user research methods

Understanding User Research Methods to Improve Your UX and Usability 

Understanding User Research Methods to Improve Your UX and Usability 

user research methods

There are all kinds of user research methods you can deploy to round out your user research campaigns. These methods open doors into the minds of your users along with potential customers. 

UX is a major component of the overall customer experience, and with the expansion of the digital and mobile spaces, it is critical to create optimal user experiences. 

However user research does not solely involve digital experiences; as such, it is crucial to both study and improve on various instances in the customer buying journey that involve UX.

On average, every $1 invested in UX brings $100 in return, which represents an ROI of 9,900%. Moreover, companies that lead in UX outperformed companies in the S&P by 228%.

However, despite the proven benefits of providing good UX, only 55% of companies are currently conducting any UX research methods. Neglecting user research incurs issues such as bad UX and much more.

This article explains user research methods, their importance, their variations and examples and how to use market research to complement them.

Understanding User Research Methods

Also called UX research and design research, user research, is a branch of research that studies target users, particularly their needs, pain points and other experiences while using a product or service, be it physical or digital.

To conduct user research, there are various user research methods available. These allow you to understand how your users explore and rate products, services and experiences, along with what they would change about them. 

User research methods are used to expose design problems and opportunities, along with finding vital information for UX designers and web developers to use in their design process. As such, these methods provide sharp insights into the user experience, so that it is possible to optimize all design projects. 

There is a wide range of user research methods, as effective usability is contextual and depends on a broad understanding of human behavior if it is going to work. The methods best suited for your UX research depend on the type of product, system, digital experience, or app you are developing, along with your timeline and your target market.

What all user research methods have in common is placing the users at the center of a design process and its products. Researchers can use these methods to inspire UX design, evaluate their solutions and measure impact. 

The Three Main Types of UX Research Methods 

User research methods can be organized into a framework of three main types, or dimensions:

  1. Attitudinal versus behavioral
  2. Quantitative versus qualitative 
  3. The context of product use

Understanding all three UX research dimensions will allow you to be better acquainted with the various methods available, their associations, and which aspects of the UX they help improve.  

Attitudinal Vs Behavioral 

In attitudinal versus behavioral research methods, researchers study, compare and contrast what users say with what users do, respectively. Attitudinal research is used to understand and gauge the stated beliefs and opinions of your users. As such, attitudinal research is often the focus of marketing departments.

Behavioral research methods involve studying user behavior as a means of understanding what your users do with the product or service under examination. Behavioral research heavily informs UX designers and developers about the functionality of their products/services. It gives them a vicarious and sometimes firsthand view of how their offerings are experienced.

Quantitative Versus Qualitative

In quantitative versus qualitative research methods, UX is studied and compared by examining it by frequency and occurrence, along with deeper scrutiny that seeks to find the why behind the occurrences and their frequencies. But there’s a deeper distinction.

Traditionally, qualitative research has gathered data about behaviors or attitudes via direct observation, whereas quantitative research extracted this data indirectly, such as with an analytics or market research tool, such as polling software. However, such tools can be applied to both qualitative market research and quantitative market research, depending on their capabilities in targeting and extracting the data. 

Qualitative research is usually not mathematical, whereas quantitative research methods rely on mathematical means and analysis. This is because quantitative data garners large amounts of data that is easy to record numerically and then parse based on the figures alone.

Qualitative methods are equipped to answer questions about why something occurs or how to fix a problem. On the contrary, quantitative methods answer how many and how much. Having such numbers helps prioritize resources, for example, to focus on issues with the biggest impact. 

The Context of Product Use

The third dimension involves investigating whether the participants in your user research study are using the product or service, as well as how they are using it. This involves studying the following: 

  1. Natural or near-natural use of the product
    1. The goal is to keep interference at a minimum so that you can study the behavior and attitudes of your users in a natural, nearly realistic setting.  
    2. It involves less control but more validity over the topics being studied.
    3. This is common in ethnographic research and quantitative research. 
  2. Scripted use of the product
    1. This focuses on a specific aspect of usage, such as a new or enhanced feature.
    2. The amount of scripting used tends to vary.
    3. For example, in a benchmark study, there is heavy scripting and quantitative analysis for trustworthy usability metrics.
  3. No use of the product during the study
    1. This kind of study is used to understand issues beyond usage and usability.
    2. This involves studying broader cultural behaviors and brand tracking. 
  4. A hybrid of the above
    1. This involves dual or multiple approaches to the study, using a mix of the above study types.
    2. This kind of study is a more creative form of product usage. 
    3. For example, some studies involve participants in the design process, such as rearranging elements that can later be used in a product experience.

The Importance of User Research Methods

User research methods are important to implement in all stages of the design process. This includes pre-production, preliminary innovation, early testing, customer development, launch and post-launch.

importamce of user research methods

First off, user research methods help unearth significant insights about the end-users and their needs. You won’t be able to deliver a satisfying user experience until you understand your users and their unique needs, emotions, feelings, struggles, etc. You certainly won’t be able to optimize your UX without studying how your users interact with your products and services. 

Next, these methods allow you to create relevant designs. When you understand your users, you can produce designs that are relevant to them for a variety of reasons and contexts. But if you don’t have a clear understanding of your user experience, then you won’t have any way of knowing if your designs will be relevant. An irrelevant design will disappoint your target market, leading them to bounce from your site and increase your bounce rate.

UX research methods also foster UX design that is easy and enjoyable to use. This is especially important for satisfying your customers. This involves creating products with a high level of usability (also called user-friendliness). This is where user tests and studying the context of product use is advantageous.

Additionally, products with a high level of usability make work processes faster, safer and more efficient.

User research methods also remove bias by learning about the users from their perspectives, experiences, knowledge and mindset. As such, it measures, proves, or disproves assumptions. As such, user research methods work to provide evidence for making design decisions based on an understanding of user needs.

Consumers expect products to be easy to learn and use. They don’t ever wish to think about how to use the products. If your products aren’t intuitive and easy to use, your customers will switch to your competitors. They will result in a reduction in commercial success, as well as damage customer happiness. 

On the contrary, when your customers are consistently satisfied, they will commit to long-term relationships with your business, thus increasing their customer lifetime value (CLV). A high CLV is the desired end goal when it comes to amassing consumer loyalty.

Finally, user research methods help you understand the ROI of your UX design. A great UX forms emotional connections between users and products. As such, they will continue to use your products, thereby increasing your customer retention rate

The Different UX Research Methods 

The following provides examples of user research methods, along with where they fall under the three main categories, as discussed in a previous section.

  • A/B Testing
      1. This presents changes to a site's design to a random sampling of site visitors while holding all else constant as a means to see the effect of different site-design choices on behavior.
      2. It can also show iterations of products and services.
      3. Type of method: Behavioral
      4. This includes monadic A/B testing and sequential A/B testing.
  • Eye-tracking
      1. This method works to understand how users visually interact with interface designs.
      2. It can reveal how users sometimes only pay attention to a single element on a webpage, as it is all that interests them or all that they need.
      3. Type of method: Behavioral
      4. This can also give insight into cognitive processes that support various human behaviors. 
  • Usability Testing
      1. This is a method of testing the functionality of a website, app, or other digital property by observing users as they complete tasks on it. 
      2. The users are regularly observed by market researchers.
      3. Type of method: Context of product — Natural/ near-natural use of the product
      4. The goal of usability testing is to determine areas of confusion and reveal opportunities to improve the UX.
  • First Click Testing
      1. This technique analyzes what a test participant would click on first upon seeing a first interface, as part of completing an intended task.  
      2. It can be performed on the front end of a website, a prototype, or a wireframe.
      3. Type of method: Context of product — Natural/ near-natural use of the product
      4. It seeks to find out how easy it is to complete a given task.
        first click testing
  • Card Sorting
    1. This method provides insights into users' mental model of an information space.
    2. They help uncover the best information architecture for your product, service, application, website or other digital experience. 
    3. Type of method: Attitudinal
    4. In a card sorting session, participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them and help you label these groups. 
    5. You can use actual cards, pieces of paper, or online card-sorting software tools.
  • Surveys 
    1. The key tool for market research.
    2. Businesses can use a market research survey and a myriad of other types of surveys to glean user experience insights.
    3. These tools collect and help you make sense of a wide range of attitudes and opinions that consumers have about your UX.
    4. Type of method: Attitudinal, qualitative and quantitative
    5. You can apply user testing surveys to zero in on the UX aspect of any market research study. 

Pleasing All Your Consumers 

All businesses need to conduct user research methods to optimize the UX of all of their offerings, not just those of the digital variety.

It is key to carry out these methods at various stages of the UX design process, from pre-production to post-launch. This way, you can always keep an eye on your UX from the point of view of your end-users. 

To comprehensively implement user research methods, you’ll need to use a strong market research tool, such as a survey platform, one that facilitates targeting a precise target market sample, an easy-to-use questionnaire and more. 

Use an online survey platform that makes it easy to create and deploy consumer surveys. It should offer random device engagement (RDE) sampling to reach customers in their natural digital environments

You should also use a mobile-first platform since mobile dominates the digital space and nobody wants to take surveys on a poorly-built mobile.

Your online survey platform should also offer artificial intelligence and machine learning to remove low-quality data, disqualify low-quality data and offer a broad range of survey and question types.

The survey platform should offer advanced skip logic to route respondents to relevant follow-up questions based on their previous answers. It should also make it easy to form a customer journey survey to survey your respondents across their customer journeys.

Additionally, it should also allow you to survey anyone. You’ll need a platform with a reach to millions of consumers, along with one that offers the Distribution Link feature. This feature will allow you to send your survey to specific customers, instead of only deploying them across a vast network. 

With an online survey platform featuring all of these capabilities, you’ll be able to adequately deploy various user research methods.

Market Research Vs. User Research: Which Does Your Business Need?

Market Research Vs. User Research: Which Does Your Business Need?

Market research vs. user research: which is more important? This is the question many businesses must contend with. One thing is for certain; a business needs to conduct research in order to identify viable opportunities, latent threats and customer sentiments and needs.

In today’s age of evolving digital technologies, customer needs have also become more demanding — 63% of consumers expect businesses to know their needs and expectations, while 61% of customers have switched to a competitor after a bad customer service experience.

Businesses must therefore be discerning on the research they decide to use, whether it comes from in-house or external providers. Usually, combining both kinds is necessary in order to conduct both primary and secondary research.

Market research and user research apply both; additionally, both of them can be used within the 6 main types of research.

This article provides insights when facing the market research vs. user research debate so that you can determine the aptest kind of research for your business.

Defining Market Research

Market research is a term that encompasses several processes and methods for extracting information about a market. Specifically, it denotes the practice of collecting, analyzing, interpreting and consolidating data on your customers and industry at large.

This includes gathering data and information on your competitors, target market and your own products, services and experiences. As such, it refers to a holistic approach to gathering research for your business, as it relates to your business and its overall niches and industry.

Conducting market research is essential for understanding your target market — the segment of customers most likely to buy from you. Additionally, it allows you to make continuous improvements to keep up with changes in customer opinions, attitudes, behaviors and demands.

Aside from enlightening your business on its CX, market research allows you to understand the inner workings of your entire field, from your direct competitors to those not within your niche, to innovations and much more. 

The Importance of Conducting Market Research

Performing market research is crucial for businesses big and small, for the reasons stated above and several others. First off, market research entails gathering secondary data from virtually all sources that pertain to your business and its encompassing industry.

From checking your competitors’ digital properties to keeping tabs on their ads and social media, along with turning to trade publications, news, statistics and market research websites, it allows you to stay informed on all the ins and outs of your industry.

Then, there’s the customer side. Market research ensures a satisfying and friction-free customer experience by studying the concerns of your customers. This goes beyond studying secondary source trends and statistics.

Instead, primary research is a large component of the process. By conducting a consumer survey, interviews, focus groups, field research or running experimental research, you will gain a deep understanding of your customers. There are other methods of performing primary research, all of which fall under market research.

By studying your customers, you gain the imperative knowledge for catering to them, along with steering clear of their aversions. As such, you can avoid issues that tarnish your brand’s reputation along with those that trigger customers to patronize your competitors.

You can also run market research campaigns on your own products and services, to see how your target market truly feels about you. This practice can also help you discover what’s missing in your industry, allowing you to innovate more quickly. 

Continuously running market research campaigns will thus guarantee you stay well-informed on all the concerns, needs and opportunities of your business and the overall market.

The Pros and Cons of Market Research

While invaluable for businesses who wish to not merely stay afloat but to become and remain competitive, market research also carries a few drawbacks. Businesses and researchers ought to be aware of both the benefits and pitfalls of market research.  

The Pros

  1. Allows you to stay abreast of all changes, behaviors and innovations within your industry.
  2. Enables you to conduct market segmentation to discover the segments making up your target market. 
  3. Grants you insight into all of your target markets’ needs, attitudes, aversions and sentiments.
  4. Helps you brainstorm and strategize more effectively, as you are equipped with data.
  5. Limits risks and liabilities.
  6. Propels higher sales.
  7. Measures viability of new products and services.
  8. Helps you find the gaps and limits in your industry, ideal for creating new products and offerings.
  9. Finds new markets and niches you can explore and eventually serve.
  10. Supports all decision-making processes.

The Cons

  1. The total sum of all the research that makes up market research can be expensive.
  2. It forms a long and winding process, which can make certain campaigns feel boundless.
  3. It requires keeping track of ongoing changes, as such, certain sources may not be as relevant and accurate of the industry.
  4. There are biases present in many sources of information:
    1. Primary research: survey bias, lack of field research to form conclusions, dishonest interviews, etc. 
    2. Secondary research: biases in secondary publications, outdated content rebranded as new (via date changes but no updates)

Defining User Research

User research comprises far more than usability testing. Also called design research, user research aims to study the users at the center of the design process of your products and experiences. As such, it involves examining the various needs, concerns and pain points of your target users.

This kind of research is primarily useful for product designers and experienced producers, who use the insights from user research to make educated decisions for decisions. With this form of research, designers avoid or reduce product glitches, gaps and producing things with scant market demand.  

Like market research, it relies on a wide range of methods and processes in order to gain the information the designers and product managers seek. The various components that form user research can thus be used to discover design opportunities and crucial information to guide the design process.

User research involves conducting ethnographic studies via interviews or performing user testing, quantitative research on the ROI of your products and UX designs and surveying your target market. The latter involves a wide range of topics, such as existing product satisfaction surveys, surveys on your product ideas, surveys on competitor products and many more. 

Other user research methods and tactics include:

  1. Accessibility evaluations to ensure an inclusive design of your product.
  2. Studying customer journey maps, essential to understanding your customer journeys, is a major aspect of digital CX (customer experience) or UX. 
  3. Studying website analytics to understand traffic, bounce rates and other metrics to learn which content engages and which requires improvement. 
  4. Evaluate information architecture via card sorting so that you assure your design is structured logically. 
  5. Conducting contextual inquiries via field research (in-store observations, observing product testers) and digital observations (chats, a customer experience survey)

The Importance of Conducting User Research

User research is of the utmost importance when it comes to design strategy, as it functions as a foundation for it, along with a continuous source of insights to strengthen it. It equips project managers, designers, markets and business owners themselves with key data to buttress your design ideas and decisions. 

This kind of research allows you to pinpoint the best candidates for using your product, as well as the members of your market segments who would be most likely to engage with a digital asset. In turn, this aids your marketing strategy, as you’ll understand which segments to target in your marketing efforts. 

User research can foster this activity, as creating a successful marketing strategy relies on avoiding the mistake of marketing to everyone. As such, you cannot target all the segments of your target market in the same way. You’ll need to create different messaging for each segment, some of which require marketing entirely different products and experiences. 

User research thus forms the bedrock of a productive marketing strategy.

Moreover, user research forms the basis of a product-design cycle. While you may be confident in a product idea, design, or upgrade, it is useless if no one else has a need for it or finds it difficult to use. Thus, user research assures that there is both demand and, as its name implies, usability, within your product. 

It avoids the further design, planning, development and expenditure of resources on an unwanted or faulty product or experience idea.

It also grants you insights into who the users themselves are, the context in which they’ll use your product or experience and the problem your product/experience solves. Additionally, it helps you understand all of their needs from your business, especially in relation to products and experiences.

Essentially, product success hinges on user research.

The Pros and Cons of User Research

While necessary to conduct, user research presents several deficiencies as well. Researchers and business owners should comb through both the advantages and pitfalls of user research before they set out on conducting it.  

The Pros

  1. Without UX research, your design is left with nothing but assumptions and intuitions.
  2. Forms the initial steps of producing an entirely new product/experience or innovating on an existing one.
  3. Contextualizes the use of your products, such as the environments they are used in and the problems they help solve.
  4. Gives you deeper insights into your site users and customers. 
  5. Ensures you create products that your target market desires.
  6. Helps you avoid usability issues and glitches.
  7. Saves you both time and money on flawed products or those that your target market doesn’t need.
  8. Allows you to understand what your users don’t use your products/experiences for.
  9. Ensures you evaluate your design with data reflecting the needs and behaviors of your users.
  10. Lets you understand the impact of your design on your target market.

The Cons

  1. Users don’t always remember everything they do and use a product for. 
  2. User research data is complex and thus requires plenty of time to conduct, consolidate and analyze.
  3. The risk of researching the wrong audience, as survey respondents and other study participants may be dishonest about using a particular product or experience.
  4. Confidentiality is not assured, as users may share screenshots of your products for competitors to see. This occurs in user testing and experimental research. 

Market Research Vs User Research Faceoff

Aside from delving into the key specifics and of these two forms of research, the needs they help fill along with their flaws, it is useful to understand the key facts that separate them. The following graph shows the key differentiators between these forms of research.

Market ResearchUser Research
FocusCustomers, products and the market at largeProduct needs, usage
Key componentsdemographic, behavioral, economic, and statistical information Information on product needs, fits, uses, user movements, mechanisms
Sample sizeLargerSmaller
ThemeWhat people buyHow people use a product
InsightsTouch upon broader topicsDeeper insights on fewer topics
Quantitative/ QualitativeBothqualitative
GoalMeasure industry needs and trends, customers and competitors to release viable offeringsMeasure and improve the user experience

Which Method Does Your Business Need?

Market research vs. user research may appear to be something of a showdown, a battle in which only one form of research must be chosen. But when it comes to conducting either form of research, there is no battle or face-off.

Not to be anticlimactic but there is no winner in this “showdown” — which is not to say you’ll need all the types of research available, as aforementioned in the introduction. For example, some businesses may require correlational research, while some may only require causal research.

However, when it comes to market research vs. user research, there is no either-or. All businesses, even B2B businesses must conduct both forms of research. 

This is due to various reasons. 

Concerning the latter, there is a lot of overlap in these forms of research. For example, both heavily rely on using surveys to reap key insights from a target market. Both also involve studying the product and user experience. Both involve carrying out primary and secondary research.

As for the latter, although a B2B business may not offer any products, it will always rely on digital customer experience. It is virtually impossible to exist as a B2B business — or virtually any kind — without a website. Many such businesses also invest in social media and content marketing. As such, they’ll need to understand user experiences.

In summary, businesses can achieve success by conducting both market research and user research; the two exist hand in hand, with one buttressing the other. A strong online survey platform can plan, support and fully execute both kinds of research. As such, you’ll need to choose an online survey provider wisely.