User experience research, often abbreviated to UX research, is the study of target users and their needs. The goal of this practice is to provide user insights to guide design processes and business decisions.
To identify difficulties, trends, and potential solutions, UX researchers use a variety of user research methods. User experience research uncovers valuable user insights that may be used to create new products or improve existing ones. User feedback is a highly valuable tool in every organization’s arsenal to better prioritize decisions in product features or digital experiences.
Within user experience research, there are common methods researchers rely on to gather informative, accurate insights. User research methods are selected based on the goals of the researchers, choosing testing types that will garner the most informative data for them to derive insights from. Let’s explore the user research methods leveraged in order to gather vital user feedback. (You can read Pt. 1 here.)
Quantitative + Behavioral Methods
Collecting numbers data about what people do is as important as making observations and soliciting detailed written or verbal responses. Quantitative behavioral methods are designed to gather figures about human behavioral patterns. This information comes almost completely without context, but it does give a hard number score to aid in decision-making processes.
If you’ve ever been to the eye doctor to test your vision and been asked which of two lenses is clearer, then you’re already familiar with A/B testing. It generally involved giving participants the choice of two options and asking which they prefer. The comparisons can be about anything, from which color they like best to which product looks easier to use. The options are then scored on a number point scale.
Whereas A/B testing gathers information about single variable choices (color, font size, product shape, etc.), multivariate testing involves giving participants two choices that factor in several different variables. For example, they may be shown several variations of a packaging design and be asked to choose which they like best based on the font style, packaging color, and artwork. Multivariate tests help companies determine which variants collectively create the best possible design. They also provide more information than simple A/B testing and are more useful further on in the product development process.
Painted Door Tests (Smoke Tests)
In a painted door test, users are given a sort of “tease” for a new product, service, or business idea. The goal behind the painted door test is to soft-launch an idea without making it actually available in the marketplace (yet). A common way to conduct this test is by placing a call-to-action link on a website at the end of a customer experience pathway to see how many people click on it (meaning they would want to invest in the offer.)
Eye tracking software looks at the patterns of eye movement on a website or app page. and determines what participants focus on as they scan the page. Data that this method collects includes which features of a page they look at and how much time is spent on each one. Eye tracking gives insights into what is most important to users, as well as which tasks take the most time to complete.
Website analytics tools can give powerful data for decision-making and design. For example, UX researchers can look at website analytics to diagnose potential issues, determine why they are occurring, and generate solutions that lead to more desirable user behaviors. They may also use analytics to provide more objective data to validate data collected from qualitative studies like usability testing. Analytics can give hard numbers on everything from navigation to visual design to the technical functioning of a website.
Quantitative + Attitudinal Methods
Numbers data can also give insights into the “why” of human behaviors. Quantitative attitudinal methods collect figures about user opinions, ideas, and beliefs on a given topic. In these studies, UX researchers categorize the responses given and calculate their frequency.
Surveys are a ubiquitous method of quantitative attitudinal data collection. They can take a wide variety of forms, from one-questions polls for website feedback to long, in-depth questionnaires that require an hour to complete. Questions on surveys can require a number-based response, or they may be in a multiple-choice format. UX researchers can then use survey analysis tools to tally up the number of responses on a question or category basis.
First impressions matter, and the five-second test measures exactly that. Participants are shown an image, webpage, product design, or another visual element for five seconds and are asked a question about it afterward (typically yes/no or multiple-choice, in order to get a quantitative data point). The responses to these single-question tests are then gathered and counted to determine the most common opinions on the product.
Borderline Between Qualitative and Quantitative + Attitudinal Methods
As qualitative and quantitative data and intrinsically linked, it’s natural that some UX research methods would contribute data from both sides of the story. The methods described below shed light on both qualitative and quantitative attitudinal trends among users, giving both numbers-based, observational, and narrative data about why people think and do things in a particular way.
Card sorting is a method that helps businesses develop and evaluate their websites. During a card sort, participants arrange topics into categories that make sense to them and give them names or labels that could be used in site navigation. To perform a card sort, UX researchers may use index cards, paper, or an online card-sorting software tool. This strategy gives insights into how users think about the content that will be presented on a website.
Often applied in the discovery phase of product development, concept testing involves putting early-stage product ideas and design in front of participants to find out whether the development is on the right track. UX researchers may ask participants quantitative questions like how they would rate the product, as well as qualitative questions such as why they like or dislike it. This method helps businesses avoid getting too far in their process before realizing the product isn’t ideal for the target audience.
A lot of buying decisions come down to how a product or service makes people feel. Sentiment analysis asks participants to offer feedback on their feelings about a given product or service. UX researchers will categorize responses into positive or negative categories, which can be used for both quantitative (how many positive or negative responses) as well as qualitative (the actual feelings represented) insights.
The Value of User Experience Research
As a crucial component of product development and strategy, without user research there is little evidence of whether a product holds high value to users. Business decisions supported by data and design choices generated from insights ensures organizations are allocating resources for the best possible experience.
UX research can also help identify target audiences, including early adopters of a new product, which can contribute to business growth. Having the right tools for user research can help UX researchers gather and analyze data more efficiently.
While objective numeric data is often valued or relied upon more in the business world than subjective qualitative data, it is important to note that both types of data are needed to provide a complete picture of user experience. It is every company’s best interest to incorporate both qualitative and quantitative research methods in their UX practices, something at WEVO we call Qualt.
Whereas quantitative data shows unobjectionable facts about user behavior, qualitative data provides key context, without which the human factors of consumer choices would be ignored.
Likewise, collecting data about both the “what” and the “why”—using both behavioral and attitudinal research methods—leads companies to choose the best “how” for delivering their products and services to customers.