UX Research Methods: The Complete Guide

Trung Tran

Trung Tran | 23/11/2021

We will be exploring UX research methods in this post. Understanding the different types of user research is crucial for any product manager or designer working in a digital medium.

What Is UX Research?

UX research is the foundation of any great product or service, and it shouldn’t be confused with usability testing. Usability testers assess how easy it is for users to accomplish tasks, but they don’t explain why a user took a specific approach to achieve those tasks. For example, if a test subject had trouble performing a task in your product, a usability tester would note that they have trouble. With UX research, you’ll go one step further to find out why the user had that problem in the first place.

The most significant difference between usability testing and user research is simple: Usability testing assumes users are doing things wrong, while UX research assumes there are problems with your product design. In short, usability testing tells you how to fix a problem with your product, while user research helps you understand why users struggle at all.

What Is UX Research?

What’s the Difference Between UX & UI?

UX or User Experience refers to people’s emotions and behaviors about using a particular product, system, or service. UX comprises all aspects of how the end-users interact with a company, its services, and its products.

What's the Difference Between UX & UI?

UI (User Interface) is a term used to describe how users interact with digital devices, applications, or websites. The user interface can include menus, icons, text boxes, images, and navigation controls to use an application or website. While UX research focuses on understanding how a user feels about using a device, application or website to improve the overall experience, UI design is concerned with how users physically interact with a product to accomplish specific tasks.

Why Do You Need UX Research?

Why Do You Need UX Research?

Every business wants loyal customers who keep coming back. So, the first step toward building an excellent UX is understanding your users.

UX design aims to provide the best possible experience to your customers to maximize customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. By focusing on users’ needs, behaviors, and emotions, you will better understand how they feel about their experiences with your product or service—and what they look for in an ideal solution.

How Can UX Research Help You?

UX research supports decisions about every part of the product development process, including ideation, prototyping, testing, and implementation. By understanding your users’ needs and motivations, you’ll be able to meet or exceed their expectations for an ideal solution. In addition, a great user experience will encourage users to purchase, continue using, and promote your product.

What Are the Benefits of UX Research?

The end goal of UX research is to discover new ways to improve your product or service. By truly understanding your users, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about how they use your products—and what changes need to be made to make it easier on them. Research also helps you understand how to anticipate problems with your product before they become issues for users.

There are many benefits to conducting UX research, and they come both for the company and the customer. For the company, research will improve:

Time Efficiency

Time Efficiency

This is one of the notable benefits of UX research. User testing takes only a fraction of the time that typical market or usability studies do. As a result, you can run more frequent studies and easily track small changes in user behaviors. This allows companies to quickly catch up with the market and stay ahead.

No Need for Specialists

No Need for Specialists

When it comes to testing, you don’t necessarily require the skills of a specialist to run your test — anyone can do it. It means that companies can save time and money on hiring and training specialized teams instead of allocating them to developing and improving the product, which increases their revenue.

Reduces Costs

Reduces Costs

Another benefit of UX research is its relatively low cost, which can be attributed to a shorter testing period and the test participants recruited for guerilla tests, who tend to take less money than participants recruited for conventional market studies.

Increased Conversion Rates

Increased Conversion Rates

Not only will your product be of higher quality, but also it will have a greater conversion rate by allowing you to identify some of the common roadblocks to your customers. In addition, since you can track the changes in user behavior very closely, you are sure to see how some aspects of your product affect users’ decisions on whether they should buy it or not.

Approaches to UX Research Method

There are two main approaches to UX research methods:

Integrated Organizational Change Management

Quantitative (Statistics)

It is a scientific approach to UX research where data is collected and analyzed to understand an issue or problem further. It aims to be objective by minimizing the personal bias of its users towards a proposed solution and requiring measurable evidence that others can reproduce. It’s mainly used for testing new products or services.

Shared Vision

Qualitative User Research (Insights)

The qualitative methods are a naturalistic approach to UX research that allows UX researchers and designers to understand user experience by observing users interacting with their products (either completed or prototypes) in real-life situations. Data is collected through the process of “thinking aloud,” where users are asked to describe what they think when they perform specific tasks to gain insights into their decision-making process. This can then be synthesized into themes that serve as the foundation of design solutions. It’s mainly used for planning and validating new products or services.

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Different Types of UX Research Methods & When to Use Them

Different Types of UX Research Methods & When to Use Them

When conducting UX Research, the best way is to list your objectives. For example, your goals could be: Getting feedback on a new design and finding out what our customers think about our services. This will help you prioritize the different types of research activities.

It’s also important to note that most UX research projects will use a combination of methods, so you might need to do some soul searching to identify the right ones for the given project. The other considerations are time and resources. Not all methods are created equal; some take days while others only take minutes.

The most important UX research methodologies are listed below, with details about how they can be used and other helpful information.

User Interviews

User interviews are online surveys to gather valuable information about a specific person’s behavior, preferences, attitudes, intention, and opinions.

  • How it works: This is a face-to-face discussion with one or more people who represent your target audience about their goals, challenges, motivations, and feelings about what’s currently available (if anything). You can also learn many revealing things by talking to people “in the wild” who are using your products or services.
  • When to use it: This is an ideal starting point because you can get specific feedback about what real users are doing and thinking. It’s also helpful in understanding different user types, pain points, mental models, decision-making processes, challenges, and areas of confusion.
  • Pro Tip: Bring someone with you who’s an experienced interviewer to make the whole process less scary. It also helps if they have experience moderating user interviews (asking follow-up questions without biasing results, etc.).

Contextual Inquiry

Contextual Inquiry is a technique for gathering data to understand the context in which people use technologies.

  • How it works: This is a flexible approach to UX research - so it pays to have an experienced moderator on hand. You observe people as they go about their regular business, and at opportune moments you stop them and ask questions about their goals, motivation, challenges, etc. It’s a great way of understanding user motivations and user behavior in the context of a real-life situation. Plus, you can usually find participants on-site (e.g., in an office or at home).
  • When to use it: This is especially useful for understanding how people work within their own environments, e.g., do they prefer to stand while working? How does this affect the way they perform specific tasks?

Heuristic Evaluation

Heuristic evaluation is a systematic, efficient, and user-centered approach to evaluating the usability test of a product. This process is user-centered because it considers the users’ experience with the product.

  • How it works: This is an ideal way of understanding how your product or service performs on different levels (e.g., on-page messaging, navigation, etc.) and where you could improve things with the user experience. Heuristics are essential “rules” to guide decision-making, so you’ll apply well-known design patterns and conventions as well as customer feedback to spot problems or areas where you could improve the user experience.
  • When to use it: As a rule, you should run through heuristic evaluations before and after your UX projects (or iterations thereof) to uncover any usability problems before they become significant (and expensive) issues for your business.

Focus Groups

Focus groups include people who are brought together to discuss a topic. They are often used for research for marketing purposes. They are also used in UX research, where they are called focus groups or usability tests, and can be conducted by either the company doing the study or an outside organization.

  • How it works: This is an opportunity to observe how people interact in group situations, and you can get a good understanding of their motivations, reactions, and opinions about your product or service. The best way to run a focus group is by explaining the task you want them to do and then asking them questions that prompt more open-ended responses (rather than yes/no answers).
  • When to use it: If you’re testing new products and services with existing users, this can be a good way of understanding their motivations and how you can ease the pain points of different tasks. It’s also helpful in knowing which features are more desirable than others (who would pay more, etc.).
  • Pro Tip: If you’re testing with existing users or customers, be sure to get permission before recording them. Some people get nervous when being recorded (and it’s important to respect their privacy).

Diary Studies

Diary studies within the field of UX research can be defined as a method for collecting “real-world” behavioral data about the user experience. Users are asked to keep daily records of their thoughts and actions relating to a particular product or service. Diary studies allow designers to gain valuable insights into what users find important and how they feel about certain aspects. Results from diary studies provide a more holistic view.

  • How it works: This is another flexible approach that, at its core, involves asking participants to record their experiences over a series of days or weeks. For example, you can have them report on specific tasks, milestones (the “when” and “what”), and their current mood and feelings (the “how”). The great thing about diary studies is that you get a second-by-second record of how people use your product or service without observing them in real-time.
  • When to use it: If you’re exploring new ideas and concepts with an existing user base, diary studies can be a great way to uncover patterns or trends you might otherwise miss.

Card Sorting

Card sorting is a UX research method in which people are asked to group items. The idea is typical to help the organization gain valuable insights into how their content should be organized.

  • How it works: Participants are given a set of cards (e.g., descriptions of different features) and requested to sort them into groups that make sense according to a set of given categories. You might, for example, want them to separate the cards into logical groups such as “must-have” vs. “nice to have.” Once they’ve sorted all the cards, you can present their groupings back to them and ask a few questions (which may vary depending on the type you’re running).
  • When to use it: This is an ideal way of understanding how people think about your existing site or application. You can then use their “groupings” as a basis for classifying data and UX workflows.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your website’s navigation, check out the full article on card sorting here.

Tree Testing

Tree Testing in UX research is a method used to measure the usability and user experience. Tree testing is a usability evaluation technique that involves having the user complete tasks from a website or software application and follow the appropriate “tree” of links to reach each task.

  • How it works: In a tree test, users are presented with a series of tasks and asked to complete them from start to finish (no skipping allowed). Once they’ve completed all the tasks, you can ask them how difficult (on a scale from 1 to 5) each one was and then challenge them by saying, “I’m thinking of deleting this task.” The goal here is to understand how much (and what kind of) effort users are willing to put in.
  • When to use it: This is useful to measure task completion, frustration levels, or even see how many people would abandon a critical task (if you delete it, how many participants would follow suit?).
  • Pro Tip: Don’t ask users to complete tasks that are irrelevant or redundant. If you’re testing with existing users and customers, be sure to get permission before recording them. Some people get nervous when being recorded (and it’s important to respect their privacy).

Remote Unmoderated Testing

Remote unmoderated testing is a form of user research where a participant does not interact with a UX researcher in real-time. Instead, the participant provides feedback through clicks on mockups. Whenever the participant encounters a mockup relevant to their task, they click on it and provide feedback. The method provides participants with an incentive for providing more information by doing this. It also doesn’t require any travel from the participant.

  • How it works: Remote unmoderated testing is similar to using an online survey (see #2 above), but with one significant difference. During a remote unmoderated test, users are presented with tasks on paper or via your application/website. It depends on what you’re testing. They then complete the assigned tasks in their own time and send them back via email or upload.
  • When to use it: This is an excellent way of understanding people’s attitudes toward your product/service, especially if you want to identify usability issues from a more general perspective (e.g., which parts of a process are confusing or unclear).

The Future of UX Research Methods

As technology continues to evolve at an ever-faster pace, it’s becoming clear that simply observing users is no longer enough, even if it ever was. UX research needs to evolve if it’s going to keep up with the pace. Collecting subjective feedback from users is just the beginning of what we need to do as UX researchers to design for an increasingly complex set of use cases and scenarios.

In addition to the traditional user research method, we’re increasingly turning to data-driven techniques that allow us to quantify our user’s behavior. For example, we can now measure how long it takes someone to perform a task, where they are looking when they do something, and exactly what actions are taking place at any given time. This complements and supplements other forms of user experience research to gain a deeper understanding of what our users want.

It’s also important to recognize that a range of other research techniques out there can provide you with helpful insight into how people behave but don’t fall neatly under the category of traditional UX research. Ethnographic research, for example, often provides designers and product managers with a deep understanding of why people do what they do when no product or interface is present. As a result, it can be instrumental in helping teams to think like their users.

UX research methods - Summary


UX research is an essential part of any project, whether for the web design process or something else. It gives you the quantitative and qualitative insights and means to build more valuable products for your customers, which will lead to increased conversions. Our guide of UX research methods provides all sorts of tips on how best to go about user experience research to achieve your goals effectively. We hope this article has helped educate you on everything you need to conduct UX research for your projects.

Topics: UI/UX Design

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