UX Research Methods Product Teams Should Know

Product teams should definitely know usability testing and user interviewing. Do they really need dozens of other methods?

Well, there are no two identical apps. Each product design project is different in terms of its time constraints, system maturity, type of product or service, and the current top concerns. So you need to change your research approach to fit each situation, and sometimes the combo of usability testing and interviews is not enough. 

It often happens that once a UX research project is born, it’s already over budget and behind the schedule. The more nimble you are with your research methods and tools, the easier it will be for you to maneuver among the tough deadlines and strict budgets in the rush for the definite answers to your questions. 

One little example from the life of a product design agency

Say you’ve used to do UX audit with graphs and heatmaps of Google Analytics and Hotjar. Your new client uses none of the two. You may spend a lot of time convincing the client to implement the tools you’ve used or a little of time figuring out the client uses Inspectlet, a session recording app, for their internal web analytics. 

With Inspectlet, you’ll get a chance to check the usage recordings and figure out which features users can’t live without and which ones they don’t mind skipping. You’ll get the answers to your UX audit questions with zero research budget and in the shortest term possible. 

Situations that make you get away from beaten tracks happen all the time. And the more methods you have in your UX multi-tool, the better you can handle such situations.

Top UX Research Methods

There’s a broad list of essential UX research methods that can answer the questions you ask yourself within your research. Nielsen Norman Group, for instance, surveyed 722 UX professionals around the world to reveal 19 of the most popular research methods. 

Image source: nngroup.com

As you can see in the picture above, the methods are divided into four groups depending on the stages of your research they are most often used at. This typology helps to understand, choose and use UX research methods, so let’s use it further for our investigation. 

Discovery stage

You run the discovery research at the very beginning, prior to the design itself, to find the ideas and define the design problem. The job to be done at this stage includes gathering and analyzing all available information about the app, its audience, and intended market. The discovery toolkit includes:

  • requirements gathering, that is usually a brief you get from your client;
  • interviews with stakeholders, to clarify the questions that emerge after you dig into the brief;
  • interviews with users, to figure out their problems, needs, and preferences;
  • field studies, where you observe people using the product in real situations;
  • diary studies, where you ask participants to keep a log of thoughts and experiences about the product and their user experience.

Exploring stage

The Discovery stage gives you the insights needed to start working on product design, and the exploring stage helps you validate your design assumption when the work is already in progress. 

Whenever you feel you need more data for an informed decision, you use one of the following methods:

  • Competitive analysis, to compare your features against competitors to figure out how you can improve the user experience within your own app.
  • Task analysis, to figure out the users’ tasks to help fulfill them in the best possible way.
  • Card sorting, to help you with designing information architecture, workflows, menu structure, or website navigation paths.
  • User personas creating, to invoke empathy to your users and understand their needs.
  • Journey mapping and user flows building, to define risky areas for losing customers along the way and make the journeys as smooth as possible.
  • Prototype testing, when you have first drafts towards the final product and need to check whether you’re on the right track.

Testing stage 

In the design process, you need to check how you are doing to fix any issues before they cause further mistakes. Simply put, you need to test whether your prototypes are easy to use. And here usability testing comes on stage.

The task of testing research here is to find an element that needs to be adjusted, and here are the methods that can help with that:

  • In-person moderated usability testing, where the person sits in front of you, interacts with the interface, and says out loud their thoughts as they move through the tasks.  
  • Remote moderated usability testing, aka the usability testing for the pandemic work mode. You’ll need a specialized testing tool, such as Lookback, to run such a study conveniently.
  • Unmoderated usability testing, where you share prototypes with users via Maze, or UserTesting, or any other tool that allows testers to complete tasks and answers questions at their own pace.
  • Accessibility evaluation, to check if your design grants barrier-free access to the product for those with disabilities, such as vision impairment, hearing disabilities, etc.

Listening stage

You can’t foresee everything, even with the most representative test samples. The final and the most reliable user experience test happens after the product is released and falls into the hands of actual users. 

Here comes your last research phase, which consists of listening to feedback and monitoring user problems, successes, and frustrations:

  • Search-log analysis, to check what your web visitors want, and how they google for it.
  • Surveys, where you ask various questions to understand how satisfied customers are with the product.
  • Analytics reviews, where you collect quantitative data from Google Analytics, for instance, to indicate where people struggling to find what they need.

Wrapping up UX research methods

Now we know a bunch of methods that can help with all our UX research questions. It leads us to a whole new question: how to choose the right method? Well, that would be an entirely different story. I’ll only say that when in doubt, run a user interview or a usability test.

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