How to conduct user experience (UX) research

What is user experience (UX) research?

User experience (UX) research is a critical component of any UX designers role. As a result, missing this out is like forgetting to lay the concrete foundations in a new house. Above all, UX design is largely a process and research orientated discipline. A lot of a time needs to be spent getting the research right before moving onto the next steps of the process. Such steps include analysis, customer flows, prototypes, wireframes and user interface design.

User experience (UX) research methods
There are many methods used to collate both quantitive and qualitative data. Let’s take a moment to explore the two different types of data we can get from our research methods.

Quantitive data

Firstly, quantitive data research focuses on methods whereby data collected can be measured easily, often using statistics and hard science techniques. These can include using some of the following methods:

  • Google Analytics
  • A/B testing
  • Surveys

Qualitative data

Secondly, qualitative data research focuses on methods whereby data collected can be free flowing. Qualitative techniques are open to interpretation, having a more interpersonal approach. Methods include:

  • Usability tests
  • Depth interviews
  • Focus groups

So which is better, quantitive or qualitative techniques?

Neither officially. Although I think most UX designers would probably agree that qualitative techniques do take the winning prize. You can learn a lot by watching and learning how people use a product. If this is recorded, it becomes a powerful tool to share with project stakeholders, capturing undeniable evidence on video. However, it’s important to use a mix of techniques. For instance, include qualitative research data techniques, such as surveys and A/B testing.

User experience research (UX) case studies

See the case studies tab to get real life examples of the different techniques. We look at how Hienz and the Obama presidential campaign uses UX research methods to increase the user experience, ultimately benefiting both.

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user experience (UX) research case studies

Case study: Heinz qualitative research

Heinz famously developed their squeeze bottle. Why? because they could see that the majority of their users (children) were having difficulties squeezing ketchup out of a glass bottle. Therefore, Heinz sent a small team of researchers to visit family homes. Researchers carefully observed how families were using the bottle.

What Heinz learnt from user experience (UX) research observations

After observing various families it became clear that there was an overriding UX problem. Precious ketchup was getting stuck deep in the bottle. As a result, after a few hard bangs on the bottle, ketchup suddenly flooded the plate!

The solution was to re-design the bottle. A newly designed bottle would enable families to get the ketchup out more easily. Read more about this research here on UX planet.

Case study: The Obama campaign quantitive research

The Obama presidential campaign used multi-variant testing to understand how users viewed the campaign landing page. Multi-variant testing is where you split test three different variations of the same page.

The images of Obama and the messaging on the call to action button were tested using multi-variant testing. This resulted in amazing results for their campaign. You can read more about how Obama raised 60 million by running a simple experiment here. 

How Obama Raised $60 Million by Running a Simple Experiment

What is a usability test?

A usability test is a qualitative approach to getting valuable user research. It’s a well crafted live session with a typical user of your product, a moderator and a faciitator. It usually involves the following:

  • Finding the right people in your user demographic
  • A test script
  • A user
  • A professional UX design facilitator
  • Laptop
  • Microphone (although not necessary)
  • Screen and video recording technology for desktop or mobile

Video recording technology should show the users face, record what they are saying and the way they work through the software.

Benefits of a usability test

Usability testing is one of the most popular techniques that UX designers use. We’ve prepared a list below to explain why:

  • Inexpensive
  • Relatively easy to set-up with a bit of prep
  • The most natural scenario to see how users actually experience a product
  • Challenges and validates assumptions
  • Opens up user issues otherwise unknown
  • Helps build consensus and user patterns
  • Provides non biased feedback about a product
  • Great for sharing at stakeholder meetings. (You can’t argue with what the video says!)

What is a depth interview?

A depth interview is a qualitative approach that follows a different format to a usability test. Depth interviews focus more on the goals and context of a user without looking at a specific product. It usually involves the following:

  • Finding the right people in your user demographic
  • A test script
  • A user
  • A professional UX design facilitator
  • Skype (recorded)

Benefits of a depth interview

  • Inexpensive
  • Provides the opportunity to delve deeper into the goals and context of a user
  • Challenges and validates assumptions
  • Validates a need for a solution to a problem you are trying to solve

What is an online survey?

Most people are familiar with online surveys. Online surveys are useful tools for gathering both quantitive and qualitative data. This data may include feedback about a product prior to or during conception.

What online survey tools are out there?

There are many companies that provide the tech to do this easily, such as SurveyMonkey Using such a tool will offer up the opportunity to get automatic analysis of the responses, although this is usually an extra cost.

Usually online surveys involve the following:

  • A list of up to 10 quantitive and qualitative questions
  • Always ask 3 killer questions
  • Ask open ended questions, such as “why did you visit our website today?”
  • Ask yes/no questions, such as “were you able to complete your task today?”
  • Ask multi-choice questions graded on a scale of extremely good to very bad (or akin to this)
  • A survey tool, such as Surveymonkey
  • A gift to entice users to participate (such as entry to a prize draw)

Benefits of online surveys:

  • Reasonably cheap or free
  • Provides a mix of data
  • Can reach a lot of users

Source: SurveyMonkey

What is a competitor benchmark?

A competitor benchmark is an excellent way to carry out desk research straight from the comfort of your computer. This is a useful tool for seeing how competitor or similar products market themselves and provide a solution to users needs. What can you do differently? What is good about their product? What can you do better? How much do they charge? Where are they located…

How to do a competitor benchmark well

To do a competitor benchmark study well, you will need to allocate 1-2 days to this at the very least. Sometimes it can involve asking for demos of products or services too. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Identify 4-8 competitor products (these should be related to your product or service)
  • Take screenshots of each part of the experience
  • Write notes on each part of the experience
  • Pull all the information into one document with numbers indicating the experience underneath the screenshot

Competitor benchmark example

Here’s an example of a competitor benchmarking project we did to compare popular airline apps:

Benefits of competitor benchmarking

  • It’s free and just takes a bit of time
  • A great thing to do early on as it focuses your mind on opportunities
  • Understand your competitor products (crucial for your business going forward)
  • Identify gaps/problems that still need solving in the market
  • Understand competitor pricing structures and where you fit
  • Help you to develop your unique value preposition
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