27 / 04 / 23

​​UX 101 – UX Research Methods

Howdy, and welcome to our UX 101 Series, where we’ll cover all aspects of the UX process, discuss current disciplines, and provide our top tips for designing a great user experience. On this page, we’ll discuss the UX research methods every UX process uses, so if you’re starting out, you’re in the right place!  

How did UX research methods come about?  

Over the last decade, the term User Experience (UX) Design has been the word on the street of the web design world, but it’s been around for much, much longer than that. It’s believed to have been coined by Donald Norman in 1995, a cognitive scientist who joined the team at Apple in the 90s in the first official role of ‘User Experience Architect’.  

His reason for inventing the term User Experience (UX) Design, was to cover all aspects of a person’s experience with a system, not just the interface and usability, but also the design, graphics, physical interaction, and the manual alongside that. 

When you consider all the ways in which a user might interact with your product, Norman’s philosophy totally made sense. By taking into account the emotions someone might experience when using your product, you can use UX research methods to find ways to improve it and deliver an exceptional user experience.  

Since then, the UX Design process has continued to evolve, and today, the UX discipline is considered a crucial part of any digital product design. As we’ve discovered, a user-centric design tends to be the most successful. So, what are the stages in the UX design process?   

Most UX processes follow a similar structure:  

  1. User Research 
  1. Design 
  1. Testing  
  1. Implementation  

Let’s dive into UX research methods 

The first phase of UX research is about understanding your target users and the problems they might face, so you can design a product or service that resolves all those problems.  

This stage is quite exciting. There are so many different UX research tools to give you a better understanding of the user’s behaviours, goals, values and pain points. To make it easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, we’ll outline the main UX research methods and use them to point to our real-world UX example.  

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research Methods

Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between qualitative and quantitative data.  

Qualitative research is a great way of exploring people’s motivations, attitudes, and beliefs. This type of research is used when we want to get people’s opinions on a brand or product. Qualitative UX research tools include observations, interviews, or focus groups. The data is often open-ended and relies on conversational communication.  

Quantitative research, on the other hand, is great if you want to analyse assumptions or gather numerical data, which you can then present to other people. This type of UX research uses tools like surveys, A/B tests, and data analytics. Conducting quantitative UX research is a good method for spotting patterns in users’ behaviour.

1:1 Interviews

Interviews with users can provide you with qualitative data, which can guide you through the next stages in the development of your product. For this stage, we suggest interviewing a handful (or more!) of target users.  

But what are target users?  

These are users that would hypothetically use the app or website you’re designing, or users who currently use similar products that are already on the market.  

Interviews can take a long as you’d like and are a great opportunity to find out about your target users’ beliefs, motivations, pain points, and habits. The open and interactive nature of a 1:1 interview enables the participant to tell you their exact thoughts and insights, which will be invaluable down the line! 

What UX research questions to ask in a user research interview?  

This depends on your research goals, and the goals of the business you’re creating your product for.  

Before diving into the deep end, it’s a good idea to get to know your users; this is the easy part. Ask them about their background and interests, as this will help drive your research.  

The next stage of questioning requires deeper thinking and planning. When it comes to creating targeted UX research questions, ask yourself: what do I need to know about the current habits of my target users and their use of existing applications or products? Ask UX research questions that will help advance your project and realise your business goals, such as:   

  • Why did you opt for this application?  
  • What would you expect from a website that does X? 
  • When is the last time you did X activity? 
  • What do you currently do when dealing with X problem? 

Between these two lines of questioning, you can formulate direct or open-ended UX research questions to get the right information during the interview. 

Stakeholder interviews  

Alongside user interviews, interviewing stakeholders of the product to understand their expectations is another useful UX research method. This will also aid you in tailoring UX research questions for the users 

With early input from stakeholders, you can make sure you walk away with as much valuable information as possible from the interview process. During the UX process, you will have to balance the needs of users with the needs of the business, so be prepared! 

Focus groups

Focus groups are another great UX research tool for obtaining valuable data and discovering what users want from a product. The group should feel inviting and the conversation unstructured, to allow participants to engage and challenge each other’s views.  

Focus groups usually consist of 6-10 participants who are target users. They are run by a mediator who observes and steers the conversation if necessary.  

A focus group can provide general clues and ideas as to their product expectations and preferences. You can also ask the group to review specific product features that already exist, or that are in development in your own product.  

Observing the initial reactions and noting down majority opinions within a focus group can provide you with great design foundations.  

Tips for a focus group session  

  • It’s good to introduce the members of the group to each other, provide name badges, and carry out an ‘ice breaker’ activity that will help participants engage with the conversations.  
  • With the permission of all participants, take an audio or video recording of the session, as you might miss some information in your notes if the conversation picks up pace.  
  • Give your participants regular breaks and refreshments, especially if the focus group is set to last longer than 1.5 hours.  

UX Surveys

One of the best UX research methods for obtaining both qualitative and quantitative data is to conduct a user survey. You can do this at any stage of your design process to receive feedback on a live product or refine the company’s USPs and product ideas. 

When designing your UX research survey questions, make sure they aren’t biased towards any particular answer, so instead of asking ‘how good is X?’ and providing mostly positive options such as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, ask ‘how would you rate X from 1 to 10?’. This will give your user more freedom to answer in a non-biased context.  

Try to design neutral questions around your project ideas, then assign survey participants a mixture of ‘closed question’ (ones that have a ‘yes’, ‘no’ answer) and ‘open questions’ (ones that require a more detailed response).  

Starting your survey with closed questions will help ease participants into it, as answering closed questions will require less effort from them.  

Following this, you can introduce some longer, open-ended questions such as ‘What do you think is the best part of X and why?’. This will allow participants to share their thoughts without feeling overwhelmed. 

There are plenty of digital UX research survey tools to choose from. Google Forms and SurveyMonkey are both popular platforms. You can learn more about UX survey platforms here.  

Top tips for acing your UX survey 

  • Enlist target users as participants for your UX research questions. Ensure they are briefed on the activity beforehand.  
  • Keep the questions simple, making sure all participants understand the language used, and perceive the question in a universal context.  
  • If you don’t need users’ personal data, such as their name and gender, don’t ask for it. Try to keep your survey as anonymous as possible to give participants the freedom to provide honest responses.  
  • Give your participants a full range of options in your survey. It is easy to provide only positive options for your answers, or answers which do not fit every participant.  
  • Give your participants the option to insert their own answer, in cases where none of your questions are a match. Make sure to include options for honest, negative responses, and a full range of numbers on the rating scale whenever applicable. 

Making sense of your UX research

Once you’ve collected all the data, it’s time to make sense of it! Having a huge collection of data can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to spend hours staring at it with no idea how to unravel all the UX research, questions, and answers you've collated – but don’t let analysis paralysis take hold! 

To handle the more qualitative data, you can organise it using affinity diagrams. This involves presenting individual pieces of data and finding relationships between them.  

First, review all the qualitative data, and organise all the user’s pain points, motivations, likes, and dislikes into separate piles. When reviewing the piles, you’ll be able to spot patterns and draw the most common answers from each topic.  

After this, take some time to brainstorm ideas on how to address the key answers you’ve drawn from this data. Consider things like: ‘how would we include this?’ or ‘how would we fix this universal issue?’ It’s bound to provide insights into your project! 

You can also analyse patterns in your quantitative data, which may be easier if your survey already includes numbers and statistics. When analysing quantitative data, you might like to work out: 

  • Mean values 
  • Median values 
  • Mode values 
  • Percentage values 

Working out the most common values from your answers will enable you to pinpoint the exact problem, or exact opinion, your target users have of your product and competitors’ products. This is one of the most valuable UX research tools for directing you towards the areas that require development within your project. These results are easily read and very precise, which is why quantitative data is so important to include in your research stage. 

Creating client personas in UX projects  

With the data you’ve narrowed down, you can create some user personas. This is one of the best UX research methods for really bringing your target users to life. Personas should include the most common jobs, hobbies, activities, needs, pain points, and motivations shared by your target users. It’s recommended to create 4-5 target user personas, so you can focus on finding solutions to the most common user problems and needs.  

How to create a UX persona  

Create profiles of all the main types of users, encompassing your most common research findings. To do this, ensure each profile includes elements such as:  

  • Photos to help you visualise your user. 
  • Names and ages to help you accurately target the user’s needs and make it easy to refer to a specific user in discussion. 
  • Descriptions of life stage to help you understand the user’s current experiences. 
  • Interests to help you understand what the user likes and what motivates them. 
  • Problems to understand what struggles the user is currently facing. 

Brainstorming ideas based on user personas, and drafting solutions around user needs, is the best way to ensure your future product or feature will entirely satisfy your target users.  

Remember, the UX process is about the users, not the assumptions and desires of your team. The most important thing is to work out user expectations and use them to point you towards planning and designing your product with the best functionality.  

Good luck with your UX research stage! Next up, we’ll cover the design process!  

Formation Media has a team of UX specialists and a dedicated UX development facility - the UX Factory - to help develop your project into a user-friendly product. Find out more here.

Written by Ewa Formation