What is UX research?

UX research (user experience research) is the practice of studying user interactions to discover their wants, needs and motivation. Sometimes called design research, it is used throughout a digital product design process. It helps product teams:

  • recognise and prove or disprove their assumptions
  • determine the commonalities across their target audiences
  • identify the users’ goals, needs, and wants
  • constantly improve the product

UX research has evolved quickly in recent years. Previously, it was considered a specialised discipline but is now seen as something everyone within the organisation can participate in, becoming more commonplace even in small businesses.

It’s no longer just confined to the design department. It is valuable throughout the whole product lifecycle. For digital product teams, the research helps validate prototypes and concepts. For marketing teams, it helps test the brand design and messaging before a launch.

UX Research Methods

This is broadly divided into quantitative and qualitative research.

1. What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is often termed as “soft” research. It allows digital product teams to understand people’s motivation and behaviour. And the answer is usually subjective.

It answers questions such as:

  • “Why do users want this feature?”
  • “Why didn’t users click the call to action?”
  • “What else did they view on the page?”

2. What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research is one where you can measure results numerically. It’s useful in understanding statistical possibilities and what is occurring on the website or in an app. It answers questions like:

  • “What’s the satisfaction score for this new feature?”
  • “How many users bought this product?”
  • “What percentage of visitors would visit again?”

Types of UX Research

Every UX research project is different, and the activities that one researcher uses depends on the purpose, setting, time, and other constraints. Some of the most popular types of UX research are as follows.

1. Surveys and polls

Polls and surveys are an easy means to collect a significant volume of information about a certain group, with minimal time. These are great for projects with a large and diverse group of users, or a group that wants to have anonymity. You can quickly whip up a poll using tools such as Survey Monkey or Google or shoot an email to get hundreds of responses in a short time.

2. User interviews

User interviews lets you observe and engage users, giving designers a better understanding of the way users work. Live interviews are best to gather qualitative insights. With dynamic discussions, interviewees can observe verbal and non-verbal cues and ask open-ended questions to find the details that usability testing and surveys cannot. Interviewing is a particularly valuable UX research technique for interpreting complex experiences and feelings.

3. Focus groups

Focus group sessions are moderated discussion with a select group of users, letting businesses gain insight into the users’ ideas, attitudes, and desires. It may not have the personal 1-1 engagement as a user interview but is useful for finding a collective voice for your product, especially in the early stages when you’re still figuring out the market.

4. Usability testing

Usability testing is based on asking current or potential users of a product to complete a set of activities and then analysing their behaviour and reaction. This is carried out using a prototype, a live version of a site or app, or clickable wireframes. The results tell you a lot about whether your product is easy to use, functional, or even enjoyable.

5. Card sort

Card sorts are often done as part of either a usability test or interview. In a card sort, a user is given several terms and asked to classify them. In a closed card sort, the category names are given. In an open card sort, the user creates whatever groups he or she feels are most

suitable. Cart sorting helps discover relationships between content, and understand the hierarchies perceived by the user.

6. Case studies

Case studies are highly detailed research of an actual case usage. It could be done on one user or client, or a subset of your users. The whole process, background and results are thoroughly documented to give a comprehensive look of your product.

7. A/B testing

A/B testing

8. Guerrilla testing

Guerrilla testing is a modern and bold way of testing. This is usually done in the community; at coffee shops, subway stations, or restaurants, where the target audience is asked to complete simple tasks with a website or app. You can use incentives such as vouchers, discounts, and other freebies. Guerrilla testing is considered a budget-friendly option and best used for products with a large user base.

9. Heatmap tracking

Heatmap tracking

A heat map is a graphical representation of data by colour, depicting where users clicked and viewed the most on a page. Heat maps make it easier for the product development teams to understand user behaviour fast and visualise the complex data. They can then adjust the user flow, page layout and content hierarchy accordingly.

10. Eye movement tracking

This is a usability method that discloses users’ focus points and the navigational patterns on a given software, website, or app interface. It provides product designers with detailed feedback on which interface elements are noticeable and attention-grabbing. It also efficiently evaluates the design and content hierarchy.

11. Data research and analysis

Data analysis is a broad term that encompasses the study of quantitative and qualitative data and blending both to get the most truthful findings of the users. This integration offers a holistic understanding of numerous data and is better than a single research method alone.


User research is at the heart of an exceptional user experience. But UX can be subjective—the experience that a user goes through while using the product will vary. Therefore, it is essential to know the needs and objectives of your users, the context, as well as their expectations which are exclusive for each product.

While UX research is crucial, it’s also important to make decisions and progress. Staying stuck in research phase doesn’t help anyone in the business. At the end of the day, it is about striking the right balance between informed decisions and gut feel.

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.