What is User Experience Research? Part 1

In this three-part series, REEA Global explores what user experience research is, the benefits to be gained from understanding your users’ voices, and practical use cases to follow through on insights and recommendations.

So what is user experience research? How is it different from user experience design? What’s included in the process? What type of study should be used based on your needs? Let’s dive in!

What is UXR

User experience research, or UXR, is the study of learning what users need and want in order to provide insights or updates to the design processes of products, services, or software.

It’s all about understanding users and where they are coming from. Taking the time to conduct user experience research gives companies valuable insight into where their processes are optimal versus places that can be improved. These insights are used to guide the product team and leadership to determine which enhancements and innovations will truly engage users to propel the company and its mission. Generally, this results in increased growth, higher retention rates, longer lifetime value, and overall customer satisfaction. Long story short, companies that leverage UXR will be able to uncover and prioritize the best solutions possible based on what users need and want. Proper UXR also levels the playing field internally from a planning perspective since it replaces the most dangerous words in product development, “I think”, with “the users said!”

UXR vs UXD

Although user experience design and user experience research work closely with one another, they are two different animals.

User experience research focuses on observing and listening to users as they attempt to engage with your product or service. These observations capture their verbal feedback, their actions, and measure the proficiency with which they can complete important tasks. All of this input informs the research of the match or mismatch between user expectations and the actual user experience.

User experience design focuses on converting insights from the research into logical workflows and design elements that users can seamlessly navigate. Regardless of how good the design is, without user experience research, the design could flop as a result of overlooking the insights provided by empathizing with user needs and desires.

Types of UXR

User experience research methods can be divided into two categories: what definitively happened with the users and how the researcher describes the methods used in the study. To explore what happened with users, researchers will take a qualitative and/or quantitative approach. To describe the methods used, researchers will take a behavioral and/or attitudinal approach. These techniques can be used in combination with one another and, in some cases, used in congruence to create hybrid methods.

Qualitative

Through observation, understand why users do the things they do by studying their thoughts and opinions through subjective data. How do they feel about a particular webpage? Why did they miss a call to action? Why do they want a certain functionality? Discover users’ motivations and rationale behind decisions. Although qualitative methods are typically aligned with attitudinal data, there are instances where qualitative data can be behavioral.

Examples:

  • User interviews
  • Usability tests

Quantitative

Discover what users do in a particular setting. Gain insight into their behaviors and attitudes to answer questions such as: how many users clicked on a particular call to action? What percentage of users never navigated to a particular page? Analyze these answers and more to find themes across your users.

Examples:

  • Surveys
  • A/B Testing

Behavioral

With a behavioral approach, the focus is on what users do through observational methods. With this approach, researchers watch what users do and take notes accordingly. Examples include A/B testing, eye-tracking, and usability testing.

Attitudinal

An attitudinal approach focuses on listening to what users say through interviewing methods. This involves asking users questions and recording their opinions/responses. Examples include focus groups, user interviews, and surveys.

Methods of UXR

There are various types of studies you can choose from or combine to gain a deeper knowledge of your users depending on your needs. When choosing a research method, it’s important to focus on what your company knows versus wants to understand about its users. In some cases, for instance, if your company already has a strong understanding of what your users do but not why they do it, then you may want to consider relying more on qualitative methods, such as usability testing and user interviews, over quantitative methods, like A/B testing and surveys.

Some Examples Include:

  • A/B testing
  • Card sorting
  • Competitive analysis 
  • Design Critique
  • Focus groups
  • Expert reviews
  • Eye-tracking 
  • Joint application development sessions
  • Journey mapping
  • Observation
  • Performance testing
  • Personas & scenarios 
  • Surveys
  • Task Analysis
  • Usability testing
  • User interviews
  • User journeys

Process of UXR

Define Study Scope

User experience research starts with defining the scope of the study. After determining what aspect of the platform the client wants tested, researchers will develop a research plan that fits the client’s needs but also empathizes with the user. It’s critical to clearly communicate and understand the goals before beginning a study to ensure the proper methods of research are utilized at the right times.

Develop Research Plan & Recruit Participants

With objectives clearly defined and communicated, it’s time to simultaneously develop a research plan and recruit participants. Creating the research plan includes building out a tentative schedule, creating an in-depth outline of the methodology chosen, and reporting all drafted communications to participants on the client’s behalf – such as recruitment messages and the script used to walk participants through the study. This research plan is given to clients before launching the study to be as transparent as possible about what’s going to be done. After recruiting participants, the researcher will finalize the participants and schedule them for testing.

Launch Data Collection

After establishing a solid research plan and recruiting participants, the next step is to launch the data collection. Whether the chosen method is interviews, surveys, usability testing, or others, the researcher will follow the same basic outline: observe and record. In the case of usability testing, researchers will observe users interacting with the product and take any relevant notes, record interactions, and use these notes as fuel for the analysis. Notes will include information relevant to the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) outlined in the research plan, such as how long did it take users to complete a given task or what percentage of the study prompts were completed successfully? Although many want to rush to execute research, it’s vital to follow the preliminary steps of best practices to ensure your study reaches maximum potential by uncovering insights that are relevant and helpful to your business.

Analyze and Present Collected Data

The bulk of the user experience research comes from the analysis and presentation of collected data. The main point of user experience research is to get a better understanding of your users and apply that knowledge to guide, build, and execute design and usability decisions. Researchers will transcribe all interviews, usability tests, or other studies, develop annotated click paths, and analyze the study’s notes. After taking notes on all participants into consideration, researchers will discern any themes in the data collected. These themes are determined by grouping similar data, such as if people had comparable sentiments about a specific aspect of the platform. Following, insights and recommendations are generated from the themes.

For example, let’s say 3/5 participants couldn’t move past the Home Screen of your website.

  • Theme: What Happened With Users?
    • A majority of users were unable to properly navigate the platform.
  • Insight: Why Did It Happen?
    • Users are struggling to identify and engage with the navigation bar
  • Recommendation: How Can We Fix It?
    • The navigation bar should be updated and optimized.

The last step of the analysis stage is to compile all the information from the study. This includes a summary of the study, quotes from users, listing themes and insights to provide recommendations on how to improve the platform, and providing any relevant qualitative or quantitative data.

Ready to Listen to Users?

Conducting user experience research is a way for companies to ensure their efforts and decisions are effective with their users. In REEA Global’s experience, companies who take the time to understand their users tend to have higher and quicker growth results compared to those who dive into business initiatives based on what they think is important. Don’t assume what’s important, listen to your user’s voice instead.

Curious about the benefits of UXR? Explore the next article in the series, The Benefits of User Experience Research.