Understanding your users is the key to creating products and services that resonate and meet their needs effectively. With the right UX research methods, you’ll make sure you continuously delight your users and stay ahead of your competitors.
In this blog post, we will delve into the top 10 UX research methods and techniques. From interviews and surveys to card sorting, A/B testing, and persona creation, we will explore each method in detail, discussing how they work, when to use them, and the unique benefits they offer.
Whether you're a seasoned UX professional or a novice just starting in the field, this guide will help you select the right research methods to ensure your designs are truly user-centric.
Table of contents
What are UX research methods?
UX research methods help you learn about your users, understand their behavior, and collect insights about their motivations, preferences, and needs.
There are many techniques of varying levels of complexity, ranging from surveys and A/B testing to journey mapping and eye tracking.
While it’s not realistic or necessary to use all the research methods available to you, you will most likely benefit from using multiple approaches to get a broad perspective of your user experience.
How to choose the right UX research method for your project
When picking the right research method for your project, consider the following factors:
Project stage: If your research project is in an early stage, it might benefit best from exploratory research (such as interviews and focus groups). Later on, validation research (including usability testing and A/B testing) might be more appropriate.
Research objectives: Perhaps the most important factor—what are you looking to achieve with your research? What UX metrics are you measuring and what kind of information do you want to collect?
Time and resources: Some methods require more time and resources than others. For instance, surveys can be conducted quickly and inexpensively, while usability testing and field studies might need more investment.
Type of data needed: If you need quantitative data, surveys or A/B testing would be suitable. For qualitative data, methods like user interviews or focus groups can provide deeper insights.
Most popular UX research methods and techniques
With dozens of methods available out there, it might not be immediately obvious which one would be right for you. Below we’ll discuss some of the most common techniques to help you consider their use cases, pros and cons, and decide which ones to include in your UX research plan.
As one of the most popular and cost-effective UX research methods, surveys are particularly useful when you need to gather data from a large and diverse population.
They typically consist of a series of questions designed to capture specific information about users, such as demographics, preferences, and behavior.
The easiest way to incorporate surveys into your UX research is by using an automated survey tool, such as Survicate, which comes pre-loaded with hundreds of UX research survey templates. Below you’ll find a survey template with a 5-point rating scale to help easily you assess the ease of use of your product:
Also known as split testing, A/B testing allows you to compare two different versions of a design element to see which one performs better. It consists of showing each version to a different group of users under the same conditions, and measuring their interactions to determine which version is more effective.
The performance you measure can include specific goals, such as click-through rates, conversion rates, or time spent on a page. The variation that performs better is then the one you should implement.
A/B testing allows you to try out new designs or features with a small group of users before rolling them out to everyone, reducing the risk of negative impacts on user experience or performance.
However, it's important to note that A/B testing should be done carefully to ensure valid and reliable results. This includes defining a clear hypothesis, ensuring a large enough sample size, running the test for an adequate amount of time, and using proper statistical analysis methods.
Also, A/B testing typically focuses on incremental improvements rather than radical innovation or exploration, so it should be used as part of a broader mix of research and design methods.
During a user interview, just like in any interview, you engage in a one-on-one discussion with your user, asking questions to gather information about a specific aspect of your UX design.
Unlike focus groups, which involve several users, user interviews maintain a personal, one-on-one structure. You might, however, have more than one interviewer.
They’re particularly effective during the early stages of a project when you're aiming to understand your user base and their needs better. To make them as useful as possible, make sure you set a goal beforehand, prepare open-ended questions, make your interviewee comfortable, and inform them how the data will be used.
Even though you should definitely write your questions before the interview, you might have to think on your feet when it comes to follow-up questions when users don’t provide the answers you were expecting.
A journey map is a visual representation of the process that a user goes through to achieve a goal with a product or service. It's a narrative from the user's point of view that charts their interactions, feelings, and experiences at each stage of the journey.
Journey mapping provides a comprehensive understanding of the user's entire experience, rather than focusing on isolated interactions. This can help you identify areas for improvement that might be missed with a more narrow focus.
By visualizing the user's emotions, actions, and pain points, journey maps can also help build empathy among designers and stakeholders, encouraging a user-centric approach to problem-solving and decision-making.
Importantly, journey mapping is most effective when based on real user data, gathered through methods such as interviews, surveys, or field studies. This ensures that the map accurately reflects the user's perspective and is grounded in evidence rather than assumptions.
Focus groups usually consist of between 5 to 10 participants and are facilitated by a moderator who guides the discussion. They can be useful both before and after design changes.
By bringing together a group of users, you can gain a variety of perspectives in a short period of time.
To make it as productive as possible, recruit a diverse group of participants who represent the target user base for your product or service.
As you observe the session, pay attention to what participants say and how they interact with each other and with the product in question.
You might also ask them to react to prototypes, concepts, or proposed designs.
Unlike other UX research methods on this list, field studies are conducted in the users’ usual location rather than your lab or office.
Observing users in their natural environment, where they would normally use a product or service, provides a rich and detailed understanding of their behaviors, needs, and pain points in the context of their real-world experiences.
To ensure you get satisfactory results, identify the key research questions, the context, and the users you want to observe beforehand.
To conduct the study, simply arrange a visit to the users’ natural environment—this could be their home, workplace, or any other relevant location—and observe them using the product or service.
You might want to take notes, photos, or videos to document your observations, as well as incorporate elements of user interviews to get extra insights.
Field studies allow you to observe what users actually do, rather than what they say they do. This can reveal discrepancies between reported and actual behavior, and can uncover behaviors that users might not even be aware of.
For example, a field study might reveal that your users are often interrupted when using a product, suggesting a need for better save and resume functions.
This method consists of measuring users' eye movements as they interact with your product or service. Data gathered as part of this study can help you understand where users focus their attention and how they visually navigate the website or app. Seeing through the eyes of your consumers will give you access to insights that often go unnoticed.
A downside of eye-tracking is that this method typically involves specialized hardware and software. As a result, it might not be possible or practical in certain circumstances.
Card sorting can help you understand how your users categorize or structure information. It's often used when designing or evaluating the information architecture of a product, such as the navigation menu of a website or the structure of an app.
Here's how card sorting generally works:
Preparation: Identify a list of topics, features, or content items that need to be organized. Write each item on a separate card (or, in the case of online card sorting, a virtual "card").
Sorting: Ask the participants to group the cards into categories that make sense to them. They might also be asked to label these categories.
Discussion: After the sorting, discuss the results with the participant to understand their thought process and reasoning.
There are two main types of card sorting:
open card sorting, where participants create and label their own categories. This can provide insights into users' mental models and the terms or phrases they use.
closed card sorting, in which the researcher provides predefined categories, and participants sort the cards into these categories. This can be useful for testing or refining an existing information structure.
Personas in UX research are fictional characters that represent key user segments. They are based on real data gathered from various research methods, such as interviews, surveys, and field studies, and typically include information about users' demographics, behaviors, goals, pain points, and contexts of use.
To create personas for your UX research project, gather qualitative and quantitative data about your users through various other research methods.
Then, analyze the data to identify common patterns, behaviors, and characteristics. Look for segments of users who have similar goals, needs, or behaviors.
Create a distinct persona for each user segment. Give each persona a name and a face (usually a stock photo), and include details about their demographics, motivations, behaviors, and pain points. You might also include quotes or narratives to bring the persona to life.
By humanizing the user data, personas help your team members develop empathy for users. They make it easier to understand and relate to users' experiences, motivations, and pain points.
However, keep in mind that this method has some limitations. The personas you’ve created are not meant to represent every possible user or capture all the diversity of a user base.
You should also remember to update them regularly to reflect new research and changes in the user base.
Unveil user insights with surveys
The value of UX research lies in its ability to bring the user into the center of the design process. Surveys, one of the most commonly used research methods, allow you to easily discover user insights at scale.
With an automated survey tool, you’ll be able to gather and analyze large amounts of data to inform your design decisions.
Once you get responses, Survicate will automatically analyze and present all the findings in a dedicated dashboard. Interested? Try it out for free!
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Lidia is a Senior Content Editor at Survicate. She’s a passionate customer experience advocate and strives to educate and inspire her readers to improve their own customer journeys. In her blog posts, Lidia focuses on the latest trends and best practices in the industry. She believes that by sharing her expertise she can help businesses of all sizes to elevate their customer experience. When she’s not writing, Lidia enjoys reading books, attending industry conferences, and testing out new customer service technologies.
NET PROMOTER, NPS, AND THE NPS-RELATED EMOTICONS ARE REGISTERED U.S. TRADEMARKS, AND NET PROMOTER SCORE AND NET PROMOTER SYSTEM ARE SERVICE MARKS, OF BAIN & COMPANY, INC., SATMETRIX SYSTEMS, INC. AND FRED REICHHELD.