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.