UX research is pivotal to creating products that meet users' expectations and solve specific problems for them. It is an essential component that seeks to understand users' needs and ensures that the UX designer understands the "why" of his design for users while combining it with brand objectives.
Products should give solutions to users' pain points, and you cannot understand the pain points of your target users until you have interacted with them. You might have an idea of the problem, but designing a product based on an assumption you are yet to validate with your users can spell doom for the product.
Moreso, as you develop the product, you still need to check with your target users, to ensure that they can relate well to the product. This process of getting users' opinions through interaction is user experience research, otherwise called UX research.
UX research is a major part of the product development process. It simply means researching for the purpose of creating a good user experience for users. Thus, this research spans the product development process.
There are also specific methods for conducting UX research at each stage of product development. Some of these are user interviews, surveys, card sorting, and tree testing, all of which are part of user research to understand customer pain points. UX research also includes user testing and usability tests which are conducted to understand users' opinions concerning the product.
In this article, I will explain what UX research is, the qualitative and quantitative methods in UX research, the UX research methods, and when to use each research method.
What is UX research?
UX research is a systematic process of gaining valuable insights into user behaviors and pain points through different techniques. UX research helps product teams have enough user data that can guide them to add relatable ideas and insights into their design process for a better user experience.
Solid user experience research will help you create user-centered solutions for your prospective users because it will expose the reasons for the pains your users are going through beyond what you perceive on the outside. These reasons will help you understand user needs beyond assumptions.
Thus, it is right to say UX research studies human behavior through research, albeit with a view to providing solutions to the pain points behind the behavior. Also, UX research helps to uncover opportunities for innovative ideas that can benefit the target audience.
Types of UX research
There are two main types of UX research which are: quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research deals with getting numerical data while qualitative research deals with getting data that describes the phenomena behind human behavior.
Qualitative research is a research method that seeks to gain insights into the causes behind specific problems. It usually takes the form of interviews, focus groups, field observations, and case study observations.
Quantitative research is an inquiry to understand a phenomenon by gathering and analyzing numerical data to gain insights into people's behaviors. It deals mostly with the "what" part of a research process.
You need both qualitative and quantitative data to make good decisions in your design process.
Qualitative data will limit you from understanding the reason for the behavioral pattern of your user group, whereas you might not be able to tell the population that the result represents. And quantitative data will limit you to the population affected by a particular phenomenon without knowing the reasons behind the phenomenon.
Thus, you need a mix of both research methods to create unique experiences for your target audience.
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UX research methods
There are three major UX research methods, which are user research, user testing, and usability testing. These research methods serve different purposes for UX designers.
1. User research
User research, also called design research, is a UX research method that focuses on understanding user needs by studying their responses and behaviors through different research methods. User research is usually done before designing a product so that UX designers can utilize user insights in their design process.
User research is an important aspect of the overall research strategy
User research methods
A user interview is a user research method where you ask a single question about a particular area of interest. They usually last between 30 minutes to 60 minutes. User interviews are very effective due to their intensity and focus. You tend to get more insights when you stay long with a single person compared to when you quiz a group of people.
Conducting user interviews helps UX researchers discover the peculiarities in their user groups and also develop personal relationships with the users, which can be of great help to them during the product development process.
They can involve users during their brainstorming sessions, and this can be a game changer for them and help them unlock levels of creativity.
A survey is a research method for getting information from a selected group of respondents usually through questionnaires that can be physical or online.
A focus group is a research technique for getting qualitative data about a product from users both during and after user interface design. In a focus group research session, 5-10 users are gathered to talk about problems and issues with a particular feature of the product. A moderator controls the group's focus and runs it for an average of two hours.
Focus groups frequently elicit spontaneous responses and ideas from participants while also allowing you to notice some group dynamics and organizational problems.
You can also ask folks to talk about how they carry out lengthy or expensive tasks that are difficult to immediately witness. However, they can only evaluate what consumers claim to do, not how they actually behave.
2. User testing
User testing is a user experience research technique for testing the user interface design, functions, features, and graphical layout of a product with represented user groups.
The goal of this method is to evaluate the proposed product and determine if it is prepared to be released to actual users.
The testers should not have too much direction and should be allowed to engage with the website or app naturally in order to determine whether the system is simple to use and comfortable for those who are unfamiliar with it.
A/B testing involves different versions of a product with two or more users. Also, you can send two variants of one email to users and watch their individual responses. Note that the mail should be sent on the same day and at the same time.
Then, monitor customer feedback to ascertain which variant has elicited the responses that will aid you in achieving the suggested goals. You may discover a lot about your site visitors and the kind of material they prefer by doing A/B tests.
Card sorting is a research technique used during usability and user testing sessions to organize the information architecture of a design. During a card sorting session, research participants group different labels into sections that suit them as provided by the researchers.
This helps UX researchers know which sections users expect to find particular information when they are going through their website. Card sorting can be used during user testing and usability sessions.
Tree testing is used to test how users are able to find topics on the website. It is similar to card sorting, but in this case, users are presented with a text structure of the site and are asked to complete a series of tasks with the text-only version. This helps to organize the hierarchy of information on a website or digital application.
3. Usability testing
Usability tests are conducted to check the ease of use of a product with prospective users. The purpose is to ensure that the features, functions, microcopies, and responsiveness are not complex for users to comprehend.
Types of usability testing
There are two major types of usability testing, which are Moderated vs Unmoderated and Remote vs in person. These two main types are subdivided into other methods of conducting usability tests.
Moderated vs Unmoderated
Moderated testing is a method in which experts are there personally to guide participants on what to do. They are usually held in a private environment like design laboratories or any well-organized setting, but there are now modern tools that can moderate tests without participants needing a special lab or the presence of an expert.
Unmoderated testing is a test conducted without the presence of an expert. So, they can take the test at their own pace and time.
Remote vs In-Person testing
Remote testing is a technique that allows participants to be in their own environment while the researcher uses screen sharing to display the website for assessment to participants online.
Lab usability testing
This is moderated in-person testing and takes place inside a special design lab. In this kind of testing session, participants work on computers or mobile devices to accomplish tasks while the moderator watches them.
Behind a one-way mirror in the testing area, stakeholders frequently observe the activities as well as take notes.
One of the advantages that a lab usability test offers is good coordination of the testing session. All sessions are conducted under the same set of defined guidelines, which makes it particularly helpful for comparison studies
These studies, however, are pricey and frequently based on a limited population (8–10 people per research round) in a controlled setting, which is not always representative of your actual clientele and/or in-use circumstances.
Guerilla testing is another form of moderated in-person testing. For this method participants are randomly selected from crowded areas, like airports or parks, then they are requested to complete a few tasks on the prototype product in return for an incentive.
Guerrilla testing is used to test a large variety of individuals who do not have any previous experience with the product. It is a rapid way to gather a lot of qualitative data that confirm specific design choices or functionality.
However, it is not the best approach for in-depth testing or follow-ups because random strangers might not give enough time to take all the tests and they are also difficult to follow up since they don't live in the public place you met them.
A phone interview is another form of moderated remote research. During phone interviews, the instructor gives directions on what the participant should do on the website and gets feedback from them while he records their activity on the website.
Phone interviews are a cost-effective technique to test consumers across a large geographic area. They also collect more data within a short duration when compared to in-person interviews because they are less expensive than in-person interviews.
Session recordings make use of software to capture user behavior on a website, including mouse clicks, movements, and scrolling.
Session recordings are a great way to identify significant issues with how the website functions, observe how visitors interact with page elements like menus and Calls-to-Action (CTAs), and identify points where visitors get stuck, U-turn (quickly return to a previous page after landing on a new one), or abandon the site altogether.
Eye testing is an unmoderated in-person testing method. During this testing session, researchers use a specialized pupil-tracking device attached to a computer to track and analyze users' eye movements during eye-tracking examinations.
The tracking device generates heatmaps or eye-movement pathway diagrams by examining where users focus their attention when asked to perform a job.
The eye-tracking study is one of the most important UX research techniques as it can be used to learn how people engage visually with a page. They can also be used to test layout and design components and determine what might be distracting or drawing attention away from the key elements of the page.
However, this test is expensive as you will need a lab rent a lab with specialized tools and software, and a trained technician who can help you calibrate the device before you can run the test.
The overall aim of conducting UX research is to get user feedback, that will guide designers on how they can create solutions that are centered on the users' needs and pain points. User feedback eliminates assumptions and establishes users' opinions.
Phases of UX research
There are two major phases in UX research, and they are the generative research phase and the evaluative research phase.
The generative phase
The generative phase can also be called the exploratory phase. This is where you define user needs, and seek solutions to them through user research responses.
The evaluative phase
This is the phase where you test your solutions to check if they meet user needs and market requirements. This is the phase for usability and user testing.
The UX research process
1. Set clearly-defined research goals
Setting clear goals for your research will aid in defining the project development properly, effective resource allocation, and maximization of user insights.in
You can develop research goals from uncertainties you already have in mind about the problem you are trying to solve. These might arise from earlier studies, fresh possibilities you've found, or imaginative thinking.
Next, specify the main UX research questions you wish to address. These might focus on user behavior (for instance, why do most individuals on social media prefer videos to texts?) or the objectives of the client (what additional features would most enhance the user experience?).
2. Choose a research method
Decide what types of research you will conduct and the types of data you want to collect after you've defined your objectives and created user questions.
To cover all areas and fill any potential holes, employ a number of techniques. These will rely on the resources you have available, the needs of your users, and your business.
3. Choose research tools
Decide on the research tools that best fit your research method. You might need more than one research tool if you are choosing more than one research method.
4. Create a research plan
Now, create a plan for the method(s) you have chosen. When do you intend to execute the methods, and where do you intend to get participants? How many days will the research last? Create a plan that will guide you throughout the research.
5. Execute your plan
Now, it's time to get to work, make sure you have organized documents to collate your feedback from the research.
6. Analyze the research for UX designers
Research is not completed until you have turned that research data to insights that designers can use in their brainstorming sessions to create design solutions that are user-centric.
UX research skills
You need effective communication skills to ask engaging questions. Sometimes, you might need to ask them something they don't want to talk about. The ability to ask sensitive questions without being offensive is necessary for UX research
Your responsibility as a UX researcher is not limited to conducting interviews and usability tests in the field. You must also know how to accurately interpret your interview results for other members of the product development team.
Your work only becomes profitable when you are able to analyze results from interviews and provide insights on how different teams can make use of them in the bid to create a positive user experience for your target audience.
Thus, you would work with product managers, software engineers, and UX designers. Thus, you need to know how to collaborate with each department and carry them along in your research process.
Empathy is the wheel for creating a product with a good user experience, and user experience starts from UX research. You cannot get good results in UX research if you don’t empathize with your users.
Your interviews should come from a place of empathy to understand the thought processes of your recipients.
To get the best results in your research, you ask questions as someone that is equally concerned, and you cannot do that if you cannot empathize with them.
Thus, you need to stand in the place of your users, feel what it is like to have their pain points, then imagine the consequences of the problems they are going through, this will inform you of the type of questions you will ask and how to ask them.
Curiosity kills the cat, they say. Not in UX research though, rather curiosity is the light you need to gain deeper insights into the thought process of your target audience. Users will not start reeling out their pain points to you just because you ask something basic.
Curiosity helps you think deeply, it helps you observe and ask the “how” and “why” of a problem. You might not get good results without curiosity. You will get results no doubt, but those results might be devoid of the real issues behind the pain points, and without this, it would be difficult to develop a product that really addresses the users’ needs.
5. Data Analysis
You need to be conversant with data analysis techniques as you will need them to interpret the results from your research for better presentation to other team members. This is not about having in-depth math skills, but it does imply that a level of statistical understanding is needed to turn field data into results that can be used when developing the product.
6. Problem-solving techniques
The whole UX design process is about solving problems. This implies that you should have the mindset of providing solutions to user problems, not just knowing about them. This mindset helps you in your research process.
Also, during collaboration with other team members, you should be able to provide ideas to knotty issues, since you have interacted with proposed users in the field. Now, this is not a difficult task, provided you have conducted good research.
How to improve UX research
1. Have a good budget for your research
A poor budget limits the strength of your research. There are areas and people you won’t be able to reach if you have a poor budget for your research.
The resultant effect is that your results will be based on only a minute fraction of your proposed user group. Having a good budget helps you have access to the right tools for your research which improves your research results and strengthens the user experience of your product.
2. Ask open-ended questions
UX research is not to get a Yes or No response from users. It is to understand their thoughts, their process, and how they relate to products.
Thus, don’t ask questions like “Do you like this product”? You can get an emotional yes or no answer, as people’s interests are based on different reasons. Else, seek to understand how they use the product and what they do with the product. What are the things they wish the product could do, and how easy is it for them to use the product?
In the early stages of the research, do not ask questions like, what type of product do they want? Rather ask how they wish to get their problems solved. What do they wish to have to ease their burden or automate their processes? These questions give you better insights into how to meet their needs.
3. Over-recruit participants
It is better to over-recruit and have more responses, than recruit few and have nobody show up. Also, having more participants gives the opportunity of having enough data for comparison.
4. Avoid technical terms
Remember, research is first for your “everyday” user not for industry professionals. You don’t need to include technical terms that could confuse your research participants. Part of your UX research skills is communication and this includes interpreting technical terms in layman's language that your users can understand, or else they won’t understand you and the research will not be effective.
What does it take to be a UX researcher?
It takes a mix of the skills highlighted above and a passion to help product designers create products that appeal to their users. UX research can be learned, just like any other skill set that is part of the UX design process.
Although the soft skills listed above are transferable skills that you can develop in any career, you still need to learn the techniques of how research drives product development and user experience.
This skill is what separates UX researchers from any other researcher, and this is what you learn when you sign up for the GoCreate Bootcamp. You don’t need any previous experience, just come as you are and you will understand how to conduct good UX research in a few months.
The design of every great product starts from good research. You cannot ignore UX research and expect to meet the needs of your user with your product. At best, you will have a product created from your assumptions about the users’ pain points and your assumptions can be wrong.
UX research is a sure way to validate or disprove those assumptions while ensuring that you are creating a product that is designed specifically for the user.