UX research methods: how to discover valuable information about your users
When faced with a design problem that requires research, I often research the most efficient way to find answers.
Over the years, I’ve put together a list of UX research methods with high ROI. I’ve seen time and time again that they give me what I pay for: they don’t take a lot of time or money, but they still have a high impact.
These are the go-to methods I can fall back on when I need to learn quickly and efficiently.
But before jumping into the list, it’s important to understand two things.
What exactly are we looking for?
When designers do research, we are looking for one main thing: ideas.
Ideas are the takeaways – the valuable nuggets, lessons learned, epiphanies – that help us discover new ideas that we can then apply to our designs. Ideas are the product of research and the reason we do it.
So what we are looking for is the most information per time and money spent. The better this ratio, the more effective the method.
Can I use the same method every time?
Here’s another important thing to keep in mind: there is no a global search method that works for every situation. UX research and design in general is too complex for that. There are too many variables at play.
To determine which method is the most effective, we need to understand what question we are asking. What do we need to learn? What is the point ? What problem are we trying to solve?
For example, are we looking for numbers (metrics) or stories (events)? Are we analyzing behaviors or attitudes? Are we watching or asking? Are we testing something tangible or trying to get inside our user’s head?
I’ve listed several methods below and each relates to a specific type of design challenge or goal. I have found that the associated method is almost always the most efficient way to get the answers.
My Favorite Effective Research Methods
1. Interview with the user
Objective: to discover the mental models, attitudes and opinions of your user on a specific subject.
In my mind, there’s no substitute for sitting down with a user and digging into their mental models via well-crafted questions. You can take many ideas from this experience and it is very adaptable. There is no other method that works as well as this for this specific type of challenge.
Duration of interview
Interviews don’t have to be hour-long calls, they can be a quick 15-minute chat. I find that designers sometimes make interviews too long simply because they feel like they should be long. Don’t get distracted. Know in advance what exact question you are trying to answer and write questions that will get you answered as quickly as possible. Once you’ve found the answers you’re looking for, hang up. There’s no reason to just hang around.
User interviews can easily be completely free or at least very inexpensive. Record it for free with Zoom or your device’s default audio recorder. I’ve found that participants are generally willing to do an interview for free if it’s quick. You can also offer them something that costs you nothing, like a free month of your product.
2. Usability testing
Purpose: to assess a specific idea you already have.
Usability testing is incredibly effective: it gives you tons of learning opportunities and insights. This is largely because you’re testing tangible work rather than gathering general concepts to use later. You can even embed interview-style questions that help you reap the benefits of user interviews. Testing gives you real, actionable results that you can immediately apply to real designs. They point your work in the right direction and get you closer to shipping.
If I had to choose one method to use for the rest of my life, it would be a usability test. It has many of the same benefits as the other methods on this list and is still very convenient and workable. You’re not talking about abstract concepts, you’re talking in terms of the real things you’re building. If you only have the budget (time and money) for a research method, you can’t go wrong with a good usability test.
It is increasingly easy to perform remote and unmoderated testing with tools such as Maze and UserTesting. The main benefit of these tools is that you can set up the test, find participants, and then let it run in the background. These can sometimes have certain disadvantages such as not being able to adapt the direction of the test according to the answers of the participant. But I’ve been liking these methods more and more lately and I find I can get a lot of ideas out of them if I build them properly.
3. Diary study
Objective: to analyze the current behavior of a user and its relationship with the product.
Log studies give you a great way to see the details of how a user uses a product on a day-to-day basis. They help you get an idea of the user’s overall relationship with the product and how it fits into their life.
Note: Some Log Studies may take some time. It’s in this list because you can set it up quite easily and leave it running in the background while you work on other things. But usually you want to let the test run for a few weeks. so be aware that you should only use it when you can set it up well in advance.
Since diary studies do not take place in a small controlled window, real and natural user behavior emerges over time. A longer duration also means that you have a wider period and range of situations to ensure that you have a higher chance of getting everything the problems and don’t miss the little gripes that pop up here and there when you’re using a digital product. These types of things often don’t show up in a small-range, time-limited test.
You don’t have to go crazy with the tools. Use things like Google Forms or Notion.
4. Card sorting
Objective: Build an information architecture.
Quick, simple, and often free to set up, card sorting is invaluable in understanding how to structure something.
It is similar to usability testing in that it offers many opportunities to learn from the user and gives you concrete, actionable points that you can immediately apply to real designs.
There are plenty of tools (like Trello + Zoom) that will make this free and easy.
5. A/B (or multivariate) testing
Objective: Determine which of your ideas will best meet your objective.
If you have a specific goal in mind (like you want the user to click that button, or use that feature, etc.), and you have a few options on how to go about it with no clear indication of what would work better, A/B or multivariate testing is invaluable. They will give you direct and quantitative feedback that is quite difficult to refute. And it’s fine to set it up and let it run in the background, collecting data.
The problem with A/B testing is that if you want to do it in production, you need to have (a) the technical capability and (b) at least two things ready to ship. You can make it easier for yourself by only testing a small part of the UI (the scope of an A/B test should be as small as possible, anyway). And there are many tools these days to help you run one of these tests, like Google Optimize or VWO. Or you can replicate a production A/B test with an unmoderated usability test.
If you have the particular goal described above, this is often the quickest and best way to arrive at a clear, evidence-based decision. Companies like Facebook and Google use it all the time for this very reason.
Purpose: To determine the priority or magnitude of an issue within your user base.
Need to determine what proportion of your users share a common opinion or are impacted by a specific issue? Surveys are the best way to find out, as they give you a wide scope. And the answers will be extremely valuable in deciding what to build and how to build it.
You can also refer to analytics to try to achieve this goal. However, you’ll probably have a harder time extracting real information, since it’s retroactive and doesn’t directly answer the question.
Writing surveys should be done thoughtfully, but after you’ve written them (and gathered the participants), you can send them out and let the responses in. The other major advantage of surveys is that you can easily run them for $0. You can use a tool like Google Forms for free and then export the results to something like Airtable (also free).
On the UX Chats podcast, we chatted with Trae Winterton about this exact topic. Go check it out!
What methods do you use by default when you need to find answers efficiently? Let us know on Twitter.
This article was first seen at: https://uxtools.co/blog/best-ux-research-methods-in-a-pinch/