In the vast and ever-evolving realm of user experience (UX) design, one truth remains constant: understanding your users is paramount to creating exceptional products. User research methods are that set of keys that unlock the door to invaluable insights about how your users interact with your designs, apps, and websites. By delving into the minds and behaviors of users, you gain the power to shape experiences that captivate, delight, and meet their needs.
From illuminating user needs to refining interactions, user research methods act as your guiding light on the path to creating products that leave a lasting impact. You don’t have to choose just one method while conducting your research. In fact, choosing multiple types of user research methods can help you:
Get comprehensive insights into the user experience
Validate your findings by cross-verifying insights.
Address research questions from different angles by using multiple methods to get a comprehensive understanding of the user experience.
Overcome limitations of individual methods and mitigate gaps in data.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common methods you can use while conducting user research.
One of the most commonly used user research methods, surveys consist of forms with different formats of questions, such as multiple choice, rating scale or ranking questions. While you can collect both quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, the qualitative data you get might not be the most actionable.
Advantages: It is cost-effective, fast and can be done when you need responses from a large user base.
Disadvantages: Risk of bias due to stated responses, and lack of actionable qualitative data.
2. Usability testing
This involves asking users to test a prototype or product with users and asking them to complete a task. Researchers often note down the interactions users have with the product to determine any usability problems and identifying where improvements can be made to create abetter user experience. You can use various methods to conduct usability testing, including moderated & unmoderated and remote & in-person.
Advantages: Provides actionable feedback and increases conversion rates.
Disadvantages: Limited sample size, artificial testing environment that might not accurately represent real-world situations.
3. Concept testing
This user research method measures the appeal or feasibility of an idea or design at the early stages of production. Conducting concept testing is important is essential because it validates that your customers want your product and can reduce the risk of failure upon launch.
Advantages: Get early feedback on ideas and designs, cost and time savings.
Disadvantages: Limited depth of feedback, can be influenced by bias.
Read more: A Guide to Concept Testing for UX
4. 5-second test
In this method, users are given five seconds to view an image (usually a design or web page), post which they are asked a few questions to gauge their first impressions. This kind of testing is done to understand if the relevant parts of the image (such as CTAs, navigation elements, or other important messaging) are noticeable enough.
Advantages: it is quick and efficient, easy to analyze, and helps identify first impressions.
Disadvantages: it gives limited insights and may be subject to biased results and does not give a lot of content around a user’s experience.
5. Card sorting
Card sorting is a user research method where users organize topic cards into categories to see how information is grouped, organized and labelled. Users are generally given a set of cards, each representing one aspect of the website or app you are developing so that they can sort them in a way that makes the most sense to them. This can give an indication of the optimal way to arrange your website when you create a prototype.
Advantages: It is easy to set up and cost-effective.
Disadvantages: The results can be subjective and do not provide information on how users search for, access, or use that information.
6. Tree testing
This method helps you evaluate the navigation structure of a website and helps improve the discoverability of specific content in a website’s structure. During a tree test, users are typically presented with a simplified representation of the website’s navigation structure and are given a task to locate a particular section within the structure. This can help you understand where users intuitively navigate first.
Advantages: It can be used in early-stage assessments and provides objective results.
Disadvantages: It only provides insights on findability, not usability. Also, it is conducted in a controlled environment, without any real-life stimuli that are usually present.
7. A/B testing
In A/B testing (or split testing), users are shown two versions of the product or prototype and are asked to rate them on which is better. A/B testing can be used on its own or in conjunction with other user research methods for a full picture. You can test anything, such as design, content, user flow, and other buttons.
Advantages: Allows for data-driven decision-making and increases conversion rates.
Disadvantages: Limited scope of testing, does not provide a complete picture of the results.
8. User interviews
User interviews involves having conversations with users to gather information about their interactions with your product.While user interviews can integrate other forms of user research (such as task analysis or card sorting), the final results will depend on the questions that are asked. When conducting a user interview, it is important to start with a wide context before jumping to questions about the product to set context.
Advantages: Rich qualitative data, and the ability to be flexible while asking questions.
Disadvantages: Time-consuming, susceptible to bias.
9. Focus groups
This is a qualitative user research method that involves conversing with a group of participants at the same time to get product insights. This can be done in person, as well as through video conferencing tools. In focus groups, there is a moderator who usually sets the tone for the study, guides the users through a set of questions, and encourages the participants to share their thoughts.
Advantages: The ability to get in-depth insights, and the efficiency of getting these insights.
Disadvantages: Limited sample size in each group, participants might be affected by several biases.
10. Task analysis
This is the process of understanding the steps users take to achieve a goal or complete a task. It involves breaking down the user flow into smaller pieces that can be studied and analyzed, and understanding the mental load taken for users to complete tasks. It can help researchers pinpoint the areas in the user flow that might pose a problem for users to navigate to/from.
Advantages: Increased efficiency of systems, reduced errors and frustration.
Disadvantages: Time-consuming and limited to specific tasks.
11. Eye tracking
This is an AI-based method that involves the use of cameras and webcams along with specialized algorithms to track a user’s gaze as they look at stimuli. This can help determine if users are looking at the elements they are supposed to, and what they engage with and ignore. This is a great way for researchers to ‘see’ through a user’s eyes.
Advantages: Helps to pinpoint areas of interest and can uncover subconscious user behavior.
Disadvantages: It requires accurate calibration to work, data might not always be accurate.
12. Mouse tracking/click tracking
This allows you to get data from a large number of users through their mouse or click movements as they navigate through a website, app or prototype. The heatmaps that are generated through mapping these clicks give insights into how users navigate through your product and what catches their eye. It can also highlight areas of the interface that aren’t being noticed by users.
Advantages: Tracks users’ natural behaviour, helps optimize conversion funnels.
Disadvantages: Limited context and lack of precision.
13. First-click testing
This user research method involves presenting users with a task to understand where they click first on the screen. Conducting first-click testing can provide valuable insights into a user’s initial interaction with a product and can help determine the task efficiency as well as the navigation architecture.
Advantages: Allows for early usability insights and gives insights into users’ mental models.
Disadvantages: Limited scope and cannot be used on its own.
14. Contextual interviews
Contextual interviews aim to combine both traditional user interviews as well as observing how a user interacts with a product.This method usually involves starting off by asking questions, except that this is conducted in the users’ natural environment. They are less formal and don’t need rigid scripts or tasks.
Advantages: Provides authentic user perspective, and uncovers unconscious behaviors.
Disadvantages: Time and resource intensive, the possibility of observer bias.
15. Heuristic evaluation/expert review
This involves a set of experts reviewing a product or interface and judging how it meets accepted usability standards.This user research method doesn’t depend on tasks – instead, the experts submit a report that identifies and ranks usability issues on a scale of mild to very problematic.
Advantages: Cost-effective, quick evaluation, expert opinions.
Disadvantages: Lack of user involvement and difficulty in finding suitable experts.
16. Parallel design
In this user research method, several designers create an initial design based on the same problem or task. Once they have a design, they evaluate each solution, refine them and use the best ideas to improve each of their own solutions. This enables a range of ideas to be generated quickly, at a low cost.
Advantages: Getting diverse perspectives, reduces bias due to multiple designers involved,
Disadvantages: It is resource intensive and while the ideas might be generated quickly, it might take time to evaluate each of them.
Personas are simply fictional representations of what an ideal user base could look like. The purpose of doing this is to humanize and provide a deep understanding of how users are, their goals, needs, and motivations. Crafting user personas can help designers and stakeholders empathize with the users, make informed design decisions, and prioritize features and functionalities based on user needs and goals.
Advantages: Helps in understanding your user base and creating user-centered designs.
Disadvantages: They need to be updated regularly as they can become outdated, and there can be a risk of stereotyping.
18. Field studies
While most user research methods gets conducted in an office or lab, field studies seek to understand the userexperience in the users’ natural environment. By doing this, researchers can get a close understanding of how users interact with products in different environments, especially when there are a lot of distracting elements such as noise.
Advantages: Get authentic and real-time user insights, understand contextual factors that influence user experiences.
Disadvantages: Time and cost-consuming (especially if a lot of travel is involved) and limited sample size due to intensive nature of the research.
19. Diary studies
A diary study is a qualitative user research method that gives researchers a peek into users’ thoughts, experiences, and behaviors over an extended period of time. As the name suggests, users are asked to keep logs (either by writing down or taking photos) of their interactions with a product, which helps researchers understand how products fit into users’ daily lives.
Advantages: Deeper insights into users’ behavior and motivations, thanks to user data captured over an extended period of time.
Disadvantages: Self-reporting bias, limited control by researchers over the course of the study.
20. Literature review
A literature review is a form of secondary research that uses already established articles, research journals, videos, and existing research repositories to identify patterns and trends that can help inform new research studies. Doing this can help you consolidate all the relevant data for your research and build confidence in research questions.
Advantages: Having a firm knowledge base, builds credibility of the study.
Disadvantages: Time-consuming, the possibility of outdated information, and limited scope of earlier research.
Each user research method brings its own unique benefits and limitations, and the choice of user research methods should be tailored to the specific research goals and context. By leveraging the power of the mixed-methods approach and combining multiple research techniques, you can gain a more comprehensive understanding of your users and their needs. It is important to remember to continuously iterate and adapt your user research methods to suit the ever-changing needs of your users.