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10 UX research methods and when to use them

Posted by Lucy Collins on Dec 16, 2022 5:06 PM

Gaining input from users is an essential part of developing an effective digital service. There are lots of methods available to you to do this but how do you know which is the right one to use?  

First, we need to answer two questions… 

  • What stage am I at in the development process? 
  • What type of insights am I trying to find out? 

Stages of web development 

There are four broad stages in the development process: 

  • Discover: understand people, what they want and whether the service you are planning to build is something they actually need.  
  • Create: develop early stage digital services with target users at the heart of the process. 
  • Test: put your designs in front of real users (at any stage of development from wireframes to fully functioning websites) and see how well they work. Iterate and test again. 
  • Review: don’t launch and leave. It is important to keep listening to your users and optimising your digital service. 

Types of UX insight 

There are two types of insight we can gain from testing with users. Some research methods will focus on one, others will give allow you to surface both. The key thing to remember is what people say does not always match what they do.   

  • Behavioural aka “what people do”: great for accessing System 1 (Fast) thinking processes (i.e. thinking that is intuitive, automatic, experience-based, and relatively unconscious). This will help you understand how easy a digital service is to use.   
  • Attitudinal aka “what people say”: great for accessing System 2 (Slow) thinking (i.e. conscious, considered and requiring cognitive effort). This will help you find out what people want, how users feel about a digital service and whether it meets their needs. 

10 UX research methods 

With our first two questions answered, we can now start to think about the research method to be used. Here’s a short description of 10 UX research methods and when to use them…  

Research method   What is it  When to use   Types of insights 
Discovery research Understand your users, their backgrounds, behaviours, frustrations and (most importantly) information goals  Discover  Attitudinal  
Field studies Observe users in their natural environment to understand how they go about achieving everyday tasks or interact with products in the real world  Discover  Attitudinal 

Behavioural 

Focus groups  Hear from a select group of your target users at once by bringing them together in a focus group. This involves an organised discussion which can generate ideas as users share thoughts with each other  Discover  Attitudinal 
Diary studies Learn about your users’ thoughts and experiences in relation to a product, service or question. Participants record entries either via written diary or video camera over a period of time  Discover  

Test 

Attitudinal 
IA card sorting  Create or refine the information architecture of your website. Users are given a list of representative content items to group and sort in line with their mental models  Create  Attitudinal 
Moderated usability testing  Test how easy or difficult a website is to use with real users. Can take place in person or remotely. By moderating the session, you can ask questions on the fly, surfacing deeper attitudinal insights and test more complex processes  Test  Attitudinal 

Behavioural 

Unmoderated usability testing Test how easy or difficult a simple website journey is to use by preparing a series of short tasks for user to complete. Normally takes place remotely. Users will be asked to ‘think out loud’ as they complete the tasks  Test  Behavioural  

Attitudinal  

IA testing Test whether your users can find what they are looking for in your site’s navigation hierarchy with IA testing. Users are set search related tasks to unearth how easily they can achieve these  Test  Behavioural  
A/B testing Compare two similar design or content elements to determine which performs better with your users  Test  Behavioural  
Surveys Measure your users’ attitudes with a series of closed-ended questions  Discover 

Test 

Review 

Attitudinal 

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