UX Research is one of the key activities of the UXDT Division of National Informatics Centre. It encompasses a variety of investigative methods used to add context and insight to the design process. The main goal of design research is to inform the design process from the perspective of the end user. The purposes of UX and user-centered design are to design with the end-user in mind; and it’s research that tells us who that person is, in what context they’ll use this product or service, and what they need from us.
UX research has two parts: gathering data, and synthesizing that data in order to improve usability. At the start of the project, design research is focused on learning about project requirements from stakeholders, and learning about the needs and goals of the end users. Researchers will conduct interviews, collect surveys, observe prospects or current users, and review existing literature, data, or analytics. Then, iteratively throughout the design process, the research focus shifts to usability and sentiment. UX research methods can be divided into two camps: quantitative and qualitative.
- Quantitative research is any research that can be measured numerically. It answers questions such as “how many people clicked here” or “what percentage of users are able to find the call to action?” It’s valuable in understanding statistical likelihoods and what is happening on a site or in an app.
- Qualitative research is sometimes called “soft” research. It answers questions like “why didn’t people see the call to action” and “what else did people notice on the page?” and often takes the form of interviews or conversations. Qualitative research helps us understand why people do the things they do.
Common Methodologies for UX Research:
The various types of UX research range from in-person interviews to unmoderated A/B tests (and everything in between), though they are consistent in that they all stem from the same key methodologies: observation, understanding, and analysis. We undertake on one or more of the following for a research goal:
- Observation: The first step to conducting research is learning to observe the world around us. Observation may seem like a simple skill, but it can be clouded by unconscious biases—which everyone has. Design researchers train themselves to observe and take notes so that they can later find patterns across seemingly diverse groups of people.
- Understanding: Much like observation, understanding is something we do all the time in our daily lives. Design researchers need to understand the mental models of the people they interview or test, for two reasons. First, we all speak in shorthand at times. Researchers must recognize that shorthand based on the mental model of the speaker. Second, if the researcher can accurately identify the user’s mental model, he or she can share this information with the design team, and design to accommodate the model.
- Analysis: Analysis is the process by which the researcher identifies patterns in the research, proposes possible rationale or solutions, and makes recommendations. Some analysis techniques include creating personas or scenarios, describing mental models, or providing charts and graphs that represent statistics and user behaviors.
- Interviews: One-on-one interviews are a tried and true method of communication between a researcher and a user or stakeholder.
- Questionnaires and surveys: Questionnaires and surveys are an easy way to gather a large amount of information about a group, while spending minimal time. These are a great research choice for projects that have a large and diverse group of users, or a group that is concerned with anonymity.
- Card sorts: Card sorts are sometimes done as part of either an interview or a usability test. In a card sort, a user is provided with a set of terms, and asked to categorize them. The goal of a card sort is to explore relationships between content, and better understand the hierarchies that a user perceives.
- Usability testing: Usability testing involves asking potential or current users of a product or service to complete a set of tasks and then observing their behavior to determine the usability of the product or service. This can be done using a live version of a site or app, a prototype or work-in-progress, or even using clickable wireframes or paper and pencil.
- Tree test: Just as card sorts are a great way to gather information before a website’s architecture has been created, tree tests are helpful in validating that architecture. In a tree test, users are given a task and shown the top level of a site map. Then, much like in a usability test, they are asked to talk through where they would go to accomplish the task. The goal is to identify whether information is categorized correctly and how appropriately the nomenclature reflects the sections of the site.
- A/B testing: A/B testing is another way of learning what actions users take. An A/B test is typically chosen as the appropriate research form when designers are struggling to choose between two competing elements. Whether the options are two styles of content, a button vs. a link, or two approaches to a home page design, an A/B test requires randomly showing each version to an equal number of users, and then reviewing analytics on which version better accomplished a specific goal.