User research is a study of users who will use a product. It aims to give designers insight into users’ frustrations, problems, and needs. Armed with this insight, designers can create better products.
User research is a continuous part of the product development life cycle. The data gathered during the research form patterns that tell you how to create better products.
UX research aims to improve websites and apps for those who use them. It’s all about understanding users — what they like, their frustrations, and what they need.
User research, however, equips you with valuable insights. It ensures your design decisions are based on facts, not just guesses.
User research may seem like an extra step in the design process, but it’s undeniably crucial. Many designs fail specifically because of the lack of proper user research. User research helps to formulate the problem the product is trying to solve.
By understanding your users, you can build digital experiences based on them. You can create a product that meets their expectations and solves their problems, which, as a result, makes them satisfied. Actionable insights you gain from your study lead to better designs.
Better designs lead to happier users who are more likely to keep using your product and even recommend it to others. Plus, it can save you time and money in the long run by helping you avoid having to change the design after the development stage.
It is easier to correct the errors before the development stage. This is why conducting extensive user research early on is so important.
In a nutshell, user research helps create better designs. Conducting user research allows you to make your digital creations more user-friendly and, as a result, successful.
UX researchers can use various methods and strategies to gain knowledge about their users. Several methods of gathering data are standard among UX researchers. These methods can be broadly categorized into two main types: qualitative and quantitative research.
Qualitative research methods are a way to learn about why users act in a specific way and how they perform tasks. Understanding that can lead to insights into how designers can improve a product.
Qualitative methods involve interviews and different forms of user observation and testing. It helps designers understand their motivations and emotions on every step of users’ journey and the thought processes behind their actions. You uncover a lot of valuable information by simply having a conversation with your users.
Quantitative research, comparatively, focuses on collecting numerical data. If qualitative research answers the question “how users behave,” quantitative methods answer “how many users act like this.”
This type of research often involves methods like surveys that gather answers from a large number of participants, different analytics tools, A/B testing, and others. Various tools and software help with collecting and analyzing this type of data. Quantitative methods provide actual numbers about users’ behaviors. They enable researchers to identify trends and the prevalence of specific user behaviors.
Combining qualitative and quantitative user research methods allows researchers to understand what design choices are essential for creating user-centered digital experiences.
As mentioned before, qualitative research is all about diving into the complexities of human experience. To learn about them, researchers can use some of these essential commonly used methods:
Interviews involve having one-on-one conversations with users. By asking open-ended questions, researchers can learn much about the users — their needs, frustrations, expectations, and problems. It is also an opportunity to ask your users follow-up questions. Moreover, researchers can ask study participants to elaborate on their answers. Comparatively, that opportunity never arrives during surveys, even though they are somehow similar to the interviews. Conversation with users lets you explore their thoughts in detail. Gathered insights will improve your design.
Focus groups are much like user interviews but within a small group. Researchers ask questions, and users are asked to discuss their experiences and opinions. This method can uncover group dynamics and shared perspectives, providing insights that individual interviews might miss.
Another method of qualitative research is diary studies. Researchers ask users to keep a diary of their interactions with a product over time. Study participants capture their frustrations, which researchers can use to identify pain points in the design. This method captures insights from long-term usage patterns.
Card sorting is a method to understand how users categorize and organize information. Imagine that you are trying to find an item on an e-commerce website. Finding an item will be easier when it is attributed to a specific category. Card sorting is a valuable tool to determine which object should be in which category. It works by creating a list of items (which are often written on separate cards – hence the name). Participants of this study sort the things into categories. After several times, the researcher can learn how their audience will expect how particular objects should be categorized. It helps optimize the structure of content or navigation.
It is one of the most commonly used research methods. Researchers perform usability study once the first draft of the design is created. The design, in the form of a prototype or a developed product, is confronted with users who are asked to perform specific tasks. By observing how users interact with it, the researcher can determine what part of the design needs improvement early on.
Each qualitative research method has unique strengths and is suited to different research objectives. Researchers always choose methods appropriate to what they need to learn in a specific scenario. By employing these methods, you can get valuable information on how to create user experiences that resonate with your target audience. As a matter of fact, it can help you find your target audience.
In contrast to qualitative research, quantitative research is all about numbers and measurable data. It is basically gathering evidence to support your case. Quantitative research supports the data collected by qualitative research. Here are some essential methods commonly used in quantitative user research:
Surveys are like questionnaires that can be distributed to a large number of users. Similarly to ser interviews, they involve creating a series of questions for users. However, unlike interviews, surveys are the most effective only when they ask mainly closed-ended questions. Nevertheless, their main strength is that they can gather a large amount of data in a short amount of time. The data you collect will form statistical patterns researchers can translate into actionable insights.
Analytics tools can track user interactions with your website or app. They can inform researchers by providing data on metrics like page views, bounce rates, conversion rates, and others. This method offers insights into user behavior on a broader scale.
A/B testing presents a design’s two versions (A and B). The study participants answer which version they prefer. Alternatively, their interaction with the design is measured. A/B test aims to establish which version of the design performs better. This method helps quantify the impact of design changes on user behavior and preferences.
Heatmaps are a visual representation of users’ interaction with a design. They show where users put most of their attention in the design. Heatmaps present where users click, how they move their cursors, or where they spend the most time on a webpage. They offer a visual summary of user interactions with a design. If the users’ attention is misplaced in some way – for example, the CTA button is gathering less focus than one may hope – it can inform about potential issues.
Quantitative research methods are instrumental if designers are in a position where they need to justify their design decisions. They can help make data-driven decisions. Moreover, they provide solid arguments for why specific design changes are required. By using these methods, researchers can gain a comprehensive understanding of user behavior and preferences at scale, informing their design choices and optimizing user experiences.
User research is a broad concept. However, a study performed by a researcher often aims to answer a particular question. Planning a user’s study involves considering a research question you must answer.
It becomes more evident when we explore real-world examples. Here are some scenarios where user research can make a significant impact
Imagine you’re the owner of an online store specializing in electronics. You sell laptops, smartphones, etc. Unfortunately, you’ve noticed that your website’s sales have plateaued. Something on your website makes users abandon their intent to buy. In this situation, user research can uncover problems on your website and discover ways to boost revenue.
You choose various research methods, including user interviews, website analytics, and heat maps.
During interviews, you ask shoppers about their preferences, pain points, and overall experiences on your online store.
Simultaneously, you analyze data from your analytics tools. You track page abandonment rates, conversion rates, and other metrics.
At the same time, heatmaps provide visual insights into which product categories and features attract the most attention and where users drop off.
As the data begins to pour in, patterns emerge.
During interviews, you discover that users frequently search for specific product categories like smartphones and laptops. Additionally, you learn that they often struggle with finding relevant accessories.
Your analytics reveal that a significant number of users abandon their shopping carts at the shipping and payment stage, hinting at potential pain points in the checkout process.
Heatmaps show that certain design elements, like prominent call-to-action buttons and clear product images, receive the most interaction, which is a desirable outcome.
With these insights in hand, you’re equipped to make targeted improvements.
You decide to modify the product categorization and search functionality. That should make it easier for users to find accessories. You can also create a way for users to have accessories automatically suggested for the item (like a laptop or smartphone) they just bought or showed interest in.
To reduce cart abandonment, you streamline the checkout process, implement a guest checkout option, and introduce trust signals like security badges.
The results of your user research not only boost sales but also enhance the overall user experience. Customers find discovering and purchasing products easier, increasing satisfaction and loyalty. This can also lead them to suggest your store to their friends, which can definitely be beneficial for your business.
User research is crucial when the product is very early in its lifecycle. Imagine you’re part of a team creating a new fitness-tracking app. To build a great product, you must first understand your target audience’s specific needs and preferences. In a nutshell, you must first understand what you need to develop.
After some background research, you and your team came up with a first draft of the design. You created a prototype and want to test whether you are on the right track.
Consequently, your team conducts a usability study. You invite a group of potential users to interact with the app’s prototype while you observe and gather feedback. During the testing, participants perform tasks like setting fitness goals, tracking workouts, and reviewing their progress. As they navigate through the app, you take note of any problems users may have, any confusion, or areas where users express frustration. You also collect qualitative feedback through open-ended questions, asking participants about their overall experience and any suggestions for improvement.
During the usability study, participants revealed that they struggled to find the option to customize their workout plans. Additionally, some users find the interface overwhelming, with too many features visible simultaneously. Moreover, participants appreciate the app’s tracking accuracy but would like more personalized recommendations for workouts based on their fitness goals.
You start by simplifying the app’s interface. You declutter the dashboard and make the customization options easier to find. To address users’ desire for personalized recommendations, you integrate an algorithm that tailors workout suggestions based on individual goals and progress. You also add customization queries to the onboarding experience of your app.
After implementing these changes, you conduct a follow-up usability test with the same participants. This time, users find the app easier to navigate and express higher satisfaction. They praise the personalized workout suggestions and feel more motivated to use the app.
This example showcases how, by listening to the voices of their target audience, designers can transform initial challenges into opportunities for improvement, resulting in a more seamless and user-friendly experience.
These examples illustrate how user research can be tailored to specific industries and products. Regardless of the context, user research helps designers and businesses make informed decisions that lead to better digital products and happier users.
User research is a vast topic. UX research can (and should) be done at any stage of the product life cycle. The research can improve a product, regardless of whether the product is just being made or has already been launched.
To further explore the fascinating world of user research and UX design, there are abundant resources available:
Baymard Institute: https://baymard.com/
Nielsen Norman Group: https://www.nngroup.com/
Smashing magazine: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/
UX Collective: https://uxdesign.cc/
Interaction Design Foundation: https://www.interaction-design.org/
UX Research: 5 Fundamental Research Methods for E-Commerce Sites
KickMaterial — Fan-made Kickstarter for Android concept.
Secrets of Perfect User Interview by Talebook
If you are considering starting your journey with user research, we recommend Talebook, an interactive research repository. It provides you with valuable tools that facilitate user interviews, presenting your research, and other features that will help you on your journey of becoming a UX designer.