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What are different UX research methods?

Sheza Naveed

User experience (UX) research is a critical step in UX design to ensure that the design achieves the target goals. It gives a clear idea of what the users want and what their needs are.

Source: Toptal

There are various UX research methods that are used in different contexts. The most commonly used methods are discussed below.

Field research

Field research is observing users in their environment. It allows researchers to gain insights from users when they are in a real-life setting. The researchers go into the field instead of bringing the users to the lab and observe them as they use their product, talk about their experience, or perform tasks. Different types of field research include:

  • Contextual inquiry
  • Ethnographic research
  • Interviews and observation

An example of field research is going to a bank and seeing users go through the process of withdrawing money, then identifying pain points in an attempt to automate the system.

Usability testing

Usability testing is performed after a hi-fi prototype has been formed or is ready for lo-fi sketches. It allows researchers to identify the issues faced by the users, i.e., where they get confused, what they do not understand, etc. This testing eventually dictates any improvements that need to be made.

Participants are recruited from the target group and handed the prototype. They are given a set of tasks to perform or just asked to explore the interface (only for a hi-fi prototype). Their interaction with the interface is recorded with their consent.

An example of usability testing would be to ask users to log their meal on a food regulation app prototype.

Source: UX studio team

Card sorting

Card sorting is usually performed when the aim is to create navigational structures. It is helpful in making information architectures for websites with deep vertical flows. Small pieces of paper are cut up, and product functions are written on them.

There are two types of card sorting:

  1. Open: Participants create groups of cards and name them themselves. It reveals people’s mental models and the way they think and organize things.

  2. Reversed: Participants pack cards into existing categories. The aim here is to validate the structure defined after open card sorting.

Source: Interaction Design Foundation

A/B testing

A/B testing can be used for both existing interfaces and new ones. It reveals which solution, feature, etc., works best.

Researchers need to determine beforehand what to measure and how the winner will be chosen. Two versions are run simultaneously with only one difference between them to allow the cause of the winner’s results to be well defined. In the case of multivariate testing, we can run multiple versions. A/B tests show which version works better. However, they do not show the reason behind it.

Source: UX Studio Team

Diary study

Diary study reveals users’ thoughts and feelings during a process. Users are asked to write a diary about their experience, and that diary is used to gain insights. The method can be applied remotely to several users at the same time.

Users are asked to write their feelings at specific times in the day during a process. Users can be given prompts to write, or it can be left up to them. This helps in mapping a customer’s journey and understanding hacks used by users to solve problems.

User personas

User personas are the fictional representation of the target user. They are created with other types of user research that reveal the characteristics of the users. These focus on the users’ goals and attitudes and help to define what would be the reaction of a certain type of user to a certain feature.

User persona as a result of interviews
User persona as a result of interviews

Eye movement tracking

Eye movement tracking reveals where the users are looking while using the interface. It has important implications for the user interface. It reveals the points of users’ attention and thus where to place which content.

Expert review

The expert review technique involves hiring an expert to walk through the user interface and point out all kinds of flaws. This reveals issues in the usability, accessibility, and design of the interface. There is no fixed process that needs to be followed, and reviewer characteristics can vary from product to product.

Other methods

The above-mentioned methods are the few widely used methods. Several other methods include:

  • Focus groups
  • Participatory design
  • Customer feedback
  • Surveys
  • Semi-structured interviews
  • Online research
  • Experience sampling
  • Concept testing




Sheza Naveed
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