UX Research: Why You Should Start Using It and Where to Begin
In this article, we’ll define what UX research is, how it contributes to the overall design process, and what methods UX researchers apply to create products that users find useful and desirable.
Properly conducted UX research can make your product easier to use, more satisfying, and more visually appealing, which significantly improves the overall user experience of your products and, in turn, makes them more profitable.
What Is UX Research?
UX research is the continuous process of gathering and interpreting data on how users interact with your products. Properly conducted user research also produces behavioural metrics that help evaluate how satisfying and easy it is to use the product.
With UX research methods, UX researchers help designers and developers create a better product or improve an existing one.
All UX research methods fall into two main categories: quantitative research and qualitative research. Let’s talk about the difference between those two and when you should use them.
The main objective of quantitative research is to generate numerical data around your product that can later be used to inform certain design and development decisions.
Quantitative research answers the questions "how many users...?" or "how much...?" Typically, quantitative methods of research elicit data from users indirectly.
For example, using Google Analytics you can track how many page views a target website has, how much time users spent on-page and whether the target web-page was the last one they visited on your website.
We'll look at specific examples of quantitative research methods further down.
Common methods include card sorting, tree testing, and surveys. Another is heat maps, graphical representations of how people use your product in the form of high and low density areas of interaction.
Quantitative data is typically used for ROI calculations, scaled usability metrics and benchmarks, and behavioural statistics.
Due to the high risk of biased and narrow analysis that may be caused by number fetishism, quantitative research methods are best coupled with qualitative research methods.
Though Teston takes the qualitative testing approach, researchers are free to pair qualitative insights with the data they obtained through quantitative methods.
Not only does this allows you to escape biased interpretations of data, it also lets you structure the user testing session in such a way that the quality of the user feedback is very usable.
Qualitative research methods provide deeper human behaviour insights that are usually not expressed numerically. Qualitative research answers the questions "why" and "how" that arise around UX design.
During qualitative research, user researchers conduct user interviews in which they observe how the target audience interacts with a user interface, mockups, or certain UI elements.
Combined, quantitative and qualitative research methods inform the development and design decisions of product development from early prototyping to a late UI design.
The most common types of research are moderated usability testing (real-time user interviews and observations of product use) or unmoderated usability tests (analysis of recordings of test participants interacting with your product).
- Diary studies: logs of daily user activities as they occur to provide insights into real-time user behaviours and needs
- Focus groups: a group discussion with your users in order to elicit requirements or gather user feedback.
- Participatory design sessions: cooperative design sessions with multiple participants who have different perspectives. These participants may include business stakeholders, designers, researchers, and the users themselves.
Each research method has its applications, and UX researchers should strive to apply diverse techniques during their user research in order to gain complete and unbiased UX data about their products.
The Value of UX Research in the UX Design Process
The goal of user research is to include user feedback and improve UX design at different stages of a product development process.
To understand how user experience research falls into the bigger picture of product development, we should refer to the user experience design process.
The design process consists of six stages:
UX researchers make sure that the final product meets both user and business goals by providing valuable insights during every stage of the UX design process.
Let’s take a closer look at every stage of the design process and the role of UX research in it.
How UX Research Helps Define Product Requirements
At the understanding and researching stages, a UX researcher's goal is to gather requirements from key stakeholders about what problems the product solves and how it operates.
The information obtained from stakeholders during the understanding stage can be abstract, and it is the UX researcher's goal to not only structure it, but also to deliver actionable data about the product's potential users, use cases, and even competitors.
Research methods such as data mining, field studies, and surveys allow UX researchers to understand key characteristics of people who will use the product even before the development. Here's a quick look at each technique.
- Data mining: the research practice of examining pre-existing data in order to generate new insights
- Field study: research activities that take place in the user’s environment rather than in your office or lab.
- Surveys: a set of questions designed to elicit user requirements, goals, and pain points.
All those research activities help UX designers create user personas.
User personas represent potential users in the form of fictional characters whose traits and characteristics are based on behavioural data, surveys, social media stats or, sometimes, preconceptions about your target audience.
How UX Research Informs Product Prototyping and Designing Stages
Just because we’re past the research stage doesn’t mean we’re done with research. During the sketch and design stages, user experience researchers develop raw prototypes and wireframes
UX researchers later test those in order to improve usability and information flow, and to gain more insights on users' behaviour. Typical research methods employed at this stage are tree testing, card sorting, interviewing, and surveying.
Although these research methods can be used at any stage of UX research, let’s define them here.
- Interviews: typically one-on-one sessions with target users in order to gather product-related qualitative data (user pain points, perception, expectations)
- Card sorting: a research method when users sort, group or evaluate a number of given options (typically in the form of cards) in a way that seems most relevant and useful to them. Card sorting insights typically inform potential information architecture of a product or validate user workflows.
- Tree testing: a technique for evaluating the discoverability of topics in your website or mobile app, usually used for validating information architecture flow and menu structure.
How UX Research Helps Evaluate Product Designs
Later in the process, the UX researcher performs iterative testing, using research methods such as unmoderated usability studies, moderated usability studies, and A/B testing.
- Moderated usability testing: a user testing session where users perform real-life-scenario tasks associated with your product under the facilitator's supervision. Some variations include lab user testing, remote user testing, mobile testing, desktop testing.
- Unmoderated usability testing: an unsupervised version of a usability testing with a number of real users performing tasks with your product. Often, user testing services help to recruit participants for unmoderated user testing.
- A/B testing: a comparison test which evaluates either different versions of your product, a common set of performance parameters, or the same product with different user segments. The subject of A/B testing can vary from a screenshot to a fully set-up mobile device.
At these stages, UX researchers observe people interacting with a product and produce reliable UX metrics upon which the usability and satisfaction rates can be calculated.
Such metrics allow improving the product's key metrics such as usability, conversion rates, and many others, allowing them to see how well the product performs and how they can further improve the product.
Effective UX research includes a wide range of techniques and methods that UX researchers employ throughout the UX design process. In the previous section we covered a lot of different methods and their common applications.
In the next section, let’s talk about other methods that UX researchers can employ during the research process.
UX Research Tools
There are many different research platforms, testing tools and applications that allow you to perform user research and user testing.
Below are more user research methods and tools you may find useful:
- Form analytics: an analysis of how well your target users fill and use forms that your service provides.
- Analytic tools: statistics about your web app or mobile app traffic, average user session duration, and clicks. Google Analytics, Android Google Play statistics, and Mac analytics are good examples.
- Five-second test: a form of testing when people interact with your product for a very limited time, showing how they perceive the product and its function from the very start of their user journey
- Expert review: an evaluation of your product by an expert (or a group of experts) against a number of usability guidelines
- True-intent studies: a research method usually in pop-up form designed to gather data on why people interact with your products
- Email and messenger surveys: a series of questions aimed at your target user base and launched via email.
No UX research method is superior to another, and you can always get more unique insights if you look at your product from as many different angles as you can.
UX Research Is an Unending Journey
UX research never truly ends because there are always ways to improve the product based on new user experiences.
Your research team should always seek out and be open to new research practices and research objectives in order to observe and analyse human behaviour for user feedback.
The data gathered during UX research can inform and benefit the user interface design team, the product design team, development teams, marketing teams, and the key stakeholders throughout the design process.
At early stages of the design process, properly conducted research of user behaviours helps create efficient information architecture and user requirements that you can act upon in later stages of product development.
In the middle of the development process, user research helps build representative prototypes, and wireframes that are later used to perform user testing with real users, like the tests we perform at Teston.
In the late stages of product design, this research helps measure usability of your products, as well as keep track of ROI metrics that can show how your product will benefit your users and business at the same time.
At every stage of your UX design process strive to get your designs in front of real people as soon as possible.
Here at Teston, we simplify that process for you by helping with recruiting target users for your research. We also help you to design effective test tasks so you can gain deep insights into how people use your products and what can you improve. Let’s test!