UX Research Methods To Consider Using
Updated: Nov 14
There is a wide range of different UX research methods to consider using to collect information to feed into the design process in helping to achieve the primary goal of highlighting expectations and identifying needs.
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Discussed below are the 8 most widely used UX research methods:
1. Card sorting
You may have come across card sorting while on a team bonding exercise. It’s basically a technique in writing different words on a number of cards and are then categorised by those people taking part. This is essentially the same with UX research apart from the words on cards are provided by the designers or UX researchers and then categorised by the users.
It will help to determine, whether your ideas and structure of information is on the correct path. This exercise does not have to be face to face and can be done online through many relevant applications available for card sorting, so distance is not an issue.
This method is also easy to use, straight forward and inexpensive for everyone involved. It’s a good way to see the validations of the designs via the input given by users.
2. Eye tracking
It is of vital importance to know where users are exactly looking when interacting with a system as all experienced UX researchers will tell. This will help support the design in terms of prioritising content, what has been overlooked and the overall effectiveness of specific design elements and layouts. When you have an understanding of the user’s journey, then that can help you map out where key information needs to be shown at different touchpoints.
This technique can be pricey but following further developments in technology and becoming more widely available, the cost of this tool is starting to fall. Plus, it will become less intrusive and not conflict with usability testing. The reliability of the results will improve and is a great way for all key parties involved to see results in real time.
3. User personas
These are hypothetical depictions of the perfect user that emphasize key characteristics of the user such as demographic information, attitudes and goals. The process of user personas has proven to be highly revealing in understanding your target audience. This enables you to understand the motivations of each of the users in what they are expecting from the product and how the product will be used.
The names and backstories given for these hypothetical personas are close to real life as possible. In empathising with the user’s motivations will allow you to produce a user experience that is memorable in catering for their needs.
4. Usability testing
Usability testing is a method most favoured by UX researchers around the world that involves observing user’s interaction with the product or project being produced and can either be for the entire project or single use functions. The benefit of this, is it allows the researchers to study each step taken by the user throughout this exercise and break down all the touch points of the user’s experience.
UX research can manipulate testing via time allocations, iterations, types of tests and other elements to achieve a complete picture of participants use of the product.
Usability tests can also be done online for cost and time benefits as well as measuring the ethnographic considerations for the whole development process, Pastel is one such example with website usability testing.
Just a small mention about a lighter modern version of user testing is known as guerrilla testing, which is done in the community like asking drinkers at a coffee shop to carry out basic tasks with a service or a website in exchange for an incentive like money or a free coffee. This method is good for those on tight budgets and a large user base.
5. A/B Testing
A/B tests is a form of monadic testing in comparing two similar website designs in a live environment to see which one works best. Most often it's testing an existing website design against a new design. This method normally works via two randomly selected groups of users, where they test two versions of the designs. The results of these tests are then compared to understand which one performs better. The key thing with these tests is versions A and B must be similar, otherwise if they are too different, this would have a negative impact on the results and would not be an honest comparison. Note A/B tests can also be used with other UX research methods such as tree testing, which is explained below.
6. Tree Testing
The tree testing method basically evaluates the informational structure of a website or app to see if users can navigate their way around a site to find what they are looking. This not only helps to assess the informational structure of a website or app but also the labelling and findability. This can be done online or offline where users are presented with a hierarchy of the all the categories and then asked to find a particular option without being too direct in the instruction.
7. Review by an expert
This will involve one expert to go through the entire plan to find any inconsistencies or problems with the design, ease of access and whether it is straightforward to use. This process will vary amongst products and specialists as there are no set way of doing this. The emphasis will be based on the overall user experience by highlighting any small issues to make the whole exercise easy to use and intuitive. As these experts are skilled and experienced in their field, they will have an idea what to look for and envisage if there will be any potential problems in the future.
This is a cost-effective method as it only involves one specialist going through the process especially if there is additional budget that can be set aside for usability testing. Caution needs to be taken into consideration as this is based on the views and input of one person, so it’s good practice to do more tests to see if the review holds up.
8. Field studies
This is an old-fashioned approach to research with the method of investigating user interactions in the real world. By going directly to the source, the UX researcher will see how people use interfaces within the context of its intended use through observations, ethnography and interviewing the users.
By making users comfortable in a real-world setting, you can see how they interact with your product as they normally would rather than being conscious and removed from being watched as with usability tests.
These are one of the most valued methods in collecting information about how users encounter your product in real life.
How to conduct UX research projects?
In conducting UX research, there are five main steps to follow, where the first part is forming hypothesis and questions. While the remaining three steps are about collecting information via the chosen UX research methods.
Objectives – Need to establish the gaps in knowledge that need to be filled.
Hypotheses – understanding what you already know about your target audience.
Methods – depending on time and resources, considering the right method to buy into.
Conduct – collecting the information through the chosen methods.
Synthesize – in proving or challenging the hypotheses, filling in the gaps in knowledge and identifying opportunities in your design efforts.
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