The following is a guest post by Niraj Rajput, cofounder and Head of Engineering at Chisel Labs

User experience research has been a hot topic in the field of design for some time now. It is alternatively called UX research or user research.

It’s not just about designing something that looks good but also making sure it is easy to use and solves a user’s problems.

This guide will take you through everything you need to know about UX research, from its methods to how it benefits your company. We’ll even touch on when and where UX research should be used.

First things first. We need to know exactly what UX research is.

Understanding UX research
The Stages Involved in User Research
Advantages of User Research
UX Research Methods
When Do You Need To Use These Methods?

Understanding UX research

User research is a research method used to gather information about users’ behavior. It is for understanding, problem-solving, and designing effective products with their needs.

UX research methods are used when you want to know more about your user’s mental models, goals, attitudes, or tasks. It will help you analyze user behavior and prioritize the necessary changes.

UX research helps make better decisions about design by knowing more about users’ habits and everyday challenges. It can help you find out what works for them and how they work around problems with their current solutions (if any) so that you can develop something which will be effective at solving these issues.

The stages involved in user research

There are a few stages involved in user research:

  • Discovering the actual goals of the user.
  • Understanding users and their behaviors.
  • What do you need to know about your audience? What are they like, what drives them, how can I reach out to them, why would they buy my product or service? These questions make up the discovery phase of the UX research process.

Advantages of user research

User research is advantageous because it helps in gaining valuable insights into what users are looking at in your product.

It will help you validate whether or not if your hypothesis holds with actual user data. Otherwise, this would have been inferred from assumptions made by yourself based on personal beliefs, knowledge, or experience.

User research is very important to avoid building the wrong product. It helps in focusing on the right features and building a better product.

It also helps in understanding the market, its needs, wants, and requirements. The research can be used to build a market strategy for your product.

It assists in the development of a user-friendly product. Most significantly, you’ll have the statistics you need to make informed decisions and avoid building the wrong product.

UX research methods

There are 9 types of user research methodologies.


  • Qualitative Research
  • Quantitative Research
  • User Testing
  • Contextual Inquiry
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Focus Groups, one-on-one interviews
  • Card Sorting / Tree Testing
  • Shadowing
  • Ethnography or Cultural probes.


Qualitative methods

The qualitative method involves the usage of unstructured and open-ended techniques, such as one-on-one interviews.

This method is an essential tool for gaining insights into users’ mindsets and behavior – helping to understand their needs (from the perspective of end-user) or business objectives (for internal stakeholders).

It also helps in identifying opportunities, risks, and problems by listening carefully to the customer’s own words. Instead of relying on assumptions based on general market research data.

The focus here is not only about uncovering existing issues but also exploring “unknown unknowns”.

It’s about things that we don’t know we should be looking for yet. As in, new trends/behaviors, potential pain points, and so on. This kind of information can come up during conversations with real people and by observing them in their natural environment.

Quantitative research

This research mainly deals with numerical data.

It is mainly used to make comparisons between groups of people, e.g., customers vs. non-customers, or for tracking changes in behavior over time (trends). Examples of quantitative methods are online surveys, loyalty programs, and web analytics.

It is usually used to answer questions like: “What are our customers doing?”, “How many times do they use specific features?” or “How can we increase our conversion rate?”.

The advantage of quantitative research is that it is easy to track the changes over time. It also allows you to make comparisons between groups of people, e.g., customers vs non-customers or men vs women.

User testing

During usability testing, the goal of the researcher is to observe whether a user can use the product effectively and easily.

There are two types of usability tests: in lab testing (where users come to your office) or remote studies, where you watch people using products remotely via video conferencing tools such as Skype or GoToMeeting.

These methods help researchers understand how effective their designs are from the perspective of customers.

User testing also allows companies to acquire critical feedback and insights from customers. The feedback will be taken early in the product development stage, which can impact their final design decisions.

Contextual inquiry

Contextual inquiry is all about understanding the context of use, which is where it gets its name from.

The researcher will visit potential users in their natural environment and study them while they perform tasks related to their job or daily life.

This method provides rich insight into how people interact with an application under normal conditions.

It uncovers aspects that lab studies would never reveal because participants are unlikely to behave naturally in a lab setting. Examples of Contextual Enquiry include Workflow, Task Analysis, and Task-based interviews.

If you haven’t already noticed, Contextual Inquiry is a method of qualitative user research. It involves observing potential users in their natural environment as they perform tasks related to the job or daily life.

This is another popular UX research technique that can provide you with valuable data.

The data involves information like how people interact with your product and what difficulties they face while doing so. This technique takes place one-on-one, rather than in a group setting.

It’s also more of an interview technique, rather than observing users as they go about their tasks naturally.

The main advantage of this method is that it allows you to gain a deeper understanding of your user by asking them follow-up questions and reflecting on the answers so far. This way, you can ask all the questions you need to get the information that’s most relevant for your project.

Surveys and questionnaires

As the name itself suggests, this research technique requires gathering information by asking users to answer questions. It is often done over email, but there are other ways to conduct it as well.

Surveys and questionnaires can be used in the very early stages of the product development process. Like, when you still don’t know exactly what your research goals will be or how they’ll develop throughout this process.

This is one of the most effective ways to quickly gather data from a large number of respondents, so if you have that option available, then it’s definitely worth using it. A survey can provide enough information for your project even on its own. However, combining it with other research methods will give you more complete results and allow you to answer most of your questions.

In-person or remote sessions are a great choice if you have access to the target audience that is going to use your product.

Because they allow you to see their body language and facial expressions which can give away information about their thoughts before they vocalize them.

This way it’s much easier for UX researchers to find out what’s bothering users about the product or if they have any questions.

Focus groups, One-on-one interviews

Focus Groups are a great way to get some quick user insights. However, since you’re dealing with several users at the same time it can be difficult to pick up on everything that’s being said.

Sometimes topics are missed because something was interesting only for one person in the group while others didn’t seem to be interested.

If done correctly these research sessions can give your team the information they need to improve their product or service.

User Interviews are a more in-depth form of research. They allow for discussion with users on what’s working, what isn’t working, and how things can be improved upon.

Unlike focus groups where many participants give input at once, user interviews offer one-on-one conversations which gives the interviewer more control over how much information is gathered.

The user’s input can be noted down, recorded, or even filmed if desired to allow for plenty of data to go back through and browse at your leisure.

This sort of insight into what makes users tick ultimately leads to greater conversions as you learn about their needs and wants which you can design around accordingly.

Card sorting/Tree testing

Card sorting is a type of User Research that allows you to uncover how users group content together.

For example, when designing a navigation menu that includes many different links, it can be difficult for the user to know where they should go next.

Also, if each link is equally important in its own right. Should all links have equal priority?

Or are some more relevant than others?

Also known as Tree testing this is a method that involves asking the user to navigate through your content by clicking on individual cards.

Each time they click it reveals more information about their thought process. And, how they are grouping the content.


Shadowing involves the user being observed in their natural environment.

This is done by observing them with a screen.

It would show what they are seeing so you can get an accurate understanding of how they use the product or website.

The observers take notes on everything they see, hear and feel during this process to be able to later analyze it further.

The outcome of shadowing is a detailed list of their thought process and the emotions they felt when using your product.

Ethnography or Cultural probes

The whole idea behind ethnography is to observe and understand how users behave across different cultures.

The outcome of this research provides the user experience researcher with an understanding of what types of interactions are appropriate for specific cultures.

The main goal here is trying to figure out why certain behaviors exist.

This understanding is grasped by learning about a culture’s beliefs, values, traditions, and attitudes towards technology as well as other related topics.

Just learning about the research wouldn’t suffice. We also need to explore where exactly we need to use these methods.

When do you need to use these methods?

In short, all methods can be used depending on what you need and how much time you have for research. It depends on the situation.

Qualitative research is more feasible in situations wherein you don’t need to test the entire product with a wide audience. However, you just want to know whether your users can understand what they see.

Whereas, quantitative research is more suitable in situations wherein most of your work falls on design and development – such as when it comes to testing new concepts or ideas before implementation.

User testing is needed when the testing is about how easy it is to use a product or service. This method is typically used for products that are in the final stages of development.

This involves taking a test version of your product to users, observing their behavior while they use it. Also, asking questions about how easy or difficult it was for them to perform certain tasks

It’s important to note that this method gives you an insight into what people think about your product but not why they feel so.

Contextual Inquiry is very suitable in the scenario where you are creating a new product for the first time. This method is helpful to understand contextual factors like user’s goals, tasks, and behaviors in specific contexts (like home or office.)

Contextual Inquiry helps you uncover insights into people’s work and home lives and how you can solve their problems by designing a better product.

Surveys and Questionnaires are beneficial when you want to get a broad understanding of your customers and their thoughts about certain aspects of the product.

The questions mustn’t be leading, so people can express themselves freely in response to them.

Observing users while they use your product or prototype in person allows you to see how real people use your product and how they feel about it.

User testing is a technique that involves watching someone using or interacting with the actual interface of the product to see what problems arise for them if any.

It can also be used to test an idea before implementing it in code

The focus groups method is of use when you need to get in-depth information about your users’ behavior and attitudes. Online tests are useful for finding out how people would react when they use the product on their own.

They work best if you have a large enough audience of respondents so that you can split them into different groups based on demographics or other factors to get more accurate results.

Card sorting acts as an efficient choice when you have a clear idea of your site’s navigation and want to find out what the most logical categorization is.

You can also determine how many categories are needed or if there should be subcategories, as well as their naming conventions.

User interviews are common with start-ups and small businesses, but they can be useful even for larger companies that want to improve their products or services by asking users what could be done better.

User interviews enable you to find out how your target audience experiences specific tasks (e.g., shopping) on different platforms (apps, websites).

It’s worth noting that although this method is quite inexpensive, it requires a lot of time from each person who takes part in an interview.

Shadowing entails observing users as they go about their normal routine.

Observing users at work can be useful if your goal is to figure out where exactly they get stuck or what they do to solve problems. Shadowing is one of the most powerful methods to learn about user behavior.

Ethnographic research helps you observe how people use your products without any interference. You can also study their emotional connection with the product by watching them live out their lives.

Ethnographic research is used to understand the context of use, people’s feelings about your product, and what they want from it.

All of the above methods can be used as a whole entity or for individual parts of the process. It depends on what you need and how much time you have to do the research.

For example, if your product is already in development and it’s necessary to test whether people will like your solution before its release – So it would make sense to conduct usability testing earlier than later.


User research methods are essential to the success of a product. Research is needed at every step to create something that will help people and not hinder them.

Worse yet, not be used by them at all! Hope this blog has helped you get some great insights about user research and maybe even convince you to try it in your projects.


Niraj Rajput

Niraj is co-founder and Head of Engineering at Chisel Labs, a premiere agile product management software company that brings together roadmapping, team alignment, and customer connection. Niraj is passionate about building scalable infrastructure and systems and he also happens to be a huge fan of Cricket!


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