What is UX Research

What is User Experience Research?

By Insight Platforms

  • article
  • User Experience (UX) Research
  • User Testing
  • A/B Testing
  • Remote User Testing
  • Usability Testing
  • Heatmaps
  • Card Sorting
  • Diary Studies
  • Ethnography
  • Group Discussions/Focus Groups
  • Depth Interviews

How do users interact with your product or service in real-world scenarios?
What are their goals and motivations when using your product or service?
How intuitive and user-friendly is our product or service?

Understanding your users’ nuanced behaviors and motivations is not just a good idea—it’s essential to staying afloat. Gone are the days when prices and features solely determined the merits of a service or good. Today, the battle is won or lost based on your users’ experiences.

Enter user experience research (UXR) —studies centered around users’ behaviors, motivations, and challenges that empower organizations to tailor products to better meet user needs and uncover existing usability issues.

In our article below, we discuss that User Experience is the totality of that experience as people interact. We also have an Introduction to UX Research course that you can check out.

This article will explore how UX research is used to understand user experiences. Today, user experience research is primarily directed toward digital product development, utilizing qualitative and observational methods to identify opportunities, address issues, and refine features.

By employing various user research methodologies — such as surveys, interviews, usability tests, and more — researchers gather data about the user experience so they can create better products and services.

Why You Should Pair User Research with Market Research

The primary objective of market research is to identify and predict market trends, understand customer purchasing behavior and demand, and assess the efficacy of marketing campaigns. It’s a source of data for strategic business planning.

User research, on the other hand, is about studying the interaction between users and products or services. The focus is on user behavior, their goals, motivations, and the context in which they use the product.

Many companies choose to opt out of prioritizing user research and rely solely on market research. However, doing so risks overlooking critical insights into usability, user needs, and areas for improvement.

In the end, a product’s success is measured by its impact on users’ lives. Understanding how users perceive, interact, and utilize a product is paramount, and a product is only as good as its usability in the hands of its users. Ultimately, user research lies at the cornerstone of informed design decisions that create products and experiences that cater to user requirements.

User Research Methods & Tools

User experience (UX) researchers employ a huge variety of approaches and methods to discover different insights and goals, but the most common research methods usually fall under one of the following: qualitative, quantitative, or behavioral.

Qualitative and exploratory practices are designed to uncover insights and understandings about how people interact with interfaces and products. Meanwhile, quantitative and large-scale styles are more focused on gathering lots of data and inputs to support deeper analysis and decision-making. Behavioral and structured methods are designed to observe how people behave and respond to questions without interference.

While much of the focus in UX research tends to be on the qualitative and observational side of things, there are important analytical and quantitative methods that can support the process as well. Ultimately, the aim of effective UX research is collaboration to approach and investigate challenges from different angles and user perspectives.

Some Popular UX Research Methods

Unlike quantitative behavioral analytics, which focuses on metrics like website visits and page interactions, user interviews offer a qualitative perspective and observation of how people behave in small, hands-off settings.

User Interviews

User interviews, also known as IDIs in the realm of traditional research, aim to carefully observe user bias, expectations, and attitudes/ sentiments rather than asking interviewees to recall past behaviors or provide specific design inputs. While traditional user interviews were conducted face-to-face to capture nonverbal cues, advancements in technology have facilitated a transition to remote interviews, enabling researchers to leverage new online tools to record important contextual factors and cues digitally.

User Testing

User testing is a qualitative UX research method that involves evaluating digital products, such as websites or apps, by having users interact with prototypes or actual products. This process may be moderated or unmoderated and can occur at various stages of development, from early sketches or clickable prototypes to fully functional designs.

During testing, users are asked to complete specific tasks while providing feedback and insights into their actions, thoughts, and emotions to better understand a user’s experiences and natural product discovery journey.

Recent technological advancements have made it possible for UX researchers to conduct user testing in person or remotely while recording comprehensive observations that capture verbal feedback and nonverbal cues like facial expressions.

Remote testing platforms offer efficiency and simplicity, while in-person testing allows for direct observation and nuanced understanding.

In regard to outputs from user testing, researchers value metrics on task completion rates, duration, and user feedback to gain insights for improving product design and usability.

Interview questions are often posed before and after tasks to delve deeper into participants’ thoughts and feelings. These sessions follow a structured protocol or script to ensure consistent task completion across users.


Surveys play a fundamental role in UX research, typically involving a large group of participants who provide attitudinal feedback by answering a series of questions. Common survey formats UX researchers implement to study user experience include micro surveys, Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, In-App Feedback surveys, and Google Forms.

Micro surveys are as short as their name entails – consisting of 1 to 3 questions maximum. These surveys are presented to web users based on various activities and events occurring on a website or within an app and they are designed to gather specific feedback about particular actions or experiences. Micro surveys almost always include an “intent question” such as “What brought you to this website today?”

NPS (Net Promoter Score) surveys are also commonly embedded in websites and typically ask users to rate their likelihood of recommending the website to others on a scale from 0 to 10.

Google Form surveys are designed to be very simple external form-based surveys and questionnaires in order to gather feedback from users.

On the other hand, In-App Feedback Surveys are another form of external method that is often used by product managers or designers who don’t have the expertise to quickly craft an original survey. Platforms, like Maize, have a large selection of templates that can be used to create a variety of surveys, launched directly on a website or app.

Product Analytics

Product analytics is a very broad term that spans many different types of data about how users behave at the aggregate level and sometimes at the individual level in a website or app environment.

Google Analytics is one of the more common providers of website analysis and user behavior and offers a range of analytical tools and dashboards.

In the context of UX research, behavioral data reveals:

  • How many people are visiting a website
  • How long do they spend on a website
  • Website visitors’ journey from entering a website to their final action

Products Analytics also incorporates heat maps, a qualitative study of product analytics that offers insight on individual user’s access to a website recorded anonymized to view their mouse movements over the webpage. Heat maps are representations of how users have interacted with different components of a website by showing the trajectory of a user’s mouse during their time visiting a web page.

In the realm of UX research, heat maps are used to discover:

  • What share of people are clicking in particular areas
  • People’s mouse movements and how they interact with a web page


Ethnography is a qualitative research method used to deeply understand users’ behaviors, needs, and motivations in their natural environment. It involves immersing researchers in the users’ context through observation and interaction.

Smartphones have emerged as powerful tools for gathering insights into users’ contextual behaviors and attitudes. These methods include video capture, voice recordings, and responses to specific tasks and questions. With ethnographic insights from smartphones, UX researchers can delve into users’ lifestyles and behaviors while helping to refine design decisions effectively.

Sports brand Under Armour, for example, has also deployed a self-ethnography method that uses smartphone apps to track people’s running and fitness behavior to capture contextual insights into their target users when developing websites and online services.

Diary Studies

Diary studies are a qualitative UX research method used to capture in-the-moment and long-term insights into the habits and behaviors of users. They are able to collect feedback from a user’s shopping activity, whether they’re buying food, participating in entertainment, or performing habits and rituals.

For instance, researchers can employ diary studies to elicit open feedback through video and screen recordings while users engage in activities like applying makeup or cosmetics. Researchers can also use diary studies to schedule automated tasks and requests for input based on location or time of day, and send a text feedback request for research participant sentiments at a particular time.

Another example is how Duolingo conducted a year-long diary exercise with families raising kids to understand how their children learn in a home environment to gain feedback on improving the app’s design and development.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a similar qualitative method, that aims to investigate a group of people’s attitudinal responses to a particular topic or product.

This research practice involves gathering a small group of individuals, typically selected based on specific criteria relevant to the research objectives, and facilitating an engaging open exploratory discussion related to a service or product. Sessions are led by a trained moderator who encourages participants to share their thoughts, opinions, and experiences related to the topic at hand.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is a systematic method for analyzing user behavior and preferences by comparing two different versions of a product or design—a control and a variation.

A/B testing allows researchers to understand how users interact with different versions of a product, item, or service to identify which elements are more effective in achieving the desired outcomes. In the realm of UX (User Experience), A/B testing is valuable for measuring the effectiveness of website features and structure by prompting users to follow specific actions, such as making a purchase or downloading content, to compare how user experiences, preferences, and behaviors.

For instance, cosmetics brand Shiseido utilized A/B testing to evaluate the placement of a “buy now, pay later” option on its website. By moving this option closer to the “add to basket” button, the Shiseido team observed an increase in user engagement, with over a 120% rise in product additions to the basket.

UX research teams, product managers, and designers leverage A/B testing to validate designs and achieve desired user experience results.

Card Sorting

Card sorting is used to better structure websites by organizing related items to discover a format for optimal efficiency in presenting online information. This method explores how users naturally group information to gain insight into their mental models and preferences and can be done face- to-face, remotely, with physical cards, or even with post-it notes. Card sorting has been increasingly used as a quantitative approach as researchers are able to reach more people and therefore larger sample sizes that enhance the validity of findings.

This method is applicable at different stages of the development process, from early exploration stages to troubleshooting issues on live websites.

During testing, participants are prompted to create/ form their own groupings for cards or sort predefined cards to investigate user categorization and labeling. Open testing typically involves 20 to 30 participants sorting around 100 cards, while closed card sorting, which is more structured, may include 30 to 50 participants.

Tree Testing

Tree testing is often conducted in tandem with card sorting and is also known as information architecture validation. The goal of tree testing is to understand how the users go about finding the information that they want on a website. UX researchers utilize tree testing to ensure menu structures and website navigation are optimized and to validate existing designs.

By pairing tree testing with card sorting, researchers can examine user feedback in greater depth.

This method often involves instructing participants to complete a series of tasks or find a specific item of content on a website, and then prompting them for feedback on their experiences. The goal is to identify potential barriers or challenges within a website’s information architecture, menus, and navigation structure.

Accessibility Testing

Accessibility testing ensures compliance with legal requirements to guarantee equitable access to digital content. There has been a specific spotlight on creating standards for accessible digital content as public services continue to move towards digital means, making it increasingly important that online resources are accessible to everyone.

By evaluating websites and applications against standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), accessibility testing ensures compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers, vital for individuals with visual impairments. The WCAG’s criteria for accessibility assesses the effectiveness of accessible designs by determining if online content is perceivable, operable, discoverable, understandable, and robust (among other characteristics) to ensure the development of accessible design.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines offer a framework that can be supported by automated tools and manual processes that enable developers to detect and rectify accessibility issues promptly.

More on User Testing methods and tools here:

Competitor Analysis

Competitor analysis in UX research involves examining and evaluating the user experiences provided by competing or rival products and services to pinpoint strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas for improvement. The goal is to enhance the design and usability of one’s own offerings.

Traditional tactics include conducting extensive desk research by investigating competitor websites or shopping experiences. However, newer digital platforms like Similar Web and Data.AI are consolidated tools for the analysis of different types of data, providing insights into how often different applications and platforms are used or downloaded.

Similarweb allows users to group, analyze, and compare website traffic across different websites and potential competitors. Data.AI is a smartphone analysis provider that also enables users to group competitors to evaluate the volume of downloads, interactions, and other various types of data.

Affinity Mapping

Affinity mapping, often known as the KJK method, is a UX research technique for organizing a multitude of research ideas, insights, and features into coherent clusters. This process enables researchers to group various concepts into clusters, themes, or supergroups to discern patterns and relationships within data.

In the context of UX research, affinity mapping is valuable for identifying user segments and categorizing online activities throughout differing stages of a user journey to discover insights for website design decisions. Tools like Miro facilitate the creation of affinity diagrams remotely and allow teams to collaborate on projects and workshops seamlessly by visually organizing and synthesizing information.

A Final Note

The next time you notice that something is simple and easy to use – remember, it likely underwent a lot of testing, research, and investigation to reach that level of simplicity.

User research prioritizes users’ time, intelligence, and feedback to create experiences that empower rather than frustrate them.

A reminder to designers and businesses: You’re not just selling a product or providing a service – you’re inviting users into an experience and a better user-centered future.


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