5 UX Research Techniques And How To Apply Them

UX Design | 02th Abril 2018
Conducting research experiences over UX (user experience) is a fundamental step. Its importance resides on understanding and knowing what the target audience needs and wants. If the products and services are devoted to people, research is the first greeting in the relationship between the developer and the product itself.

Also known as design research, the UX research ends up validating the big decisions in regards to a project. From the beginning, it sets to identify some facts, to prove or disprove assumptions and in knowing/studying/understanding the target audience. Since design research informs the design process, interviews are the most complete and thorough way of doing it.
UX design team

The working team has a chance to get to know the stakeholders and the users.


Qualitative UX research in the form of interviews

Interviews and conversations with users allow the gathering of “soft” data. To add a specific scientific framework there is a methodology applied: observation, understanding and analysis. We can think about the interviews in a group of three: first, with the stakeholders for a business POV, the second with the users/clients and the third with the business contributors, for an internal user POV.

Of course every UX project is different and research techniques need to be customized.

Even though we are focusing on interviews, UX research can gather data through surveys and questionnaires as well. This is an efficient technique since it allows to gather a massive amount of information in short periods of time, recommended to when there is a diverse and large group of users. The researcher has to have some care with the methodology as well, since there is no direct contact with the user. Logistically there is also the need to have some care with the platforms used for surveys and its accessibility, so that users are not discouraged to respond.

When it comes to designer or developer/user interviews, the researcher can conduct three main types:
  • Directed interviews – typical question/answer interview. The researcher has a list of specific questions to ask, usually in a simple/direct nature. A good method to apply when it comes to big groups of users and to make comparisons.
  • Non-directed interviews – this method implies more of a script than a list of questions. Some users may not feel comfortable with direct questions, so a conversation may be the best way to gather data. The researcher assumes the part of listener, intervening only when needed;
  • Ethnographic interviews – this technique involves observation of the user in their daily tasks, in their natural work/home environments. Although it might be a more intrusive technique, it is very faithful in showing how users act and the difference between what they say they do and what they actually do.

5 UX Research Techniques and how to apply them

Some of the techniques addressed here have applications in many areas and their origins have a lot to contribute to that.

Card Sorting
For this technique, words or phrases are written on blank cards and the researcher asks the user to categorize them and/or to label the categories in which they fit. A quick method to get user input, as well as validation.

Expert Review
Like the name says itself, this technique is all about one single person, an “expert”, testing and looking for issues with the product through the UI (User Interface). This technique can be quite relative, as there is no standard procedure; it changes from expert to expert, from professional to professional.

Usability Testing
Usability testing is one of the most popular techniques in UX research, and for good reason. It consists in observing users using the product, performing tasks with it, putting it into serious “testing”. Usually it can be arranged in testing a specific action or process or in a wider range of actions.

User Personas
This research technique involves some acting. An ideal user is idealized and a fictional representation is used to test the product. The User Persona technique stems from other ones, to be able to develop this fictional representation. The focus is on the user, on the behaviours and reactions. Providing the characteristics of the ideal user helps developing the ideal product.

Remote Usability Testing
Think of Usability Testing, without having the users be in a controlled environment, space or laboratory. People are in their own locations and habitats while testing the product.
UX research techniques

No matter the technique, usability tests are always needed.


UX Research Techniques: Pros and Cons

Card Sorting
  • Cheap
  • Face-to-face
  • Easy to put together
  • Doesn’t require a specific technical knowledge
  • Only especially effective for earlier stages of research
  • May be a bit archaic for some projects
  • What people say is not usually what they do
Expert Review
  • Quick and easy
  • Takes one single person to do it
  • Great to anticipate problems
  • Professional POV
  • There is no input from the user
  • Finding the right expert
Usability Testing
  • Specific and direct results
  • Clients can be usability testers, if possible
  • Very reliable
  • Time saver
  • Good and quick for detecting patterns
  • It can be difficult to find a good representation of the user base
User Personas
  • Keeps the focus on the user
  • In depth look at the user
  • Fun and engaging for the team of developers to work with
  • More memorable
  • Agreeing on the characteristics
  • May have to exist as a follow up of another technique
Remote Usability Testing
  • Relatively cheap
  • Easy to organize
  • Cheap and quick
  • The users may feel more comfortable in their own space
  • Not as direct
  • It can be difficult to find a good representation of the user base
  • The users may feel that they are themselves being tested and that can be harmful for a clean test

What is the best UX research technique?

Upon deciding what technique to apply you have to ask yourself some questions:
  • What do I want to know?
  • Who are the users?
  • What are the assumptions I have about them?
  • What are their behaviours, motivations, goals, needs?
  • How do they use the product now? Do they like it? Do they use others?

Considering this first self-analysis, will it be more effective to follow the quantitative or the qualitative road? It’s also important to look at logistical aspects like the size of your sample of users and how you have access to them. The plus side is that there is a UX research technique for every situation and every product.

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