The 10 user research methodologies you need to know
What research methods should you use when? This primer explains which methodology to rely on for your next research project.
UX research is a rapidly growing field, and is quickly becoming an essential function within product focused companies that aim to put their customers first.
But how do you get started with running your first user research study? Whether you're validating a prototype design or want to test your product's messaging, there are plenty of user research methodologies to choose from. This primer walks through which methodology you should use when.
Types of user research
More experienced researchers know that you’re usually going to want to use several methods — a mix of quantitative and qualitative user research — to get the insights you need. But before we dig into individual research methods, let’s explore a few types of UX research:
Quantitative vs. qualitative user research
Quantitative research gets you results that can be presented in numerical data. It’s something that can be measured and analyzed — a more statistical approach. These are thought of as the “what” questions. Typical examples of quantitative data include bounce rate, conversion rates, clicks, and time on task.
Generally, quantitative research is:
- Less prone to bias.
- More objective.
- Quicker to test.
- Easier to tie to ROI.
Qualitative research helps you conceptualize the “why.” The results of qualitative research are more narrative. This type of research allows your team to collect observations, comments, thoughts, and feelings from your participants.
Qualitative research can:
- Introduce an emotional aspect.
- Assess user behavior.
- Be a more personal research approach (and results).
- Provide context to numerical data.
Unmoderated vs. moderated user research
You’ll also want to understand the difference between unmoderated and moderated user research.
During unmoderated testing, participants complete tasks without a moderator present. Often these sessions are recorded for later viewing.
Moderated tests involve a moderator (either in-person or remotely). This allows you to have a conversation with your users, explore areas of confusion in real-time, and ask follow-up questions.
Ribbon makes it easy to conduct in-product user research with your real customers. You can target customer segments, run user interviews, and deploy in-product surveys seamlessly across your websites and apps.
With that framework in mind, here are a few common user research methods.
10 User research methods
Many of these methods can be run as either moderated or unmoderated studies. And depending on how you set up your research, they can be used to gather quantitative data or qualitative feedback.
1. A/B testing
The goal of A/B testing is to collect quantitative data on which version of your product (or CTA, feature, message, etc.) achieves your goal the best. For these studies, you compare two versions of an element to see which performs better.
A/B testing works well for testing things such as buttons, CTAs, landing page designs, and product copy.
2. Accessibility testing
Hopefully you’ve been considering accessibility throughout the design process. But it’s prudent to run your product through accessibility tools and conduct usability studies with disabled participants.
If you want to learn more about accessible and inclusive design, the A11Y Project has compiled a list of resources here.
3. Card sorting
Card sorting is considered a gold standard for testing information architecture (how you organize and label content). Participants sort labeled cards into categories that make sense to them.
Depending on how you set up the study, you may also want to allow participants to choose names for the groups they’ve put together. That could, for example, help you form your website navigation.
4. Concept or prototype testing
This is a method of testing a not-quite-finalized version of your product. Users can work through the product giving your team a better idea about how it will function IRL.
Conducting concept testing early in the process could save you from wasting resources on a bad idea, design, or feature. And since only 55% of all product launches take place on schedule, avoiding wasted time is likely a top priority for product teams.
5. Desirability study
If you want to get a quick impression or opinion from users, a desirability study may be the way to go. During this type of study, user researchers show participants a prototype, mockup, or image. Participants are asked to choose from pre-selected reaction words to describe what they see.
Much as the name implies, desirability studies are aesthetic tests (i.e., Do participants like what they see?).
Also known as heat-mapping, eye-tracking studies allow user researchers to see where participants are looking on a screen and how long they’re looking in a certain spot.
Eye-tracking research is used to find out if users are attracted to specific content, colors, features, or CTAs. It might even help researchers find out where participants are getting stuck or having other usability problems.
7. Focus groups
Focus groups aren’t super popular with user researchers, but they can be helpful — mainly because you can observe so many people at once.
Focus group discussions can mimic real-world conversations. Researchers can get multiple viewpoints and reactions in one sitting. For early-stage projects, this type of research can help inform your direction.
User interviews are one of the most popular methods of user research and for good reason. Interviews are your team’s chance to chat with users one-on-one, gaining insight into their behaviour, thoughts, feelings, and habits.
Researchers bring a scripted interview guide as a basis for their questioning, but interviews can branch off into more dynamic conversations — uncovering details that other user research methods can’t.
For extra effective user interviews, here are a few lessons and ideas from UX pros.
9. Participatory design
What if you wanted to actively engage your stakeholders and target users? You might want to try a participatory design study. This gives your users a chance to contribute their ideas about how they’d design a feature or solve a problem. It’s a democratic approach to design that produces user-centric results.
Note sure how to put participatory design into practice? Here are a few examples.
10. Surveys and questionnaires
This seems like a basic research method, but it’s quick and effective. Depending on how you frame your questions, you can get data like a net promoter score or feedback about your users’ attitude toward your product. Customers tend to appreciate the honest ask of this approach and are usually happy to share their opinions, ideas, and experiences.
In-app surveys can help you survey your customers as they interact with your product, but surveys are also commonly shared with participants via emailing platforms.
Get started with user research
With so many user research methods, there’s no need to risk basing your product or service on assumptions. Get started by choosing a mix of methods that make sense for your project. Excited about getting to know your users better? Start your first in-product user interviews or surveys on Ribbon to make more informed product decisions and build better product experiences for your customers.