How to Conduct User Research Like a UX Pro
User research is one of the most important aspects of any successful UX design project. In fact, if you're working on any customer-facing project, service or product, we'll go as far as to say that user research is an absolute must.
By understanding your users and their needs, you can create a better experience for them that actually meets their needs and exceeds their expectations, rather than letting them down and losing potentially valuable leads at the final hurdle.
But how can you go about conducting user research in order to get the most accurate and actionable insights possible? How do you make sure that you're doing it effectively and efficiently?
At Huddle Creative, we're leaders in UX design. Throughout this guide, we'll outline the basics of conducting user research before diving into exactly how to conduct user research like a UX pro. Let's get started!
Conducting User Research: The Basics
User research, or UX research, starts and ends with your target audience.
Your users are the people who will be interacting with whatever it is you're designing. As such, they should be at the absolute forefront of your mind throughout the entire design process.
Extensive user research can provide valuable information and user insights to help tailor your offering to your target users specifically. It is based in three key categories: observation, understanding, and analysis.
Through observation methods such as usability testing or interviews, you can understand what users are doing with your prototype.
Once you have observed your users, it's time to start understanding them. This means going beyond the surface level to uncover their needs, wants, and motivations, with methods like customer journey mapping becoming helpful here. If you find gaps in your understanding or need additional insights, it might be prudent to hire a UX designer who specializes in refining the user experience.
Finally, it's time to start analysing your findings.
This is where you'll take all of the information you've gathered and start to make sense of it all. Once you've done that, you can start to formulate concrete recommendations for how to improve the user experience.
When do I need to conduct UX research?
The short answer is: always. Conducting user research should be an ongoing part of your design process, not something that you only do once at the beginning and then forget about.
Your users' needs and wants can change over time, so it's important to stay on top of them in order to ensure that your creative direction is always relevant and up-to-date.
That being said, there are certain times when conducting user research is even more important than usual. These include:
- When you're starting a new project: User research is essential for understanding the needs of your target audience from the very beginning. By doing this, you can ensure that your project is designed with your users in mind from the start, rather than trying to shoehorn them in later on. You can also avoid common UX failures by implementing research to begin with.
- When you're making changes to an existing product or service: If you're thinking about making changes to an existing service or customer-facing project, it's important to first understand how those changes will impact your users. Will they actually make their lives easier, or will they just cause confusion? User research can help you to find out.
- When you're launching a new brand: If you're about to launch a new brand, product or service, user research can help you to fine-tune your branding and service offering, ensuring that it's as user-friendly as possible.
What does UX research involve?
User experience research (UX) involves a whole host of processes. Essentially, it is ensuring that your design process, product, brand or site structure matches how your ideal user wants to interact with it.
This is known as a user-centred design process.
UX research involves different methods, analysis and ultimately recommendations to improve your design. It is used to answer important questions about your users and how they interact with your product.
Types of User Research Methods
There are qualitative and quantitative methods to user research, both with their own distinct advantages and drawbacks.
Qualitative Research Methods
Qualitative methods involve in-depth analysis of data that can't be expressed in numbers. This type of data is usually collected through interviews, focus groups, or observation. Qualitative methods are great for understanding the why behind understanding user behaviours.
They can help you to uncover user needs and motivations that you might not have been aware of before. However, they are not always the best for understanding the how or what of user behaviour.
Quantitative Research Methods
Quantitative data involves numbers and can be analysed using statistical methods. This type of data is usually collected through surveys or usability tests. Quantitative methods are great for understanding the how or what of user behaviour.
They can help you to gather large amounts of data quickly and easily, which can then be analysed to uncover patterns and trends. However, they are not always the best for understanding the why of user behaviour, as this requires more in-depth analysis.
How To Conduct User Research Like a Pro:
Implement usability testing sessions
When users interact with your site, app or product, they will form first impressions almost immediately. These first impressions can be very difficult to change, so it's important to get them right from the start.
One of the best ways to do this is through usability testing. This involves observing users as they use your site or product and asking them questions about their experience. This can help you to identify any areas that are confusing or difficult to use, so that you can make changes accordingly.
Top tip: a usability test can be either qualitative or quantitative….
Qualitative usability testing will involve either a supervised or unsupervised usability test.
Supervised usability tests are conducted by a researcher who is present during the test and can ask questions or offer help if needed. Unsupervised usability tests are conducted without a researcher present, so users are free to interact with the site or product in their own way, usually with some follow up questions.
Quantitative usability testing, on the other hand, is often referred to as 'benchmarking' as it involves testing your users' progress over time by repeating the test at different benchmarks and collecting key usability metrics. Quantitative usability testing will involve measuring specific metrics, such as task completion time, task success rate, and number of errors made.
Benchmarking your quantitative research allows you to gain a wider picture of your users' experience and how it changes over time. This can be extremely valuable in informing your digital design decisions.
Usability testing best practices:
- Recruit a diverse range of users: This will give you the most accurate picture of how your product is being used. Try to recruit users from different backgrounds, with different levels of experience and knowledge.
- Plan your test in advance: This will help you to ensure that you get the most out of your usability testing sessions. Plan what tasks you want your users to complete, what questions you want to ask, and how you will analyse the data afterwards.
- Observe and take notes: It's important to observe users as they interact with your product. This will help you to identify any problems that they encounter. Take notes during the test so that you can refer back to them later for the data you need.
Understand your Goals & KPIs
Good user research requires some fore-thought on your goals and your business KPIs. You won't know which user research method is right for your project if you don't have a clear understanding of what you're trying to achieve.
Your goal should be something specific and measurable, such as 'increase task completion rate by X%'.
Your KPIs should be aligned with your goals and should be chosen accordingly. For example, if your goal is to increase task completion rate, then your KPIs could be task completion time, task success rate or number of errors made.
Once you have a clear understanding of your goals and KPIs, you can start to think about which user research methods will be most appropriate for your project.
UX research goals & KPIs best practices:
- Set realistic goals: Don't try to achieve too much with your user research. Set a few specific, achievable goals that you can reasonably expect to accomplish.
- Choose the right KPIs: Select KPIs that are directly relevant to your goals. This will help you to measure your progress and assess the success of your user research.
- Don't forget about qualitative data: Quantitative data like KPIs are important, but don't forget about the value of qualitative data. Qualitative data can give you insights that you wouldn't be able to gain from quantitative data alone.
Conduct in-depth user interviews
Conducting user interviews allows you to approach user research directly. You can gather data from as many sources as you like, but none will tell you more about your users than speaking to them directly.
User interviews can be conducted in person or over a home phone service or a hosted phone system. They usually last between 30 and 60 minutes, although some may be shorter or longer depending on the goals of the interview.
User interviews are structured conversations in which you ask questions about your users' needs, goals, and expectations. They are an opportunity for you to get first-hand insights into how your users think and feel about your product.
This is a great way to help the user onboarding experience and highlight any improvements that may be needed.
User interviews are a valuable source of data, but they should not be the only method that you use. If you're asking open-ended questions during these interviews, ensure adequate time for analysis afterward or try to balance with quantitative research methods too.
In-depth user interview best practices:
- Structure your questions: This will help you to get the most out of your interviews. Prepare a list of questions in advance, and try to stick to them as much as possible during the interview.
- Don't forget about follow-up questions: Follow-up questions can be just as important as the initial questions that you ask. They allow you to explore topics in more depth and get a better understanding of your users' views.
- Make sure you're comfortable: User interviews can be daunting, especially if you're not used to conducting them. Make sure you're comfortable with the process before you start. This will help you to put your users at ease and encourage them to open up to you.
Develop user personas
Some common UX research methods involve tracking user behaviours online to generate user personas. A persona is a semi-fictional character that represents a segment of your users.
Creating user personas helps you to understand the needs and goals of your different user types. It also allows you to design your product with specific users in mind, which can improve the overall user experience.
There are many different ways to develop user personas. One approach is to use web analytics data to track the behaviours of your users online. This data can be used to create a profile of your typical user, which can then be used to generate a persona.
Another common approach is to conduct surveys with your users. This allows you to gather data directly from your users, which can be used to create more accurate personas.
User persona best practices:
- Collect information and then segment your users: Collect as much data as you can about your users. Once you have this data, segment your users into different groups by looking for common themes and patterns.
- Test your user personas: Once you've created your user personas, test them to see if they're accurate. This can be done by conducting user interviews or surveys. If the data doesn't match up, revise your personas accordingly.
- Make sure they're actionable: User personas should be used to improve the design of your product. Make sure that your personas are actionable and can be used to guide your design decisions.
Make privacy a part of your research plan
When conducting user research, it's important to consider the privacy of your users. Make sure that you have a plan in place for how you will protect the data that you collect.
There are many different ways to collect data from users, but you should always be aware of the potential privacy implications.
For example, if you're conducting user interviews, you should get the consent of the participants before recording the conversation.
When collecting data online, you should also be aware of GDPR best practices and the cookies that are being used to track your user behaviour. Make sure that you have a plan in place for how you will use this data and protect the privacy of your users and that it is clearly available for the user if they should want it.
Research data privacy best practices:
- Be transparent: When conducting user research, be upfront with your users about what you're doing and why. This will help to build trust and ensure that they are comfortable with the process.
- Get consent: Always get the consent of your users before collecting any data. This includes both offline and online data.
- Be respectful: Respect the wishes of your users. If they don't want to participate in your research, don't force them.
Hone your focus groups
Focus groups allow you to gather data from a group of users in an interactive setting. This type of research is typically used to generate new ideas or to get feedback on existing ones.
When conducting a focus group for usability, it's important to have a moderator who can keep the discussion on track. The moderator should also be skilled at eliciting responses from the group and keeping the conversation flowing.
Focus groups can be especially beneficial for getting feedback on design concepts. This type of research can help you to refine your designs and make sure that they're user-friendly.
Focus group best practices:
- Create a moderator guide: Before conducting a focus group, create a moderator guide that outlines the objectives and goals of the research. This will help to keep the discussion on track and ensure that you get the information that you need.
- Structure the discussion: Structure the discussion in a way that allows everyone to have a chance to voice their opinion. This can be done by having each person share their thoughts on a certain topic or by asking questions of the group as a whole.
- Keep it small: Focus groups should be small, with no more than 10 participants. This will help to keep the discussion focused and allow everyone to have a chance to speak.
Make the most of online surveys
Online surveys are a quick and easy way to collect data from users. This type of research is typically used to gather feedback on a design or to get general user opinions.
Online surveys serve as a valuable tool for getting user feedback. However, they have some limitations. For example, online surveys can be biased if the people who take them are not representative of the overall population of your target market. It’s all in the details!
That's why it's important to carefully consider the questions that you include in your survey.
Make sure that the questions are relevant to your research goals and that they're worded in a way that will get you all the juicy information that you need.
Online survey best practices:
- Keep the questions short & concise: When creating your survey questions, keep them short and to the point. This will help to avoid confusion and ensure that you get the information that you need.
- Avoid leading questions: Be careful to avoid leading questions, which can bias the results of your survey. For example, instead of asking "Do you like our design?", you should ask "What are your initial thoughts on this design?".
- Target your survey: Make sure that your survey is targeted to the right audience. This will help to ensure that you get accurate and relevant results.Conducting user research doesn't have to be complicated.
Utilise eye-tracking research
Your UX design should reflect the way that users actually interact with your product or service. One way to get this data is through eye-tracking research.
Eye-tracking research tracks the movement of a user's eyes as they use a product or service. This type of research can be used to understand how users interact with a design and to identify areas that need improvement.
You can consult previous research or you can use eye-tracking software to conduct your own research. Either way, this type of data can be invaluable for understanding how users interact with your brand or product. Why not make the most of it?
Eye-tracking data best practices:
- Define your goals: Before conducting or using eye-tracking research data, define the goals and objectives of your research. This will help you to focus on the data that is most relevant to your needs.
- Analyse the data: Once you have collected eye-tracking data, take the time to analyse it. This will help you to identify patterns and trends in user behaviour related to on screen eye movement.
- Implement the findings: Use the findings from your eye-tracking research to improve the design of your product or service. This could involve making changes to the layout, colour scheme or navigation to make sure that key information lands where your users are likely to see it.
Use card sorting and tree testing methods
To refine the information architecture of your site, two common UX research methods are card sorting and tree testing.
Card sorting is a method of organising information in which users group cards together in a way that makes sense to them, allowing you to see what works best for both visual and navigational purposes.
This type of research is typically used to understand how users think about the information on your site, and you can either provide labels for the cards and see how your user would organise them, or allow the user to create their own labels.
Tree testing is a method of evaluating the structure of your site's navigation. In this type of test, users are asked to find specific items within a hierarchical tree structure.
This type of research can help you to understand how easily users can find the information that they need on your site.
Card sorting and tree testing research best practices:
- Research your users: Be sure to target your research to the right audience. This will help to ensure that you get accurate and relevant results.
- Consider follow up questions: In addition to sorting or finding items, consider asking your users follow up questions about their experience. This can help you to understand the thought process behind their actions.
- Test different scenarios: Try testing different scenarios to see how your users react. For example, you could test how easily they can find a specific piece of information on your site in one location and another.
Which UX Research Techniques Should I Use?
Obviously, we can't do it all. So which UX research techniques should you use? It depends on your goals, your budget and the resources that you have available.
If you're just getting started with UX research, consider using some of the more low-cost and easy-to-implement methods like surveys, interviews and focus groups. These methods can provide valuable insights into your users' needs and how they interact with your product or brand.
As you gain more experience, you can start to add in more sophisticated methods like eye-tracking, card sorting and tree testing. These methods can help you to get a deeper understanding of your users and how they interact with your site or app.
No matter which methods you choose to use, the important thing is to make sure that you're constantly gathering data about your users. This will help you to improve the design of your product, brand or website and make sure that it meets their needs.
So you've learned about some of the different UX research techniques that you can use to gather data about your users.
But what do you do with all of this information? What next? The next step is to take the findings from your research and use them to improve the design of your projects.
This could involve anything from making small tweaks to your user interface to totally revamping your brand and your user experience. The important thing is that you use the data you've collected to make informed decisions about how to improve your branding and projects.
One last thing to keep in mind is that UX research is an ongoing process. Even after you've made changes to your product based on your findings, you should continue to conduct research on a regular basis.
This will help you to keep track of how users are interacting with your product and make further improvements as needed.
Now we’ve imparted our wisdom about UX research, it's time to put what you've learned into practice. So go out there and start conducting some research of your own! You might be surprised at what you learn about your users and how it can help to improve your brand, product or service.
Still not sure? Don't worry! We can help.
At Huddle Creative, our digital design experts have years of experience conducting UX research. We can help you to understand your users and make informed decisions about how to improve your user experience and boost conversions with stunning digital designs.
Request a free proposal today to learn more about how we can help you with your UX research needs!