Starting off with UX research can feel like an arduous undertaking – especially if you’re brand new to it. The primary reason for this difficulty is the multidisciplinary nature of UX. The study of user experience combines a diverse set of skillsets and areas of knowledge. On top of that, UX is a relatively young field, and in some ways the best practices are still evolving.
As such, there is no definitive guide or singular path towards becoming an expert in implementing UX research.
The first thing to know is that you cannot learn UX research from courses and books alone. Although the right lectures and books can provide a robust foundation, it is critical to enhance and develop your skills through real-life pratice, training, and mentorship from experienced UX researchers and practitioners.
What is UX research?
UX research, or user experience research, is a process for studying and understanding the target users of a digital brand or product. More specifically, the goal of UX research is to gain insight into those users’ behavior, thoughts, expectations, and preferences. Then, the organization doing the research can capitalize on those insights to make better decisions about product design & strategy, business development, customer success, and other areas that can impact business goals.
By conducting UX research, you can empower your organization to build products based on real customer insights, in ways that will solve their needs while providing benefits for the users and the business.
Read more: Benefits of user testing
As a UX researcher, there are a variety of different research methods available to you for learning more about your users, and discovering design problems and opportunities.
By uncovering these important insights and sharing them with teammates and decision-makers, you can make valuable contributions to the design process and enable every other team and department in your organization to succeed.
Steps for doing UX research
When you first get started with UX research, remember that your principal objective is to answer the “Why” questions, rather than “What” questions.
Of course, it’s essential to understand the “What” part – in particular, what people are doing as they interact with your online platforms – but UX research doesn’t stop there. Instead, learning those more basic facts are the starting point for investigating why they are doing those things.
For example: Why are users navigating from Page A to Page C, when we want them to go to Page B? Why aren’t users converting on our signup page? Why are users taking so long to complete their first project or reach our first milestone?
“Why” questions like this are essential for conducting useful, insightful UX research that will lead to a better user experience. Below is a broad description of the four general steps of a UX research process.
Step 1. Discover
UX research begins with discovery. In the discovery phase, the main goal is to understand the opportunities that exist.
This is done in 2 ways:
- Firstly, you’ll engage in research exercises that observe users’ existing wants, needs, preferences, and practices.
- You’ll also work to define the needs of the business, and your stakeholders’ goals and preferences.
Together, these pieces will set the parameters of what the rest of this particular research cycle aims to achieve.
UX research methods in the discovery phase
The methods you can use in the discovery phase include various direct and indirect approaches. For example, you may perform user interviews, directly probing your users (or others in your target audience) about their current behavior, the solutions they rely on, how well those solutions are working for them, and unmet needs or ongoing frustrations they’re facing. Field studies and diary studies are other direct, small-batch approaches for qualitative insight into users.
A more indirect way to learn what users are currently doing and identify opportunities is product analytics. Product analytics combines large web usage datasets (e.g. pageviews, session times, bounce rates) with more small-scale behavioral analytics (e.g. session replay, visitor logs, frustration indicators) to uncover patterns of user behavior and unveil areas where the digital experience can be improved.
Other methods for the discovery phase include talking to sales and support staff from your organization (or analyzing any datasets they collect, if possible) to learn about common user questions, problems, and requests they receive.
Lastly, it’s a great idea during this step to research what competitors are doing, what people like about their offerings, and where they’re falling short. Competitive usability testing is a useful way to gather this information.
Step 2. Explore
The exploration phase of UX research is about collecting information that will inform the direction of the design solution.
In other words, now that an opportunity has been identified (in Step 1), the research you’ll do in Step 2 will help your organization decide what to do about it. If you started by identifying a flow with poor conversion, your exploration phase will focus on figuring out how to convert more. If it’s an opportunity to meet an unsolved user need, this step will point towards the right fix, feature, or upgrade to do so.
This step occurs alongside, and informs, the design steps of ideation and early prototyping.
UX research methods in the exploration phase
Methods in this step of the UX research process revolve around defining the details of the problem to be solved, identifying possible routes for solving it, and evaluating those early ideas.
Much of this exploration will, of course, involve user research approaches. A lot of it also involves expert review processes by you. This is the stage where you would perform in-depth task analysis, looking at the task to be performed and studying what steps are required and what information & options users will need. Relatedly, journey mapping can help you better plan out the flow that matches those needs. Design reviews of the current flows/options your platform offers (if relevant) are also useful at this stage.
The user research methods in the exploration phase generally come into play a little later, once initial attempts at a solution have begun to be developed. These might be card sorting exercises, to understand users’ mental models. They may be early-stageprototype usability tests – whether paper prototypes, wireframes, or more high-fidelity first-round prototypes.
Read more: User testing prototypes & wireframes
Step 3. Test
The testing phase occurs as your team completes final designs, builds them, and then releases the product to customers. In this phase, the goal is to validate that the chosen solution will work for users.
At this point, findings from the discovery & exploration steps should have already guided the designs being built. It’s important to remember, though, that different user insights can come out depending on development stage, level of fidelity and interactivity, and other factors.
Now that your product, feature, or fix is in development, you should keep getting feedback to ensure that you’re on the right track, and the team can make any necessary tweaks and revisions.
UX research methods in the testing phase
Most of the methods to use during the testing phase, of course, are kinds of usability testing. It may begin with testing on your interactive, high-fidelity prototypes; or, it may start with testing on your beta or staging site. Post-launch, it’s wise to run a user testing study on the live product to catch any unforeseen issues.
Ideally, your testing processes should collect qualitative data and quantitative data. Qualitative insights are critical for getting a window into users’ reactions, frustrations, likes, and dislikes, and comprehending why they think and act in those ways.
Quantitative UX metrics are valuable too, enabling you to directly compare product performance before and after, and measure the success of the experience you’ve created. Usability scores, task completion rates, user satisfaction scores, time on task, and other markers all can be used to observe and quantify improvements over time, sprint by sprint.
Step 4. Listen
The listening phase, more than just being the final step in the UX research cycle, is really a constant, long-term undertaking to observe and understand the user experience on your site.
This phase loops directly back to Step 1, as the kinds of insights gathered here will provide hints as to new areas to focus on for discovery.
To enable success in your listening phase, the best thing to do is ensure that as many channels as possible are open to keep user insights data flowing.
UX research methods in the listening phase
The channels to rely on here for collecting UX insights data comprise both active and passive types of feedback. In other words, some of the data will be generated as users actively submit thoughts, ideas, requests, complaints, and other communications to your organization.
Support tickets, for example, are a great resource for analyzing patterns of user needs and uncovering frequent problems. Similarly, talking to your sales & customer success teams can reveal regular feature requests, common bugs, and other trends from their conversations.
Another method for getting direct user inputs is running customer surveys. Running regular surveys with different segments of your user base is an easy way to learn more about what’s on their minds.
More passive types of insight are generated automatically as people use and interact with your platform. Product analytics data, for example, gives you a library of insight into the live sessions happening on your site. Event logs and search logs can also indicate commonalities in what users are doing and looking for.
Ready to begin implementing UX research methods in your organization?
Trymata and UX research
Since 2015, our mission at Trymata has been to provide tools for teams of all types and sizes to conduct efficient, valid, impactful UX research.
Our user testing suite has long been one of the leading remote user testing platforms in the industry. In addition to the expected qualitative datasets that any user testing platform will provide (user-narrated videos, post-test surveys), we have built in a variety of robust quantitative UX metrics for benchmarking your UX performance and quickly identifying areas of opportunity.
More than any competitor, our testing suite enables you to rapidly set up and fulfill your usability studies, then easily pinpoint and share critical findings.
Our product analytics suite combines the best aspects of Google Analytics with the best aspects of Hotjar and Fullstory, giving you a window into the real-life usage patterns happening on your website. You can browse libraries of actual user sessions, skim through action logs, and watch session replay videos to uncover exactly how users experience different flows on your site.
Advanced tools like rage click detection, heatmaps, and user funnels data enable you to deeply understand and analyze user behaviors, while contextualizing them in the kind of macro-level data (pageviews, bounce rates, and more) that you’d get from Google Analytics.
Not only that, but once you and your team have pushed out optimizations to your designs, you can track performance before and after to ensure that your changes are making the intended impact.
Our research repository enables you to store, aggregate, and analyze your various UX research datasets all in one place. After importing data of every kind – text, videos, images, tables, and more – you and your team can create a global tagging structure that will allow you to cross-reference UX studies and customer data spanning across time and departments.
AI-powered features like our automatic sentiment analysis help you to quickly flag areas of interest, while auto-generated discovery graphs can instantly unveil (and quantify) unexpected trends, patterns, and overlaps in your organization’s findings.
These powerful capabilities help you to get more out of your data, and avoid the limitations of siloing your organization’s research data between different teams and platforms.
Each of our digital experience insights tools is designed to improve the way people do UX research. Each tool can be used by itself to optimize one aspect of your UX research process, or they can be used in tandem to supercharge your UX research efficiency and uncover more user insights, faster.
Establishing a UX research process for your organization takes some dedication, but shouldn’t be seen as daunting or overwhelming. You don’t have to start doing it all at once.
The steps and methods outlined above represent a mature and fleshed-out research practice, and adding even one of these methods into your development cycle will already help improve your product output. As you start to build your research “muscles,” you can gradually add more complementary methods. Try to reach a point where you have at least 1-2 methods for each of the 4 UX research steps.
The more you take research seriously and create room and intention for it within your organizational processes, the more your entire business will benefit. The ROI of UX research has been shown over and over again; it increases engagement, drives conversion, and buoys retention. It makes for happier customers, who generate more word-of-mouth marketing for you, and it saves time for your support and QA teams.
As you begin conducting your own UX research, you will surely observe these benefits yourself and see how worthwhile UX research really is.
Get started with UX research today!