an aim to get an in-depth understanding of user actions.
The reason why these are performed in the beginning is that it helps to shape ideas with the aid of insights and theories. Qualitative research methods involve direct and close interaction with the users to investigate the why behind their actions.
These UX research methods are unstructured and do not collect data in well-defined boxes. Here, it’s not about collecting vast amounts of data but rather about getting insightful and personal data, even if in small sizes.
Some of the UX research methods used in qualitative research are interviews, field studies, card sorting, and usability tests. All these methods collect non-numerical data.
2. Quantitative Research
Quantitative UX research methods are conducted to test the results you gathered from qualitative research and validate your findings. These methods do not focus much on finding user feelings or reasons but rather on analyzing the trends in user behavior.
Quantitative research methods use a structured approach and aim to gather data that is measurable. Rather than asking open-ended questions, here targeted questions are asked to obtain quantifiable data, but in an indirect approach like questionnaires.
In quantitative research, the larger the data that is collected, the better the insights. Because it increases the accuracy of statistical likelihoods. The analytical data obtained from quantitative UX research methods help designers to decide which assumptions to go forthwith.
Some of the UX research methods used in quantitative research are surveys and questionnaires, A/B testing, online polls, and analytics. All these methods collect numerical data.
Top 12 UX Research Methods and When to Use Them
If we combine all the UX research methods that are being practised worldwide by UX designers, the list will be long and never-ending!
But not every design implements every research method. Like we mentioned before, it depends significantly on the type of design.
Let us take a look at the top 12 UX research methods in this section.
Interviews are a tried and tested method for research. Face to face interviews with users helps to gain a better understanding of their desires and actions. This can be directed interviews where researchers ask specific questions or non-directed interviews where it takes the form of an open-ended conversation. This flexible UX research method can be used anywhere in the design process.
2. Card Sorting
Card sorting is a UX research method used to aid the formation of navigation or information architecture. It is a simple technique where users group different cards into categories. It aims to explore users’ perception of hierarchy and the relationship between content.
The goal of this method is to structure a site based on user’s mental models. This UX research method is useful when working with websites that have a complex menu and submenu arrangements.
3. User Personas
User personas is a very engaging and imaginative UX research method where fictional users are built based on the target user characteristics. It involves creating different personas of the potential user base and scrutinizing every design decision based on the perspective of these personas. It’s a good technique to follow anywhere during the design process.
Surveys are a widely used UX research method where users are asked to answer a series of questions. Nowadays, we have a lot of online surveys happening through emails and social media.
It is an excellent technique to gather large amounts of data in a short time. But it is limited in the sense that further instigation is not possible. This UX research method is a great choice in scenarios where the target user base is large and diverse.
5. Focus Groups
Focus groups are a UX research method where a researcher encourages a group of people to carry out discussions based on some specific topic. This is an excellent research technique for projects that have a diverse user group and need to get maximum user perspectives. Besides giving a deep insight into user attitude, it also looks at interpersonal user communication.
6. Tree Tests
Tree tests can be seen as a UX research method that helps to validate the results of usability testing. This method is used to check whether the navigation is clear, the hierarchy is as expected by the user, the naming is proper, etc. Here, researchers observe as users navigate through a site map and identify any pain points they experience.
7. Usability Tests
Usability tests is a user research method based on observation conducted with the aim to find out the usability issues of a design. Here, users are given some tasks to carry out, and researchers observe them as they proceed to reach the desired goal. This can be done either on the live product itself or prototypes or wireframes.
The advantage of this technique is that it gives a very detailed insight into user actions. Where the user is getting stuck, where they get confused, where they clicked- insights into questions like these can be obtained from usability tests.
8. Field Studies
Field studies are, as the name suggests, an on-field UX research method. Researchers observe users as they interact with the product in their natural environment and try to analyze the problems they encounter during real-life situations. Since this research is conducted in the users’ comfort zone, it can provide an accurate analysis of user pain points.
9. A/B Tests
A/B testing is used when a decision has to be made between two components of the design. This can be like two different layouts for the same page, or different CTA buttons, etc. In this, an equal number of users are given each version for testing, and analysis is done on which versions produced better results.
It is a quantitative UX research method that is beneficial in determining which among the two choices has a better probability of success. It is a widely adopted research method during redesigns.
10. Expert Review
Expert review involves having an expert UX consultant go through your design and checking the design’s usability and accessibility. It can be a subjective approach since you are depending on the opinion of just one person. But expert opinions are often reliable, and it is a quick UX research method. It is done once the design has taken shape and is best when combined with other research methods.
11. Five Second Tests
Five second tests is a fun UX research method and an important one considering the very short attention span of people. It is used to gather the first impression of people. It involves showing a design to users for five seconds and asking them what idea they got from it and what did they notice. It is a great approach for logo design.
12. Diary Study
Diary study is a very detailed research technique that captures a user’s experience throughout a product purchase process. Users note down their feelings from beginning to end of the complete journey, and these diary entries can be very insightful for researchers. It will give an idea of how users make decisions and adapt to challenges. It makes an excellent UX research method for complex projects.
What is the Difference Between Good and Bad User Research?
The difference between good and bad user research is in the way the end-user is integrated into the entire design process.
A bad UX researcher might think that it is okay to go ahead with a design without taking in the perspective of end-users. They might design according to their needs or expectations instead of bringing the user into the process. The research they perform would end up being centred on themselves, which will be quite ineffective in the real scenario.
A good user researcher will know the importance of integrating the users’ perspective into the design. They phrase questions positively so as to bring the most insightful answer from the users. They will know that the design process should begin on the foundation of users’ mental models.
Good UI UX design services will continuously implement research in their process and refine their design with the end-user perspective.
How to Gather Results From User Research?
To get the maximum impact out of research data, it is important to process them into a communicable format.
No UX designer would want to spend a lot of time going through huge amounts of data!
So how to translate the UX research methods into concise yet insightful results?
- Graphs: Graphs are an excellent tool to visualize data. Graphs make it easy to spot UX design trends and irregularities. But for data that is bleary and descriptive, graphs might not be an effective way.
- Affinity Diagrams: Affinity diagrams help you filter important data and present them in a clear way. You can use quotes, keywords, and even illustrate with drawings or images.
- Empathy Map: An empathy map focuses on four areas of a user- what they say, think, feel, and do. It gives a different insight from the same research data. It helps a designer to get inside the user’s head.
- User Journey Map: User journey map depicts the data from UX research methods as a user’s journey through different interaction points with a product/service. It helps to communicate their feelings at different touchpoints so that design can accommodate them accordingly.
- Synthesizing: By creating meaningful themes out of extensive research data and synthesizing each theme with relevant findings, crucial insights can be gathered.
These are some of the methods to get the best deliverables out of the research data and get a clear idea about UI UX differences.
Without analysis, research becomes meaningless!
So, as important as carrying out UX research methods are, it is equally important to model them into informative output.
UX research is an unavoidable step in UX designing. For designs of any complexity level, it is ideal for a UX design agency to carry out research.