9 UX Research Methods Product Teams Should Know

You can’t start building a product people will love if you don’t know your audience. Luckily, I gathered the most useful UX research methods for doing qualitative and quantitative studies.

Sometimes it makes sense to use a few of these UX research methods together to get the best results and find the relationships between different insights. In order to choose the methods to combine, first define the research goal.


When to use it

This highly qualitative UX research method helps to get to know users personally. It finds pain points. Collect more insights and pain points that may not come up with other methods.

How to do it

Relatively easy to organize, it requires just getting in contact with the audience. Do it over the phone, via Skype, or in a personal meeting. Most importantly, ask only open-ended questions. The limitation of direct or multiple-choice questions misses the most valuable information from the users. Let them think and open up. Try something like this:

‘What challenges you the most regarding the given topic?’

You need a lot of practice to get interviewing right. You have to earn the trust of people, you have to ask the right questions and you have to evaluate the answers carefully to make sure your findings are unbiased.

The output

Five or six interviews will provide enough pain points to indicate a focus for the product. The frequency of the same results can help prioritize these problems. After finding the main pain points to solve, do more in-depth interviews to discover those topics in detail.

Field research

What is it good for? When to use it

Field research also does a great job of finding pain points. This one of the UX research methods examines the users in their own environment and finds the problems during real-life usage as well as their own solutions.

How to do it

Observe persons using your product. Spend time with them, stand behind them, and quietly observe what they do. Ask questions to understand why they do things. Just to mention a few cases, we used field research in call centers for their management software, in an airport for a booking app, and in hospitals for the physiotherapists’ new application.

The output

In the end, it will reveal usability problems and also ideas on how the users try to solve them. Better solutions for exact problems result from it illustrating the process and pain points with a wider perspective. Read more about field research here.

Diary study

When to use it

Diary study is a UX research method that gets users’ personal insights and feelings during a complex process. For example, you can find out what happens in a car buyer’s mind from the very beginning right up to the time of purchase. You ask people to write a diary about their experience and evaluate these diaries to gain insights.

How to do it

Apply this method to several users remotely at the same time. Ask them to write up their feelings/problems during the process at specific times a day. Provide a structure and exact questions on how to fill their diary, or leave it up to them for an open-ended search.

The output

These do great for mapping the customer journey for complex processes and purchase decisions, like getting a loan or doing home renovations. It also shows how users adapt and solve different situations in their own way.

Experience sampling

What is it good for? When to use it

During an experience sampling study, we ask the same questions from our participants in regular time intervals. If you want to learn about people’s eating habits, for example, you can ask them 3 times a day, what was their last meal, and how did they get it.

Like a diary study, experience sampling finds pain points and gets quick results in a quantitative and qualitative way. It really succeeds in working remotely on multiple testers. Interviews collect insights from a retrospective view, so participant memory biases them somewhat. In contrast, experience sampling collects data in real-time. 

How to do it

Determine the exact focus. Google’s solution illustrates how to do this method well. They asked the participants a simple question eight times a day:

“What did you want to know recently?”

Aggregating the answers provide useful insights about people’s information needs during the day. After the initial experience sampling studies, Google focused more on weather and traffic information, as people needed more help in those two areas.

The output

This will result in a lot of data to work with, other statistics, and also enumerated trends and frequent pains that come up in different time intervals.

Online research

What is it good for? When to use it

Online research does product discovery well. Information about people and their problems fills the internet, just find them, and know-how to analyze them. It takes a bit of time and patience, it’s a tedious job, but it gets great results.

How to do it

Name your audience and start with a few Google searches to find online communities and find out what pains people are talking about. Go to forums, mailing lists, and groups. Many communities become inactive with just a few people posting their own stuff there. Don’t bother with them. Try to find the places which thrive, where real conversations happen such as a forum, a Q&A site, or even the comment section of a popular blog.

Also, search for keywords in social media feeds. Just a few sites to get started: Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Slack communities, Quora, Yahoo Answers, Facebook Groups, Google Groups, LinkedIn Groups, Stack Exchange, link sharing sites, etc.

The output

Quickly gather a lot of information about a topic and get up-to-date pain points of which a product idea can solve.

Usability testing

What is it good for? When to use it

After getting a clickable prototype or even just some early sketches, start testing ideas. Usability tests will uncover many usability issues: what do they and don’t they understand? Where do they get stuck? Etc. During a usability test, we give certain tasks to our test participants, which they try to accomplish using our product, and we observe how they perform.

How to do it

First recruit test participants from the target group. The best have never seen the application before. Arrange a table and a device to record the screen and sound. Then get a working prototype, a wireframe, or an already working app or website. Plan beforehand the tasks the participants will perform. During the test, pay attention and note where they got stuck, where they got surprised, where they hesitated, where they asked questions, where they revoked action, where they meant something else, and where they frowned.

The output

User testing reveals what new users understand, what they don’t, and what misleads them. We can test certain individual tasks, but we can also test complete processes. This UX research method’s output usually results in a report with all the usability issues found and a recording for reviewing each situation.

A/B or Multivariate testing

What is it good for? When to use it

The A/B test benefits hugely by showing which solution works the best in a live environment, during real use. Use it for an existing website like Facebook, for new design or feature ideas.

How to do it

Determine in advance exactly what to measure, and how to choose the winning solution. Run two versions simultaneously in an A/B test, or run many more in multivariate testing. Make sure to have only one difference between them if running a simple A/B test with two variants. More differences will prevent defining the cause of the winner’s better results.

The output

A/B tests should objectively decide which solution works better. They just won’t show why; qualitative research will, which makes it a must.

Nine UX Research Methods Product People Should Know: Multivariate Testing

Five-second tests

What is it good for? When to use it

Attention spans have become very short in digital life. This makes it really important to capture the attention in those first few seconds and create trust in the users. With five-second tests, quickly analyze what users think about a new landing page or a new logo. Test the first impressions, and also what people will understand at first look and what they won’t.

How to do it

Grab the real first impressions of the users. Show them the new interface for just five seconds (sometimes even ten) and then ask questions. What do they think this site deals with? What do they feel about it? Collect a few adjectives from them about what they saw.

The output

Get your site’s or application’s first impression on a user. It can lead to change or improving visual elements on the site. Many written answers will come and need evaluation.

Card sorting

What is it good for? When to use it

Card sorting helps create navigational structures and information architecture. This one of the UX research methods really helps when working on websites with heavy menu structures and submenus. Read more about how to organize menu structures in our previous blog post.

How to do it

In the easiest way to do it, cut up small pieces of paper and write the product functions or content sections of the website on them, then ask the participants to organize them into groups. Do both of two types of card sorting:

  • Open: The test participants determine on their own how many groups to create and what to name them. Aim to understand people’s mental models and figure out their structure. The phrases participants use to name their groups will provide a lot of information.
  • Reversed (also called closed or tree-test): Here the elements need packing into existing categories or a tree-structure. Reverse card sorting aims to validate the structure defined after an open card sort.

The output

A research-based solution for page structure and hierarchy will result from the two.

Nine UX Research Methods Product People Should Know: Card Sorting

Which UX research methods to use

We take a lot of pride in our research team here at UX studio. We have a researcher in each of our design teams. Without research, our design would come from just guessing.

I hope you learned about some new UX research methods in this article. Which one? Which would you like to try in your current work?

To sum up, check this quick list to help find which UX research method to use in certain situations:

  • What features to build? Which of our audience’s problems must we address with our product? Interview, field research, diary study, experience sampling, online research.
  • In which context does a use case or a problem arise? Field research, diary study.
  • Will our idea work in the real world? Will they understand the product? Usability test
  • Which design will work better? A/B testing
  • Will they get the message? What creates their first impression? Five-second tests
  • Which menu structure or information architecture works ideally? Card sorting

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