In this blog post, we take you on a journey of a UX researcher, who treated UX research methods as a tool for finding research goals. For example, how craftsmen use different types of tools depending upon the result or outcome he wants, in the same way, researchers choose “UX research methods” based on the goal or output of the study.

UX Researcher
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These goals need to be written in the form of “research questions”, which help researchers to plan and conduct their study. Below are a few examples of research questions along with the methods (as a tool) used by researchers to get the answer. This is tabulated as below.

Research QuestionsUX Methods as Tool
How COVID 19 has changed the education system?  As it is totally a new situation, we could use “Qualitative Research Interview”, which is a one-on-one conversation with teachers, parents and students.
If the school wants to find out, how many teachers and students could manage to log in successfully for the first time on Zoom Online classes?This data we could collect through “Surveys”, which is a Quantitative method. We can create an online form and get the result.
What are changes in diet and exercise pattern of elderly people due to COVID 19 Pandemic?   Here we can use “Observation Field Study” to observe the change in elderly people’s behaviour.
If we need to observe and keep a checklist for 10 to 15 days on diet and exercise plans for elderly people and find out how they are responding to it? In this situation, we can maintain “Diary Studies” asking participants to report their activities over time. 

Top UX Research Methods and Their Purpose

We will soon see what are the different types of tools available inside the UX researcher toolkit. Before that let us discuss what is UX Research in detail.

What is UX Research?

User Experience (UX) Research is a systematic approach for identifying target user’s, their needs, behaviours, their motivation and their context of use. This helps designers and developers in designing and developing solutions. As a researcher, we often mix or use multiple research methods depending upon which phase of the design project we are in as mentioned below.

Discover and Define Phase (Empathize)Define & Synthesis Phase (Define)Develop/ Ideation Phase (ideate)Deliver /Implementation
(Solution/Iteration)
Goal
Get in-depth knowledge about culture, social and technological context. 
Goal
Define the problem(s), write context scenarios & identify requirements. 
Goal
Set design vision & hypothesis, then rewrite the final project brief. Build/prototype and test/analyse 
Goal
Test, iterate, measure, compare design solutions. 
Ethnography
(Qualitative)
Card Sorting
(Hybrid)
Online/Crowd Usability Test) (Hybrid)Online/Crowd Usability Test) (Hybrid)
In-Depth Interviews/ Contextual inquiry
(Qualitative) 
Expert Reviews
(Qualitative)
Lab Usability Testing
(Qualitative)
Design Review
(Qualitative)
Observational field studies
(Qualitative)
Lab Usability Testing
(Qualitative)
Lab Eye Tracking
(Qualitative)
Dairy Studies
(Hybrid)
Focus Groups
(Qualitative)
A/B Testing
(Quantitative)
Expert Reviews
(Qualitative)
Lab Usability Testing
(Qualitative)
Online Surveys(Quantitative)Online/Crowd Usability Test) (Hybrid)
A/B Testing
(Quantitative)
A/B Testing
(Quantitative)


Virtual Eye Tracking
(Quantitative)
Focus Groups
(Qualitative)

Top 4 UX Research Methods

Did you know the FlexMR dev team also said that “Whether you’re a seasoned insight professional or a first-time researcher, understanding the methodologies available within the research toolkit grounds research in the real world.” Very well said, that every researcher should understand different type of methods available in our toolkit. They are as follows.

  1. Qualitative and Quantitative Research Method 
  2. Attitudinal or Behavioural 
  3. Context for product use  
  4. Nature of Research  

A great resource for visualising above framework by Niels Corman group’s landscape of user research methods as follows –

Choosing research methodology — landscape of user research methods © Christian P. Rohrer 2014

1. UX Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative

Understanding or evaluating qualitative and quantitative research give us different kinds of information about the user experience. We are going to see different types of tools, purpose, goals by which UX researchers craft their research methods.

Purpose/Goal of UX Research: Quantitative UX research is to gather insight or stories about users behaviours, cases, events, etc. Or else if the goal is to compare products, numbers or metrics then one has to go for quantitative UX research.

With qualitative research mainly our goal is to identify problems/issues or opportunities to investigate why something is happening. For example, if we want to know How Covid-19 has affected or changed the education system?” These questions usually start with “what”, “how”, and “why” questions. To answer this type of questions, we have very limited knowledge of the education system, teachers, learners, their roles and their needs, concerns, etc. Popular qualitative methods are interviews, observations field study, contextual inquiry, focus groups, etc.     

While conducting quantitative UX research, we’re gathering numbers that are best for testing hypotheses or comparing two or more designs. Research questions for quantitative research usually start with “how much” “How often” questions. For example “How many teachers and students could manage to login successfully for the first time on online classes after Covid-19?  or “how many users visited a shopping chat page this month” or “what percentage of visitors used flash sale option”, etc. These data help in design decisions. 

Quantitative research is also a great means of tracking user experience over the period and analysing that you’re improving users experience in the ways that you had expected. Also, many times researchers use quantitative research methods to determine the priority or scale of a problem. Most popular quantitative UX methodologies use surveys, usage data analytics, A/B testing, eye tracking and click testing. 

2. UX Research Methods: Attitudinal or Behavioral

Participants are asked “to say”, “to make” or “to do” things. There is a famous quote by “Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt”, founder of Contextual Design (CD) a user-centered design process – “People are experts at what they do, but people are not consciously aware of how they do things”.

Our next UX research classification is based on “attitudinal vs behavioural”. In attitudinal, researchers ask participants to “say” about their opinions. Attitudinal UX methodologies are interview, focus group, diary studies or video diary studies whereas in behavioural, researchers give props to participants (like photo or timeline exercise) and ask them to “do” and “make”, collage, etc. This way we get richer information about what participants are thinking, their emotions and feelings, it’s more observational. Popular behavioural UX methodologies are photo-elicitation, timeline exercise, A/B testing, Eye tracking and click testing. 

Further attitudinal research, participants share information about themselves, about their beliefs, expectation and perceptions whereas, in behavioural research, it is actually a direct observation, which is gained when the participant makes or does the task. 

3. UX Research Methods: Context for product use*

Natural/Scripted/None/Hybrid * by Rohrer, C. (2014, October) describe at their website nngroup.com 

The last one is “context for product use”, in this classification UX research method, researcher studies and test product or design solution in 4 ways:

a) Natural Environment Use
b) Control Environment or Script Use 
c) Not Use the Product
d) Hybrid 

  • Natural Environment Use:  Usability testing or ethnography study are few examples of natural environment use, where participants use their phone in their natural environment and researchers observe participants behaviour or attitude while they are performing the task. The goal is to come as close as to reality. Here researchers have less control on the environment, it’s more natural. 
  • Control Environment or Script Use: In this type of study, use of the product is done in the control environment and it is pre-scripted to compare usability testing, design alternative or task flow; The goal for this study is to get an insight about usage or compare two design solutions, etc.  
  • Not Use the Product: In this study, the product is not used, the best example for this study is survey or interviews.
  • Hybrid: In this method, designer/UX researchers mix different UX methods. For example, the participatory design method mixes with concept testing method. Here they share the key essence of a new product or solution to the problems in a set of descriptions, with participants. Each description is asked to be kept separately and rank them from the most to the least desirable. Later involves participants in designing the solution with semi-structured interviews.     

4. UX Research Methods: Nature of Research

This user research method comprised of four stages – generative, exploratory, descriptive, explanatory

  • Generative Research occurs at the beginning of the design process, that is at the time when we are discovering or identifying problems. The main goal of generative research is to generate information about the users’ intent and needs. For example, we want to design a “diet and exercise” app for elderly people. We can use an interview or observation study, for the same.
  • Exploratory Research as the name said is exploratory in nature. This method is used when there is very limited or no information available to researchers. In such cases, they start observing and exploring similar types of problems. Researchers intend not to provide conclusive evidence but just explore and describe initial hypotheses or theoretical ideas. These hypotheses are then taken up by other researchers to build upon further. 

    Let’s take the same example “diet and exercise”. We have no knowledge about the lifestyle changes of elderly, due to Covid-19 pandemic, so here we do exploratory research, to discover and explore new lifestyles, habits and food changes in daily life after Covid-19. In this study, we are only describing our assumption or hypothesis. Research shows that due to Covid 19 Pandemic elderly people became more concise and are actively using different health apps. 
  • Descriptive Research as the name suggests is descriptive in nature. In this method, we already have a certain level of understanding and knowledge about the subject matters or area we are researching, but still, we want to explore more and build additional information about the topic. So, the goal of descriptive research is to develop better and more accurate understanding of the same subject, hence we often collect a lot of data.  
    Let’s take the same example of “diet and exercise”, again. Here we already have knowledge about the users, behaviour, problems and now we want to build additional information. Our research question would be “do they exercise regularly or follow any lesson plan? How much time do they spend on each lesson plan of exercise? Compare different health apps elderly people use over a period?” In descriptive research, we build on hypothesis and do further research on the same subject.

    Let’s come back to Explanatory Research, it tries to explain relationships between variables like cause and its effect. Let’s take the same example of “diet and exercise”. We saw in exploratory research above that “due to this pandemic elderly people became more concise about health issues” and in descriptive research, we learned that “they use different health and diet apps to keep them fit”. Explanatory is based on above both methods of research, that is we identified the causes such as age, food, exercise and their effects on their daily life.  We can answer many questions after studying the relationship between causes and effect starting with “Why.”

Conclusion

As I said, research questions are at the heart to user research. They help in deciding and selecting research methods. Researchers are generally comfortable with one to two methods and are biased in choosing one research method over other methods. I would suggest that UX researchers be exploratory, choosing methods relevant to your research goals.

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