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UX Research Methods and Best Practices

UX Research Methods and Best Practices

User Experience (UX) research is the study of target audiences in order to understand their behaviors, observations and needs through various feedback methodologies. It’s a process of designing easy-to-use products that are a pleasure to engage with. With the goals to enhance the entire user experience and ensure that individuals are able to find delight, satisfaction and value, this UX area is experiencing significant growth.

A good UX research ensures that designers don’t design for themselves, but for the needs and wants of the users. Hence, it should be able to provide a great assistance in getting to know your users’ problems, perspectives and needs, so an appropriate solution can be defined.

As an iterative process to user-centered design, UX research should be conducted at all stages of the design process. There are various research methods and techniques to use, and each phase of the user journey will require a different approach. So, if you wish to ensure that you can generate top quality findings, you need to go over your options and evaluate which research option would be the best choice for you.

In this article, we have prepared a list of the different UX research methods along with their main approaches and tips about some of the best practices to use.

The Main Approaches to UX Research

User researchers employ various methods of research to find out who the users are, their motivations and needs, as well as how they think and behave. More often than not, these include task analysis, observation techniques and other feedback methodologies.

There are two main ways to approach user research:

The Main Approaches to UX Research

Behavioral vs Attitudinal

The first one can be defined as a contrast between “what users do” and “what users say” and the two can be quite different.

The purpose of behavioral research is to understand how users interact with the product or service in question – i.e. this is when researchers observe users to learn their behavior. Examples include A/B testing, eyetracking, field studies, etc.

Attitudinal research, however, focuses on comprehending user’s stated beliefs, and often researchers ask users questions that are collected as self-reported answers. These can include card sorting, surveys, focus groups, etc.

Quantitative vs Qualitative

The contrast here is a very important one. In its essence the difference between the two can be defined as “how to or why fix a problem” as opposed to answering the “how much” and “how many” types of questions.

While quantitative results give information about attitudes and behaviors that are indirectly observed, qualitative studies generate data about behaviors or attitudes that are directly observed.

Quantitative research is an instrument of data collection. It’s typically derived from mathematical analysis of statistically significant sets of variables.

When it comes to qualitative methods, however, the data collected usually isn’t numerical. Researchers observe how users interact with a particular product or service, and whether that product/service can cater to their needs. They can ask questions, test the user behavior and even make adjustments in the study protocol so it can better meet their objectives.

Sometimes, the most essential information is not quantifiable. Qualitative data usually helps break down complex information and helps with fixing problems during the design phase of a product and not after it’s completed. So when it comes to UX, this type of research is often preferred.

The Most Used UX Research Methods

The separate UX Research methods are used at different phases of the product development process. The most common UX research methods include:

  • Card Sorting: This method helps ensure that your product, for example your website, matches how users think. It allows users to group and sort product information into a logical order that can be used to drive navigation as well as the website’s information architecture.
  • Eye-Tracking: This process uses an eye-tracking device that is configured to measure precisely where users look while performing certain tasks or while they interact naturally with products, applications, websites, or environments.
  • Surveys: These can vary in type and can measure customer satisfaction, net promoter score (NPS), customer effort score (CES), etc. Surveys involve asking a series of questions about your product(s) to multiple users, so you can learn more about the people using it.
  • Focus Groups: This is where a moderated discussion is fostered within a group of users, so researchers can gain insights into user desires, ideas, and attitudes.
  • Contextual interviews: This method allows researchers to observe users in their natural environment, so they can better understand all the ways users work.
  • Individual Interview: A researcher meets with users one-on-one to discuss with the participant what they think about a product in more depth.
  • Expert Review/Heuristic Evaluation: This is where a group of usability experts evaluate a website following a list of pre-determined guidelines.
  • Parallel Design: A methodology that entails a few designers to pursue the same design independently and simultaneously. The aim of this process is to combine and use the best parts of each individual design to create the ultimate solution.
  • Prototyping: This technique allows the design team to brainstorm and test ideas before creating a mock-up of the product. When it comes to a website it can range from paper/design mock-up to interactive HTML pages.
  • First Click Testing: This method is focused on navigation. It can be performed on a prototype, a functioning website, or a wireframe.
  • A/B Testing: This tests varying designs by randomly assigning different users to engage with each one, then measuring the effect they had on user behavior.
  • System Usability Scale (SUS): This is a questionnaire of 10 questions with five response options that usually rage from “I strongly disagree” to “I strongly agree”.
  • Usability Testing: This approach aims to identify user problems and frustrations with a product/website using one-on-one sessions where the user performs tasks in real time. It can be moderated and unmoderated, remote and on-sight.
  • Task Analysis: This technique involves learning about users goals to better understand the task that they will be performing on your site.
  • Use Cases: These offer a representation of how people use a particular feature of a website. They provide a detailed look at the ways in which users interact with a website, defining the steps they take to accomplish a particular task.
  • Customer Feedback: An open- or close-ended process where users provide feedback through a form, button, link, or email.

UX Research Best Practices

1. Define Your Target Audience

When selecting your participants, the very first step is to define your target audience. Start with creating UX personas that incorporate all essential characteristics of your ideal customers. Once you’re done, present them to your team of researchers in a way that they can easily understand and remember.

If you’re at the initial discovery stage of your product development you can start by establishing whether your product will answer the pain-points of businesses or consumers.

Then outline the particular attributes you want your ideal client to have. Once you’ve settled on that, it’s time to think about what are the behavioral and attitudinal habits of your target audience. Determine their needs and goals. Think what it is that you can do to help cater to them successfully.

2. Consult the UCD Guide

The user User-Centred Design (UCD) process includes several tasks and methods related to website development. The task you’ll perform as well as the order in which you’ll perform them in, will be determined by the type of website you’re developing, your team, timeline, requirements, and the environment in which you’re developing.

Step-by-Step Usability Guide

3. Match the Method to the Product Development Stages

Before selecting the research methods for your UX analysis, it’s important to evaluate what kind of information you would need most at each stage of the development process. According to the Nielsen Norman Group your decision should be based on three main phases and their associated objectives.

  • Phase 1 – Strategizing: The initial phase is where new ideas and opportunities are considered. The research methods can vary here, until at least a minimal viable product is created.
  • Phase 2 – Executing: Once a starting version of the design is made, it’s time to continuously improve your chosen direction. Research here is mostly formative to help you reduce and potential risks.
  • Phase 3 – Assessing: After your product is ready for use, it’s time to make sure that you get enough users to use it so you can measure how well you’re doing.

The typical approach and method for each phase are summarised as follows:

Product Development Phase

Why Is UX Research So Valuable

Companies create products to help customers solve the problems they have and UX research can help ensure that businesses will do their job right. If you still need more conviction of how valuable UX research is, here a few more reasons.

  • Relevant Design – By understanding users’ attitude and behavior you can successfully create a product that is truly meant for them.
  • Easy and Enjoyable Product – Ensure optimal experience, while solving the users’ problems.
  • A Good ROI – Allows you to improve performance and credibility, gain wider exposure, increase sales and your customer base, and create more efficient work processes.

Additionally, well-executed UX research will help you improve your conversion rates, brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. It can increase the number of sign-ups, your purchase rates and net promoter score (NPS). At the same time, it can also reduce customer service calls, development time and costs, uncover meaningful insights about your target audience, and provide an in-depth view into the pain point, goals, and mental models of users.


The ultimate goal of conducting comprehensive UX research is to be able to design an amazing user experience. By diving deeper into your prospects’ behaviors and attitudes you can have a much better understanding of your target audience – their goals, desires, and needs.

Using an appropriate UX research method, designers can reshape designs and reinvent products. When applied correctly, these tools and techniques can serve both customers and businesses much more efficiently.