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Last updated on 10/3/22

Familiarize yourself with research methods

You'll use different types of research depending on the kind of information you're hoping to uncover and what stage you are in the design process. Some are qualitative (attitudes, emotions, and behaviors), while others are quantitative (metrics, data, and numbers) methods. This chapter will examine different methodologies and when you should use them. Then we'll dive deeper into many of them later in this course (and future courses as well).

You can view research across different spectrums depending on the kind of information you're looking for, from defining your problem to testing solutions on users:

  • Generative/exploratory helps achieve an overall sense of things before defining what you're solving. (Qualitative)

  • Descriptive/explanatory research has a tighter focus to help describe your area of interest/study better. (Qualitative)

  • Evaluative research involves testing prototypes and possible solutions to assess their effectiveness. It is best accomplished through usability testing or testing products on users to see if they work as intended.

  • Research can also cover the spectrum of attitudes (points of view, thoughts, emotions) and behaviors (actions, reactions).

Research methods visualized on a spectrum with 4 sections Behavioral Attitudinal qualitative and quantitative
Research methods visualized on a spectrum. 

Qualitative Methods

Here's a breakdown of qualitative methods often used by designers:

  • Competitive analysis is a critical examination of competitors, which may include a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). It helps you better understand the marketplace and offers insights into how you can differentiate your product.

  • Interviews and talking to people (users) from your target demographic are crucial to designing a product or service that users will use and understand how to use. Interviews can be formal or simple conversations.

  • Ethnography means getting out and observing users in their environment (field research) to get a better sense of context. It enables you to ask more relevant questions based on your observations.

  • Diary studies are when participants record their own video interview or play-by-play. For instance, if you're studying teenagers' habits around using online search engines for homework, you might have better luck having them film themselves rather than meet with an interviewer. Similarly, diary studies can be helpful when interviewers are not allowed behind closed doors or don't have access to the user due to location or circumstances.

  • Card sorting is a low fidelity (note cards and pen) way of mapping out the structure of something. For example, rather than having a design team dictate the navigation of a website, give potential users a set of note cards with the different website sections and ask them to organize it in a way that makes sense to them. Then, have them walk you through their approach. Here is more detail description about card sorting.

  • Usability testing is a way to test and evaluate products and prototypes with actual users. The users are given a task to complete (making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter) and walk through their thought process out loud as they attempt various steps. It allows the design team to highlight areas of confusion or see where improvement is needed.

  • Heuristic evaluation or analysis provides a checklist of principles (by Jakob Nielsen) to examine the usability of a digital product.

  • Surveys are a way to collect information when you don't have a lot of time to spend in the field. They can be used (early in the process) to confirm assumptions and gather data or gain additional insights (at any phase). The risk of surveys is that everyone you send them to will not respond. It is hard to write an effective survey but you can read about it more in an article by the Mule titled "On Surveys."

  • Eye tracking is a way to understand where eyes go on the page. It helps determine if key information is visible to users and requires technical devices. Similarly, heat maps show where the most activity happens on a web page.  

Quantitative Methods

  • Data analysis examines metrics from tools like Google Analytics or studies. For example, you can learn a lot about people's behaviors by looking at numbers for things like bounce rates (how fast people leave your website).

  • A/B testing refers to testing two (or multiple) variations of anything from a home page design to a newsletter layout. Collecting data from users to examine things like open rates can determine which variation performs better, and therefore, is more effective. 

  • Surveys and questionnaires can also be used to collect quantitative data to gain insight into how many people do something or what percentage participate in a certain activity.


Source: 12 UX Research Techniques (Quantitative and Qualitative) that you can use it includes things like surveys AB testing power and personas
Source: 12 UX Research Techniques (Quantitative and Qualitative)

Additional Resources

Let's recap! 

  • Design/user researchers are trying to determine the relationship between what people say, and what people do using various research methods.

  • Qualitative research methods examine the attitudes, emotions, and behaviors of users. (Examples include: Competitive analysis, interviews)

  • Quantitative research methods examine metrics, data, and numbers . (Examples include: Surveys, questionnaires, A/B testing)

  • Ethnography means getting out and observing users in their own environment. (aka "field research")

Now that you are familiar with the different research methods, let’s create our first research plan! 

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