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The Complete Guide To UX Research (User Research)

UX Research is a term that has been trending in the past few years. There's no surprise why it's so popular - User Experience Research is all about understanding your customer and their needs, which can help you greatly improve your conversion rate and user experience on your website. In this article, we're going to provide a complete guide to UX research as well as how to start implementing it in your organisation.Throughout this article we will give you a complete high-level overview of the entire UX Research meaning, supported by more in-depth articles for each topic.

About the BTNG Research Team

Qualitative and Quantitative research is what the BTNG Research team gets out of bed for in the morning. Helping our partners to validate assumptions and discover new exciting opportunities is their speciality!

Table of Content

Introduction to UX Research

Wether you're a grizzled UX Researcher who's been in the field for decades or a UX Novice who's just getting started, UX Research is an integral aspect of the UX Design process. Before diving into this article on UX research methods and tools, let's first take some time to break down what UX research actually entails.

Download the Complete Guide To UX Research here!

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Each of these UX Research Methods has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it's important to understand your goals for the UX Research activities you want to complete.

What is UX Research?

UX research begins with UX designers and UX researchers studying the real world needs of users. User Experience Research is a process --it's not just one thing-- that involves collecting data, conducting interviews, usability testing prototypes or website designs with human participants in order to deeply understand what people are looking for when they interact with a product or service.

By using different sorts of user-research techniques you can better understand not only people desires from their product of service, but a deeper human need which can serve as an incredibly powerful opportunity.

There's an incredible amount of different sorts of research methods. Most of them can be divided in two camps: Qualitative and Quantitative Research.

Qualitative research - Understanding needs can be accomplished through observation, in depth interviews and ethnographic studies. Quantitative Research focusses more on the numbers, analysing data and collecting measurable statistics.

Within these two groups there's an incredible amount of research activities such as Card Sorting, Competitive Analysis, User Interviews, Usability Tests, Personas & Customer Journeys and many more. We've created our The Curated List of Research Techniques to always give you an up-to-date overview.

Each of these UX Research Methods has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it's important to understand your goals for the UX Research activities you want to complete.

Why is UX Research so important?

When I started my career as a digital designer over 15 years ago, I felt like I was always hired to design the client's idea. Simply translate what they had in their head into a UI without even thinking about changing the user experience. Needless to say: This is a recipe for disaster. An no, this isn't a "Client's don't know anything" story. Nobody knows! At least in the beginning. The client had "the perfect idea" for a new digital feature. The launch date was already set and the development process had to start as soon as possible.

When the feature launched, we expected support might get a few questions or even receive a few thank-you emails. We surely must've affected the user experience somehow!

But that didn't happen. Nothing happened. The feature wasn't used.

Why?

Because nobody needed it.

This is exactly what happens when you skip user experience research because you think you're solving a problem that "everybody" has, but nobody really does.

Conducting User Experience research can help you to have a better understanding of your stakeholders and what they need. This is incredibly valuable information from which you can create personas and customer journeys. It doesn't matter if you're creating a new product or service or are improving an existing once.


Five Steps for conducting User Research

Created by Eric Sanders, the Research Learning Spiral provides five main steps for your user research.

  1. Objectives: What are the knowledge gaps we need to fill?
  2. Hypotheses: What do we think we understand about our users?
  3. Methods: Based on time and manpower, what methods should we select?
  4. Conduct: Gather data through the selected methods.
  5. Synthesize: Fill in the knowledge gaps, prove or disprove our hypotheses, and discover opportunities for our design efforts.


1: Objectives: Define the Problem Statement

A problem statement is a concise description of an issue to be addressed or a condition to be improved upon. It identifies the gap between the current (problem) state and desired (goal) state of a process or product.

Problem statements are the first steps in your research because they help you to understand what's wrong or needs improving. For example, if your product is a mobile app and the problem statement says that customers are having difficulty paying for items within the application, then UX research will lead you (hopefully) down that path. Most likely it will involve some form of usability testing.

Check out this article if you'd like to learn more about Problem Statements.


2: Hypotheses: What we think we know about our user groups

After getting your Problem Statement right, there's one more thing to do before doing any research. Make sure you have created a clear research goal for yourself. How do you identify Research Objectives? By asking questions:

  • Who are we doing this for? The starting point for your personas!
  • What are we doing? What's happening right now? What do our user want? What does the company need?
  • Think about When. If you're creating a project plan, you'll need a timeline. It also helps to keep in mind when people are using your products or service.
  • Where is the logical next step. Where do people use your product? Why there? What limitations are there to that location? Where can you perform research? Where do your users live?
  • Why are we doing this? Why should or shouldn't we be doing this? Why teaches you all about motivations from people and for the project.
  • Last but not least: How? Besides thinking about the research activities itself, think about how people will test a product or feature. How will the user insights (outcome of the research) work be used in the  User Centered Design - and development process?


3: Methods: Choose the right research method

UX research is about exploration, and you want to make sure that your method fits the needs of what you're trying to explore. There are many different methods. In a later chapter we'll go over the most common UX research methods.

For now, all you need to keep in mind that that there are a lot of different ways of doing research.

You definitely don't need to do every type of activity but it would be useful to have a decent understanding of the options you have available, so you pick the right tools for the job.


4. Conduct: Putting in the work

Apply your chosen user research methods to your Hypotheses and Objectives! The various techniques used by the senior product designer in the BTNG Design Process can definitely be overwhelming. The product development process is not a straight line from A to B. UX Researchers often discover new qualitative insights in the user experience due to uncovering new (or incorrect) user needs. So please do understand that UX Design is a lot more than simply creating a design.

5. Synthesise: Evaluating Research Outcome

So you started with your Problem Statement (Objectives), you drafted your hypotheses, chose the top research methods, conducted your research as stated in the research process and now "YOU ARE HERE".

The last step is to Synthesise what you've learned. Start by filling in the knowledge gaps. What unknowns are you now able to answer?

Which of your hypotheses are proven (or disproven)?

And lastly, which new exciting new opportunities did you discover!

Evaluating the outcome of the User Experience Research is an essential part of the work.

Make sure to keep them brief and to-the-point. A good rule of thumb is to include the top three positive comments and the top three problems.


UX Research Methods

Choosing the right UX research method

Making sure you use the right types of user experience research in any project is essential. Since time and money is always limited, we need to make sure we always get the most bang-for-our-buck. This means we need to pick the UX research method that will give us the most insights as possible for a project.

Three things to keep in mind when making a choice among research methodologies:

  • Stages of the product life cycle - Is it a new or existing product?
  • Quantitative vs. Qualitative - In depth talk directly with people or data?
  • Attitudinal vs. Behavioural - What people say vs what people do

Image from Nielsen Norman Group


Most frequently used methods of UX Research

  1. Card Sorting: Way before UX Research even was a "thing", psychological research originally used Card Sorting.  With Card Sorting, you try to find out how people group things and what sort of hierarchies they use. The BTNG Research Team is specialised in remote research. So our modern Card Sorting user experience research have a few modern surprises.
  2. Usability Testing: Before launching a new feature or product it is important to do user testing. Give them tasks to complete and see how well the prototype works and learn more about user behaviours.
  3. Remote Usability Testing: During the COVID-19 lockdown, finding the appropriate ux research methods haven't always been that easy. Luckily, we've adopted plenty of modern solutions that help us with collecting customer feedback even with a remote usability test.
  4. Research-Based User Personas: A profile of a fictional character representing a specific stakeholder relevant to your product or service. Combine goals and objections with attitude and personality. The BTNG Research Team creates these personas for the target users after conducing both quantitative and qualitative user research.
  5. Field Studies: Yes, we actually like to go outside. What if your product isn't a B2B desktop application which is being used behind a computer during office hours? At BTNG we have different types of Field Studies which all help you gain valuable insights into human behaviour and the user experience.
  6. The Expert Interview: Combine your talent with that of one of BTNG's senior researcher. Conducting ux research without talking to the experts on your team would be a waste of time. In every organisation there are people who know a lot about their product or service and have unique insights. We always like to include them in the UX Research!
  7. Eye Movement Tracking: If you have an existing digital experience up and running - Eye Movement Tracking can help you to identify user experience challenges in your funnel. The outcome shows a heatmap of where the user looks (and doesn't).

Qualitative vs. Quantitative UX research methods

Since this is a topic that we can on about for hours, we decided to split this section up in a few parts. First let's start with the difference.

Qualitative UX Research is based on an in-depth understanding of the human behaviour and needs. Qualitative user research includes interviews, observations (in natural settings), usability tests or contextual inquiry. More than often you'll obtain unexpected, valuable insights through this from of user experience research methods.

Quantitative UX Research relies on statistical analysis to make sense out of data (quantitative data) gathered from UX measurements: A/B Tests - Surveys etc. Quantitative UX Research is as you might have guessed, a lot more data-orientated.

If you'd like to learn more about these two types of research, check out these articles:

Get the most out of your User Research with Qualitative Research

Quantitative Research: The Science of Mining Data for Insights

Balancing qualitative and quantitative UX research

Both types of research have amazing benefits but also challenges. Depending on the research goal, it would be wise to have a good understanding which types of research you would like to be part of the ux design and would make the most impact.

The BTNG Research Team loves to start with Qualitative Research to first get a better understanding of the WHY and gain new insights. To validate these new learning they use Quantitative Research in your user experience research.


A handful of helpful UX Research Tools

The landscape of UX research tools has been growing rapidly. The BTNG Research team use a variety of UX research tools to help with well, almost everything. From running usability tests, creating prototypes and even for recruiting participants.

In the not-too-distant future, we'll create a Curated UX Research Tool article. For now, a handful of helpful UX Research Tools should do the trick.

  • For surveys: Typeform
  • For UX Research Recruitment: Dscout
  • For analytics and heatmaps: VWO
  • For documenting research: Notion & Airtable
  • For Customer Journey Management: TheyDo
  • For transcriptions: Descript
  • For remote user testing: Maze
  • For Calls: Zoom


Surveys: Typeform

What does it do? Survey Forms can be boring. Typeform is one of those ux research tools that helps you to create beautiful surveys with customisable templates and an online editor. For example, you can add videos to your survey or even let people draw their answers instead of typing them in a text box. Who is this for? Startup teams that want to quickly create engaging and modern looking surveys but don't know how to code it themselves.

Highlights: Amazing UX, looks and feel very modern, create forms with ease that match your branding, great reports and automation.

Why is it our top pick? Stop wasting time on ux research tools with too many buttons. Always keep the goal of your ux research methods in mind. Keep things lean, fast and simple with a product with amazing UX.

https://www.typeform.com/


UX Research Recruitment: Dscout

What does it do? Dscout is a remote research platform that helps you recruit participants for your ux research (the right ones). With a pool of +100.000 real users, our user researchers can hop on video calls and collect data for your qualitative user research. So test out those mobile apps user experience and collect all the data! Isn't remote research amazing?

Highlights: User Research Participant Recruitment, Live Sessions,Prototype feedback, competitive analysis, in-the-wild product discovery, field work supplementations, shopalongs.

Why is it our top pick? Finding the right people is more important than finding people fast. BTNG helps corporate clients in all types of industries which require a unique set of users, each time. Dscout helps us to quickly find the right people and make sure our user research is delivered on time and our research process stays in tact.

https://dscout.com/


Analytics and heatmaps: VWO

What does it do? When we were helping the Financial Times, our BTNG Research Team collaborated with FT Marketing Team who were already running experiments with VWO. 50% of the traffic would see one version of a certain page while 50% saw a different version. Which performed best? Perhaps you'd take a look at time-on-page. But more importantly: Which converts better!

Hotjar provides Product Experience Insights that show how users behave and what they feel strongly about, so product teams can deliver real value to them.

Highlights: VWO is an amazing suite that does it all:Automated Feedback, Heatmaps, EyeTracking, User Session Recordings (Participant Tracking) and one thing that Hotjar doesn't do: A/B Testing.

Why is it our top pick? Even tho it's an expensive product, it does give you value for money. Especially the reports with very black and white outcomes are great for presenting the results you've made.

https://vwo.com/


Documenting research: Notion

What does it do? Notion is our command center, where we store and constantly update our studio's aggregate wisdom. It is a super-flexible tool that helps to organise project documentation, prepare for interviews with either clients or their product users, accumulate feedback, or simply take notes.

Highlights: A very clean, structured way to write and share information with your team in a beautiful designed app with an amazing user experience.

Why is it our top pick? There's no better, more structured way to share information.

https://www.notion.so/


Customer Journey Management: TheyDo

What does it do? TheyDo is a modern Journey Management Platform. It centralises your journeys in an easy to manage system, where everyone has access to a single source of truth of the customer experience. It’s like a CMS for journeys.

Highlights: Customer Journey Map designer, Personas and 2x2 Persona Matrix, Opportunity & Solution Management & Prioritisation.

Why is it our top pick? TheyDo fits perfectly with BTNG's way of helping companies become more customer-centric. It helps to visualise the current experience of stakeholders. With those insight which we capture from interviews or usability testing, we discover new opportunities. A perfect starting point for creating solutions!

https://www.theydo.io/


Transcriptions: Descript

What does it do? Descript is an all-in-one solution for audio & video recording, editing and transcription. The editing is as easy as a doc. Imagine you’ve interviewed 20 different people about a new flavor of soda or a feature for your app. You just drop all those files into a Descript Project, and they show up in different “Compositions” (documents) in the sidebar. In a couple of minutes they’ll be transcribed, with speaker labels added automatically.

Highlights: Overdub, Filler Word Removal, Collaboration, Subtitles, Remote Recording and Studio Sound.

Why is it our top pick? Descript is an absolute monster when it comes to recording, editing and transcribing videos. It truly makes digesting the work after recording fast and even fun!

https://www.descript.com/


Remote user testing: Maze

What does it do? Maze is a-mazing remote user testing platform for unmoderated usability tests. With Maze, you can create and run in-depth usability tests and share them with your testers via a link to get actionable insights. Maze also generates a usability study report instantly so that you can share it with anyone.

It’s handy that the tool integrates directly with Figma, InVision, Marvel, and Sketch, thus, you can import a working prototype directly from the design tool you use. The BTNG Design Team with their Figma skills has an amazing chemistry with the Research Team due to that Figma/Maze integration.

Highlights: Besides unmoderated usability testing, Maze can help with different UX Research Methods, like card sorting, tree testing, 5-second testing, A/B testing, and more.

Why is it our top pick? Usability testing has been a time consuming way of qualitative research. Trying to find out how users interact (Task analysis) during an Interviews combined with keeping an eye on the prototype can be... a challenge. The way that Maze allows us to run (besides our hands on usability test) now also run unmoderated usability testing is a powerful weapon in our arsenal.

https://maze.co/


Calls: Zoom

What does it do? As the other video conferencing tools you can run video calls. But what makes Zoom a great tool? We feel that the integration with conferencing equipment is huge for our bigger clients. Now that there's also a Miro integration we can make our user interviews even more fun and interactive!

Highlights: Call Recording, Collaboration tools, Screen Sharing, Free trial, connects to conferencing equipment, host up to 500 people!

Why is it our top pick? Giving the research participants of your user interviews a pleasant experience is so important. Especially when you're looking for qualitative feedback on your ux design, you want to make sure they feel comfortable. And yes, you'll have to start using a paid version - but the user interface of Zoom alone is worth it. Even the Mobile App is really solid.

https://zoom.us/

In Conclusion

No matter what research methodology you rely on if it is qualitative research methods or perhaps quantitative data - keep in mind that user research is an essential part of the Design Process. Not only your UX designer will thank you, but also your users.

In every UX project we've spoken to multiple users - no matter if it was a task analysis, attitudinal research or focus groups... They all had one thing in common:

People thanked us for taking the time to listen to them.

So please, stop thinking about the potential UX research methods you might use in your design process and consider what it REALLY is about:

Solving the right problems for the right people.

And there's only one way to get there: Trying things out, listening, learning and improving.

Looking for help? Reach out!


References

See the Nielsen Norman Group’s list of user research tips: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ux-research-cheat-sheet/

Find an extensive range of user research considerations, discussed in Smashing Magazine: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2018/01/comprehensive-guide-ux-research/

Here’s a convenient and example-rich catalogue of user research tools: https://blog.airtable.com/43-ux-research-tools-for-optimizing-your-product/

User-friendly solutions delivered by user-friendly people. Discover opportunities, find your focus, see results.