Guest Column | April 9, 2021

How To Conduct UX Research And Why It Matters

By Jen Walsh, Sr. Director of Design and Research, Tallwave

customer experience

We have all heard about the importance of a good User Experience (UX), but do you know what it takes to improve it? And better yet, do you know how to conduct UX research to inform such improvements? This process brings together the work of understanding your users, designing for them, and testing to ensure your product meets their needs. It’s an extensive practice, of which many pieces are often overlooked due to a lack of expertise or time. But to get widespread user adoption and high rates of retention, UX research can’t be hurried or skipped. Here’s why, and how to do it properly.

Revealing The Full Picture

The most useful UX research includes a variety of methods to gain a 360-degree view of your users. This is often where a breakdown starts to happen, as organizations mistakenly think they already have this information or can guess what their users need and want. But making even informed assumptions at best—or completely guessing at worst—will fail to give you a true picture of your users. Instead, you need cold, hard research that can be validated.

The first type is quantitative research which most often comes in the form of surveys—whether they’re online, paper-based, mobile, or kiosk surveys—as well as website questionnaires, online polls, and more. Quantitative research is typically easier to conduct en masse and can give you a greater volume of data and access to widespread trends.

Next, qualitative research helps you to pull back the curtain on the attitudes and behaviors of users, especially in matters that don’t neatly fit into multiple-choice surveys or numerical measurements. This is the area in which behavioral observations are made through practices like contextual observation, ethnographic studies, interviews, and moderated usability tests. But qualitative data isn’t enough on its own; it’s best when paired with quantitative research. The two types complement each other and using them together is the only surefire way to get a truly complete picture of your users.

The Power Of Observation

Ethnographic studies—a type of qualitative research—are particularly useful. While not often practiced, this method involves sitting with users for a day and watching them use a product in their normal environment. It accounts for the users’ typical environment since a lot of factors can impact how they use an app or website.

For example, when you launch an app, users may say they’re using it well but people learn and teach themselves how to get around barriers. You won't see them do that unless you’re sitting there watching. You might discover that users are using two or three tools outside the app to supplement it. You wouldn’t see this unless you sat with them but doing so illuminates their experience gaps and leads to opportunities for improvement. In addition to observation, ongoing testing is a powerful way to understand how users’ behaviors evolve.

Test For Success

Testing can (and should) take place throughout the design process after the majority of your UX research is underway. Moderated user testing is particularly effective since it allows you to interact with your participants and tap into the subtleties that other testing methods may not reveal. Unmoderated user testing also can be useful, especially when you have time or geography-based constraints. It can be done anywhere, virtually any time, and with quick access to feedback. A/B testing is another favorite method since it compares two possible designs or functions and then measures which is preferred. It’s like including your users as part of your collaborative team.

UX analytics are also really helpful. Tools like Pendo or HotJar allow your UX group to observe user behaviors digitally. Anonymous user sessions can be captured so you can see how they are working within a website or app. This may not tell the full story, but it does allow you to identify potential issues and go investigate them.

Continuous Improvement

All too often, a product launch is seen as the finish line for UX research. But this is an unproductive and limiting mindset. Consider implementing a continuous improvement program as soon as an app or website has launched. For example, my team conducts a cyclical process in which we keep track of our UX optimization tools and Google Analytics to monitor user behavior and ensure that the product is performing how we intended it to during design.

We look through the data, user sessions, and conversion funnels to zero in on specific areas within the app where users might be getting hung up or quitting. If we’re seeing that sort of red flag in the data, we dig in deeper. We work to identify, diagnose, and fix issues at this point. We may also use A/B testing, as well as surveys, polls, and interviews to support the process.

As you can see, UX research and the subsequent testing and continuous improvement that follow it are often time and labor-intensive. You can start small, and incrementally ramp up research efforts — any investment you make will be worth it to delight users for years to come. In other words, all the work to conduct research and testing is worth it.