User empathy is the foundation of a healthy design process. One tried and true way to get more insights, inform and validate design decisions and measure a design solution’s success is through UX research.

UX Research Guide
Credit: NN/g

Pay attention to what users do, not what they say. — Jakob Nielsen

While you may not realistically have time or resources to put to use a full range of research methods in your specific project, research is crucial source of data, useful for designers and a product team alike, to inform thoughtful design decisions.

UX research methods exists in two groups, as defined by UX Booth:

Quantitative research
Any research that can be measured numerically. It’s valuable in understanding statistical likelihoods and indirectly measures what is happening on a site or in an app using software or analytics tool. Ex. “how many people clicked here” or “what percentage of users are able to find the call to action?

Qualitative research
Sometimes called “soft” research. It helps us understand why people do the things they do, and often takes the form of interviews or conversations. Ex. “why didn’t people see the call to action” and “what else did people notice on the page?”
UX Research Guide

One general guidance for selecting a research method is to know what you want to end up with out of your study and why — otherwise, you may end up gathering data without having a goal. In addition to knowing when to use UX research and for what purpose, here’s a shortlist of UX research methods to further understand the design problem you are solving.

UX Methods

  • Card Sorting
    Participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them and they may also help you label these groups, using actual cards, pieces of paper, or an online card-sorting software equivalent.

  • Expert Review
    The product is evaluated by an experienced UX practitioner who looks for potential issues with the product and provides a general usability assessment.

  • Eye Tracking
    Tracing users’ gazes with the use of a special eye tracking software/device to measure where the eye is focused or the motion of a eye as a user views a page.

  • Paper Prototyping
    Paper models are used to simulate an interface which is evaluated by a user.

  • Field Studies/Site Visit/User interviews
    Interviews conducted by a moderator, in the environment of a real user. The moderator asks open-ended questions and extending with additional questions to get to know interviewee’s behavior better.

  • Focus group
    A group of users are brought together to discuss issues and concerns about the features of a UI, and with the help of a moderator who facilitates the group’s focus.

  • A/B testing
    One of two versions is randomly presented to an equal number of users, and then reviewing analytics on which version is more effective on accomplishing a specific goal.

  • Beta testing
    Rolling out a near-complete product to individuals who agree to try it and provide feedback. It allows you to ask users questions after they have tried the new product, track their usage and have them file bug reports.

  • Click tracking
    User clicks are measured and used to follow their activity at websites. This method evaluates the effectiveness of the linking structure of a website (which links are effective/discoverable).

  • Tree test
    Evaluates the discoverability of topics in a website and evaluates a hierarchical category structure, or tree, by having users find the locations in the tree where specific tasks can be completed.

  • Remote usability testing (Moderated/Unmoderated)
    Moderated usability testing is practiced by professionals looking to obtain feedback from live users. Moderators are with test participants in real time (in person/remote). Unmoderated usability testing is usually based on the use of usability testing tools that automatically gather participant feedback and record their behavior.

  • Email survey
    An emailed out survey/questionnaire used to gather a large amount of information about users, with minimal time invested.

  • Message board mining
    Looking to online communities/social network for valuable consumer information. Having an active presence on message boards can also enrich customer service and deepen the relationship users have with your products.

  • Contextual inquiry
    A semi-structured interview method to obtain information about the context of use, where users are first asked a set of standard questions and then observed and questioned while they work in their own environments.

  • Diary/Camera studies
    User logs daily activities as they occur give insights about their behavior and needs.

  • Concept testing
    A researcher shares an approximation of a product or service that captures the key essence (the value proposition) of a new concept or product in order to determine if it meets the needs of the target audience; it can be done one-on-one or with larger numbers of participants, and either in person or online.

  • Desirability studies
    Participants are offered different visual-design alternatives and are expected to associate each alternative with a set of attributes selected from a closed list; these studies can be both qualitative and quantitative.

  • True intent studies
    A method that asks random site visitors what their goal or intention is upon entering the site, measures their subsequent behavior, and asks whether they were successful in achieving their goal upon exiting the site.

  • Intercept survey
    A survey that is triggered upon landing on/using a website or application.

  • Usability benchmarking
    Measures of the current usability of a system to provide a baseline against which future systems can be compared.

  • Participatory design
    Participants are given design elements or creative materials in order to construct their ideal experience in a concrete way that expresses what matters to them most and why.

  • Usability lab study
    A moderator sits apart from the participant to conduct the study with users who follow pre-defined scenarios in a lab space. Session respondents’ desktops and facial expressions are commonly recorded.

To learn more

Thanks for reading! Feel free to check out my design work here.

Joanna’s handbook on UX is now available on Amazon! Learn more about design thinking here and get honest lessons from the field of design. Read more content from her Medium blog:

Note: Thanks to Joanna for contributing to our blog with this article.