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9 UX research methods every team should master

UX research methods

Mastering UX research methods is essential to build user-centric products. You won’t manage to build a successful product without knowing your users and their needs. But how do you decide when to use each method to collect the right insight? To help you decide what method to use and why we collected the 9 most effective UX research methods for qualitative and quantitative research.

Each one of these research methods is used at least once by successful teams. To decide what method best fits your needs, start by defining your experiment goal first. Define what you want to test and what you need for your test.

This article collects the top 9 UX research methods that every team should master. We consider these methods to be the best because they are the most likely to deliver great results in an efficient way.

Summary of the UX research methods:

User interviews and customer interviews

Very easy to arrange, user interviews and customer interviews should be your top pic when it comes to qualitative methods. Directly ask questions to your audience to explore new ideas or validate your assumptions.

How to arrange the interviews? Just get in contact with your users where it’s easy to find them. Think of face to face, telephone, arranging a video call or at the exit of a supermarket. Once you find your users, what should you ask them? Ask open-ended questions, to avoid limiting their responses. You don’t want to frame their options or let them pick what you have in mind. Better to keep your questions open ended to maximize your learnings. Lastly, don’t forget to create trust with your audience. This can be hard to achieve, which is why you should keep the interview simple, making it sound more like a conversation with a friend than an interview with a stranger. It will take some practice from your side. This post helps you with all the tips you should know to get user interviews right from the start.

There’s a slight difference between user interviews and customer interviews. While users are the people who effectively use your product, customers are the ones who buy it. The two definitions overlap oftentimes, but not always (think of parents buying toys for kids).

What is the ideal number you should be aiming for? Usually six to ten interviews are enough to map the main pain points and should give you sufficient insight to dive deeper into one or more of the points you discovered.

Surveys

Surveys are another great research tool, and they can be used both qualitatively and quantitatively. The big plus of surveys is that they allow you to reach a large number of users within a short amount of time. Surveys are easy to set and distribute. You can use free tools like Surveymonkey or Google forms to create them and social media or email to distribute them.

However, surveys have two main disadvantages. First, you can’t adjust the line of questions. So for example you can’t explain to your users what you mean if they don’t understand and you can’t ask supportive questions to better understand yourself. The other disadvantage is that you can’t see respondents so you can’t really gauge their emotions. This makes it very hard to empathize with them. That’s why it’s a great strategy to mix surveys with interviews to have the best of both worlds.

As for user interviews, 8 to 12 is a good number for surveys collecting qualitative insights. For quantitative surveys, 26-30 results will give you a statistically significant sample.

Field research

With field research you study users in their normal environment while they face a specific problem or perform a certain task. What makes field research different from other methods? By studying users’ behavior in their normal environment, their behavior is as close as you can get to their usual one. Field research is fundamental to fill the gap between what people say they do and what they actually do (difference explained in this Medium article).

What should you do during field research? The majority of your time will go to observation. You can ask questions to users to understand their actions or thoughts, but the key is to try to interrupt them as little as possible. The result of field research is to collect the most untainted insight you can get into the real behavior of users.

Five users are usually enough for this UX research method.

Experience sampling

Having explained that there’s a difference between what people do and what they say they do, another UX research method to study what people really do is experience sampling.

When you use this method, what you do is to study the behavior of your sample at regular intervals of time. For example, you ask the same question every hour, day or first day of the week etc. This way you want to collect data right after the experience has happened. This will help you to filter out what users would have liked to do and focus instead on what they actually did.

Experience sampling is valuable to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. When used to collect quantitative data, experience sampling will help you uncover trends and pain points that may be influenced by a specific timing.

Like for interviews and surveys, five to ten is a good number for qualitative tests, while a number closer to 30 is better for quantitative insights and trends discovery.

Usability testing

The purpose of usability testing is to study how participants use your product and discover the usability issues they may encounter. Do they manage to complete the task you want them to perform? How much time does this take them? Where do they get stuck? These questions are crucial to create highly converting products.

It is best to recruit participants only from the same target group that is supposed to use the product. Participants should not have seen the product before. For usability testing you don’t need to have a working product: mockups and wireframes are everything you need to start. Actually, testing at this stage is your best chance of avoiding waste and saving on development costs. Have a look at this post for all the statistics.

Usability tests reveal what users do and don’t understand about your product. You can use this research method to test specific tasks or a complete flow. Five usability tests will uncover around 85% of the usability problems of your product.

Card sorting

How do users navigate your product? What do they see on your menu? Information architecture is what determines what users should see first, second and third when they use your app, platform or website. Good information architecture is essential for the success of your product and card sorting is a great method to test it.

Ask participants to write down product functions or content sections of your app or website. Then ask them to either group the cards into groups decided by them or to fit the cards into labels you created. Card sorting is the best way to create clear navigation structures.

15 to 20 users are recommended for this UX research method.

A/B testing

A/B tests are commonly used to improve users’ navigation, increase conversion and improve retention. They’re the most used quantitative method to test what works and what doesn’t.

Start by planning exactly what you want to test and how you will pick the winning solution. To have reliable results make sure you run the experiment by testing simultaneously the normal sample and its variant.

A/B tests involve no data elaboration and no instinct. For this reason they are a great way to have clear results once the test is done. But to do this, make sure you track the tests you’re running and decide in advance how you’ll pick the winner.

Download here the free template from Design Accelerator with everything you need to track for your A/B tests.

A/B tests require a high number of users to be reliable. For this reason they hardly fit products with low levels of usage. The number you need may vary from a few hundreds to several thousands. This sample calculator from Optimizely helps you find the number of users you need for each experiment.

Five-seconds test

The competition for our eye-balls is fierce and our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. That’s why winning products are the ones that can capture our attention within the first few seconds. They immediately generate a sense of trust and reliability.

Five-second tests can take many different shapes. You can ask users what part of the screen they remember after five seconds. You can also ask what words they remember or what they think your product is about. The assumption is that if you don’t manage to communicate your message within five seconds, users will lose interest. They will churn without spending more time to learn what your product is about and how it solves their problem.

A five-second test forces you to think strategically and prioritize the one thing you want users to see and remember. A great platform for five-seconds tests is Usabilityhub. In the platform you can test screenshots of any product and you can invite your own participants or recruit them from the web.

Competitor analysis

Often neglected, competitor analysis is a very strategic tool. It serves to determine how your product is perceived in relation to the existing alternatives. Remember that in the eyes of your user, an alternative product is not necessarily a direct competitor of what you are developing. That’s especially important for innovation startups that have the tendency to feel they have no competitor.

It’s not necessarily another company what’s competing with your solution. It can also be how people solve their problem now, in the absence of your new solution. For example, if you are creating a new solution to manage personal finance, your competition is not only other apps that do that. Competitors also include solutions like managing finance with an Excel file or with a financial advisor.

A competitor analysis identifies what value proposition is brought to users by alternative solutions. It helps you understand what competitors are doing right and the untapped opportunities you can leverage.

There’s no absolute number you should use for a competition analysis. However it’s a good idea to think of and analyze at least three existing alternatives to your product.

Where to start with UX research methods

As said before, there’s not a single UX research method that works all the time. Winning products necessarily use a combination of UX research methods to achieve excellence. You don’t need to use all these methods at the same time. They all fit different needs.

It is usually good to start empathizing with your audience with a qualitative test and then quantitative validation. Some UX research methods save you time and money when used before starting with development (e.g. card sorting, usability testing). Other methods, like A/B tests, necessarily require a large amount of people using your live product.

In general, interviews are always a great way to start. In this article you can read everything you need to know to start.

If you’re wondering what combination of methods best fits your needs, please get in contact with us. We’re happy to help you determine what kind of method best applies to your business needs.

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