User Research: Everything You Must Know About Acquiring Data

Page Flows Team

May 16, 2024 | 9:00 am
Design better user flows by learning from proven products
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When you think of an effective digital product or experience, what comes to mind? Whether you think of visually intriguing UI design or fluid functionality, no answer is incorrect. However, regardless of visuals, features, or functions, a digital product is only as good as the research behind it. 

The one thing that will guarantee your product’s success resides in how the design team approaches its research. Specifically, designers must conduct research that prioritizes their target users at every stage of the design process

In order to prioritize your target users, you must first understand who they are on a psychological and sociological level. User research is a great way to acquaint yourself with your target audience and their needs, goals, and desires. 

That brings us to the topic of today’s actionable guide—user research. We recognize that in order to elevate user-centricity, only knowing what user research is won’t cut it. So, to help you acquire valuable, user-oriented data, we’ll explore the various types of user research. We’ll also explore different user research methods, plans, questions, and tools. 

By the time you’ve finished this article, you’ll know the ins and outs of all things related to user research. 

What Does a User Experience Researcher Do? 

When discussing and utilizing user research, you can’t cut corners. To conduct user research that will produce valuable insights, you must start with the basics. Learning more about the duties and responsibilities of a UX researcher is a great place to start. 

So, what does a user experience researcher do? 

It is the duty of a UX researcher to uncover what the target users of a product need and want. The data that UX researchers acquire will then aid the refinement of a digital product or experience. UX researchers work closely with UX designers, but it’s essential to recognize that UX researchers are not designers. 

UX researchers analyze and present their findings to the design team to aid the design process. UX researchers will use research tools like user journey maps, user personas, and presentations to convey their findings. 

Below, we’ve listed the typical duties of a UX researcher. 

  • UX researchers will design research plans. 
  • UX researchers will recruit user participants. 
  • UX researchers will utilize their findings to identify new product ideas and offer design teams recommendations. 
  • UX researchers will create and run user surveys. 
  • UX researchers will conduct user interviews and usability tests. 
  • UX researchers will analyze and present user-centric data. 
  • UX researchers will present their insights to stakeholders. 

Several UX researchers collaborate over a piece of paper and sticky notes. The UX researchers plot a user’s journey map.

Types of User Research

Knowing the general, day-to-day duties of a UX researcher is one thing. However, in order to thrive as a UX researcher, you must know the difference between all types of user research. 

A successful UX researcher should know what type of user research to use and what kind of data they produce. If you don’t know which types of user research to use, don’t worry—we’ve provided all of the answers below!

1. Qualitative Research 

Qualitative methods of research involve collecting and analyzing non-numerical data, focusing more on uncovering the user’s contexts, opinions, and experiences. 

Qualitative research is also a direct, often moderated approach to generating deeper insights into the user’s mental models. Essentially, qualitative research aims to understand how users think, feel, and behave in certain situations. Alternatively, you can decipher how users think, feel, and behave in relation to similar product experiences. 

Qualitative research questions reveal how and why users do what they do. 

An interviewer smiles at an interviewee, who sits closely to a black microphone.

2. Quantitative Research 

Quantitative and qualitative research often go hand-in-hand. Quantitative research serves as the opposite of qualitative research, aiming to acquire numerical data. 

Quantitative research produces quantifiable data that reveals patterns and averages. By gathering numerical data and generalizing it across a large sample size, you can produce objective or statistical analysis. This approach focuses less on explaining the user’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

Ultimately, quantitative research aims to answer what the users actually do when they interact with a product. Additionally, quantitative research answers the how much and how many types of questions. 

A person places a card into a card category on top of a white table. The person is completing a card-sorting session.

3. Generative Research 

Generative research aims to deeply generate an understanding of who users are as human beings. 

Generative research methods produce an in-depth analysis of the users’ contexts, specifically, what they do in their daily lives. However, researchers don’t just employ generative research to expand on their understanding of their users. 

Generative research can reveal helpful insights regarding the market and even project goals. 

The goal of generative research is to illuminate innovative design solutions from data that explains the users’ motivations. You’ll learn about the users’ beliefs, values, lives, and experiences (both relating to the product and general life).

4. Evaluative Research 

You’ll use evaluative research to evaluate your participants’ responses to your product or your solution. 

Evaluative research aims to enhance the product’s reception at every stage of the design process, starting at the ideation phase. By continuously asking your participants to review iterations of your product, you can make consistent improvements. 

The goal of evaluative research is to generate feedback from a relevant audience to ensure your solutions meet their needs. 

5. Attitudinal Research 

Attitudinal research produces data that reflects the self-reported thoughts, beliefs, and needs of target users. 

Attitudinal research reveals what users say they do. It’s important to note that attitudinal research doesn’t reveal what users actually do, only what they say they do. 

For this reason, it’s essential that you approach attitudinal data with caution. Despite potential inaccuracies, attitudinal research can reveal valuable information regarding the users’ mental models. 

6. Behavioral Research 

Behavioral research involves the researcher directly observing a participant and their actions. 

The goal of behavioral research is to observe a participant’s actions and behaviors when interacting with a finished product. 

User Research Methods You Should Utilize 

Now, you know the various types of research approaches you can use. Now, it’s time to explore the different user research methods you can use. 

Not only will we discuss different user research methods, but we will also clarify which research approach they fall under. 

User Interviews 

Definition: A one-to-one interview with the participant where the researcher asks open-ended questions, guides the discussion, and makes notes. 

Goals: To gain a deeper understanding of the participants’ attitudes, goals, motivations, beliefs, desires, needs, pain points, and experiences. 

Research Type: Qualitative and Generative. 

When Used: The start and end of the design project. 

Field Studies 

Definition: An observational, context-dependent method that takes place in the user’s natural environment. 

Goals: To gain insight from the correlations between participants and their environments and how said environment influences the participants’ behavior. 

Research Type: Qualitative and Behavioral. 

When Used: Every stage of the design process. 

Diary Studies 

Definition: A contextual research method that asks participants to log their thoughts, activities, and experiences over a period of time. 

Goals: To understand the participant’s long-term behaviors and habits and see if their motivations and beliefs change over time. 

Research Type: Qualitative and Evaluative.

When Used: Start of the design process. 

Focus Groups 

Definition: A group discussion with participants will share their opinions and concerns regarding a user interface. 

Goals: To assess the users’ needs and feelings regarding a user interface before the design is finalized and after implementation.

Research Type: Qualitative and Generative. 

When Used: The start and end of the design project. 

User Surveys 

Definition: A survey where the researcher asks both open-ended and close-ended questions. 

Goals: To gather direct input and feedback from real users. 

Research Type: Qualitative, Quantitative, Attitudinal, Generative and Evaluative. 

When Used: At all of the design stages. 

Card Sorting Sessions

Definition: A study technique whereby participants organize topics written on cards in a logical order. 

Goals: To gain and utilize the users’ feedback regarding your product’s information architecture

Research Type: Qualitative, Generative, and Attitudinal.

When Used: At the start of the design process. 

Tree Testing 

Definition: A UX architecture testing technique that asks participants to find items/content based on the website’s organization. 

Goals: To assess your product’s navability. 

Research Type: Quantitative, Behavioral, and Evaluative.

When Used: The start of the design/redesign process.

Usability Testing

Definition: A testing technique that asks participants to complete tasks while interacting with your product. 

Goals: To evaluate how easy your product is to use. 

Research Type: Qualitative, Behavioral, and Evaluative.

When Used: At all of the design stages. 

Five Second Testing 

Definition: A feedback technique that asks participants to look at a webpage for five seconds. The participants will then answer follow-up questions about what they saw. 

Goals: To gauge the participant’s first impressions of your product. 

Research Type: Attitudinal and Evaluative.

When Used: During the ideation phase especially, but also across the entire design process. 

A/B Testing

Definition: A feedback technique that asks participants to compare two iterations of a digital product. 

Goals: To find the best-performing iteration of your website. 

Research Type: Quantitative and Evaluative.

When Used: At all of the design stages. 

How To Conduct User Research

Knowing how to conduct user research is imperative. You can’t generate valuable data if you don’t know how to conduct your research. Given the extensive range of research methods, there are several ways to conduct your research. 

However, no matter which user research method you use, there is a general trajectory of research steps you should follow. 

Below, we’ve arranged a step-by-step guide to help you conduct effective user research. 

Step One: Determine the Parameters of Your Potential Solutions 

Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Who are my users? Can I define my target user demographics and psychographics? 
  • What are the users doing to complete their tasks? Can I confidently outline what my users do when they interact with your product? 
  • Where will the users utilize the product? Can I determine the contexts of use? 
  • When will the users utilize the product? Can I clarify the users’ daily routines? 
  • Why do my users do what they do? Can I affirm that I know the users’ motivations, attitudes, beliefs, needs, and desires?
  • How do my users go about completing their tasks? 

After doing this, you can formulate hypotheses that will help you determine which research methods to use. 

Step Two: Choosing Research Methods and Gathering Relevant Data

Choose which type of research you wish to conduct (consider the types of research listed above). 

Once chosen, you can conduct research techniques like the ones listed above to generate valuable data. 

Step Three: Synthesizing Your Results 

Now that you’ve gathered your data, you must find meaning within said data to answer your research questions. 

After analyzing patterns and trends within your data, you can either prove or disprove your hypothesis. Regardless of whether your data proves or disproves your hypothesis, you can use it to enhance the design process. 

From here, you can present your findings to UX designers and stakeholders. 

A User Research Plan: What To Include 

A user research plan without parameters is likely to produce inaccurate or irrelevant results. 

By strategically planning how you conduct your research, you will provide a research structure that streamlines the design process. You’ll also provide a clear outline of achievable goals that won’t convolute your team’s design process. 

For budding UX researchers, knowing what to include in your user research plan may have you scratching your head. The most well-established, useful user research plans include the following: 

  • A brief summary of your research goals and strategies. 
  • A clarification of the research objectives, the purpose of the plan, and subsequent studies. 
  • A brief outline of the target audience, sample size, scope, and demographics. 
  • A list of expectations regarding the deliverables, deadlines, and the desired result outcomes. 
  • An overview of the correct testing methods and the reasoning behind choosing such methods. 
  • A set of guidelines concerning the testing sessions detailing every preparatory step prior to testing. This may include screening questions and test durations. 
  • An outline of your test scripts, including a few questions to ask your participants. 
  • A guideline regarding when and how you’ll present your results. 
  • An outline of your cost estimations. 

A group of UX researchers make notes on their laptops while discussing their research plan.

User Research Questions To Consider 

The kind of user research questions you ask will heavily depend on your research goals. This is another reason that demonstrates the importance of a research plan. 

By consulting your research plan, you can determine which questions to ask based on your objectives. 

To help you formulate the right questions, we’ve summarized the main question topics UX researchers typically employ. 

1. Issue-Oriented Questions

This category represents questions that revolve around the user’s issues and pain points when interacting with a product. Issue-oriented questions aim to clarify the task that the users have tried to complete and help you devise potential solutions. 

In finding solutions to your target users’ pain points, you will validate your product’s existence in the digital marketplace. 

Now that you know the importance of issue-oriented questions, it’s time to see some examples. 

  1. Do you encounter any frustrations when you try to complete [task]? 
  2. What are your goals when trying to complete the [task]?
  3. How hard is it to complete the [task]? 
  4. Can you detail how you’ve tried to solve the problem in the past? 
  5. How are you currently trying to solve the problem? 
  6. What is your ideal solution? 

2. User-Oriented Questions

As its name suggests, user-oriented questions aim to reveal who your target users are as individuals. From user-oriented questions, you can uncover your users’ goals, desires, and needs. You can also get a clear idea of how your users utilize products and contextual factors that affect their experience. 

Here are some examples of user-oriented questions. 

  1. What tasks do you complete during an average workday?
  2. Are there any products you prefer to use to complete the [task]?
  3. When are you likely to use your preferred product? 
  4. Are you likely to use the product with colleagues/peers? 
  5. How often do you complete your [task]? 
  6. Describe your typical work environment. 
  7. How much would you pay for [product]? 

3. Product-Oriented Questions 

Product-oriented questions will clarify how the users perceive and interact with the product’s content and design. Additionally, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your product’s navigability and usability by asking product-oriented questions. What’s more, you can find out what your target users like and dislike about your product’s features. 

Below, we’ve arranged some examples of product-oriented questions. 

  1. How difficult was it to understand the product’s language and tone? 
  2. What is the most important change we could make to enhance the quality of our product? 
  3. How would you describe the organization and clarity of our product’s interface? 
  4. Could you navigate through the product as you initially expected? 
  5. If you could change anything about the product, what would you change? 
  6. Describe the positive and negative elements of your experience. 

Tip: Ask open-ended questions to get as much detail from your participants’ answers as possible. 

A series of question marks appear on differently shaped paper.

The Best User Research Tools 

Like how UX designers utilize design tools to optimize and refine their work, so too do UX researchers. 

UX researchers employ user research tools to help them conduct certain types of research and reveal insightful data. 

We’ve handpicked a number of helpful research tools that will enhance and streamline your research process

User Research: Getting To Know Your Users 

Hopefully, what you’ve taken away from this article is that users drive every research decision in the UX field. 

The best available digital products start with thorough research into the users as individuals. User-centricity is a vital principle of UX design, and without UX research, no product would appeal to its target audience. 

So now, knowing the monumental significance of UX research, it’s time to see effective UX research in action. 

Meet Page Flows. 

With over 4,200 recordings of tried and tested products, our designs reflect our dedication to our core values. 

With Page Flows, you’ll learn what it looks like when designers effectively utilize user-centric data. 

From finance to fitness, we have perfected our craft to offer you an abundance of user flow inspiration! 

Concerning user research, we have mastered the art of acquiring and analyzing valuable data that enhances the overall user experience. Over 1,000 happy customers from revered brands can vouch for us!

Get started today to access our growing library of user flow recordings and finally stay up-to-date with current design trends.

Author

  • Page Flows Team

    The Page Flows Team is a collective of passionate UX design professionals dedicated to delivering insightful content on user experience and design principles. With diverse backgrounds and expertise, our contributing writers bring you the latest trends, tips, and research in the UX field. Each article is crafted with a focus on empathy, innovation, and a commitment to enhancing user interactions. Outside of writing, our team members draw inspiration from various pursuits such as outdoor activities, art, and continuous learning, fueling their creativity and drive to push the boundaries of UX design. The Page Flows Team is committed to providing valuable resources and engaging content to help you stay ahead in the ever-evolving world of user experience.

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