October 6, 2023

User Experience (UX): User research types

In the evolving product design and development landscape, understanding the end-user has never been more critical. As businesses oriented to user centric product, user research becomes more and more important. This guide, a comprehensive walkthrough of user research, aims to arm you with the process and types of research needed to put the user at the heart of your designs.
User Experience (UX): User research types

The essence of creating user-centric products lies in the profound understanding of users' needs, preferences, and behaviors. This is especially important when you are working on B2C or B2B2C productst

What exactly is user research?

Let's start by addressing the fundamental question: What exactly is user research?

At its core, user research is about understanding the end-user. While this may sound simple, the underlying methodologies span a vast spectrum. From the broad umbrella of UX research, you have techniques that rely on observing users in their natural habitat to advanced methods involving tracking eye movements in controlled settings.

While in many product oriented companies there are User Research teams, who specialized on this type of tasks you can expect that majority of product managers, especially in small, start-up companies have to do it without specialized team.

The ultimate aim? To get a deep sense of empathy towards users, empowering creators to make informed decisions that lead to products and services people genuinely desire. It's no wonder businesses place significant value on user research—it's an one of ingredient for commercial success.

The purpose of user research is to put your design project into context. It helps you understand the problem you're trying to solve; it tells you who your users are, in what context they'll be using your product or service, and ultimately, what they need from you

Now, you might wonder if user research is the same as user testing. Here’s a clarification: user testing, or usability testing, is a subset of user research. It is specifically about understanding how users interact with a particular application. These interactions can be observed live or recorded for future examination, depending on whether the sessions are moderated or unmoderated.

Why exactly we need to do user research?

Insights from user research assist product managers in the following ways:

  • Create and assess theories concerning the future trajectory of the product.
  • Identify user issues and explore potential remedies during the initial discovery stage.
  • Minimize expensive errors through preliminary research in the discovery phase.
  • Collect concrete data to either confirm or redirect the current product strategy.
  • Determine the reasons behind the failure of a product experiment to guide future iterations.
  • Achieve consensus on key decisions by presenting both qualitative and quantitative findings.
  • Identify the most pressing unanswered questions from users ahead of the competition.
  • Establish the optimal alignment between the product and its target market.
  • Collect preliminary user feedback on new concepts prior to allocating scarce resources for development.
As you can see from benefits, it is important to perform user research on all product deveopment stages

Types of user research:

1) Qualitative vs quantitative:

User research encompasses many different techniques. Some studies might last for months, like diary studies, while others, such as five-second tests, provide quick insights. This research can be qualitative, delving deep into the motivations and preferences of users. Or it could be quantitative, offering clear, numeric data about patterns and frequencies. Often, the most enlightening research studies artfully blend both these approaches.

Overall we can look at them, as determine if we want to ask "Why?" (Qualitative) or "Count number" (Quantitative)

Read more about qualitative vs quantitative you can in this post.

For quick recap you can check this picture:

qualitive vs quantative data

2) Generative vs Evaluative user research

Generative research helps answer the question "What should we design?" by revealing user needs and opportunities. On the other hand, evaluative research answers the question "Did we design it right?" by testing and refining proposed solutions against user feedback.

Lets look in more details:

Generative User Research

Generative research, also known as exploratory or foundational research, is undertaken at the outset of a design project, typically when a new product, feature, or service is being conceptualized. It's about understanding the users' needs, desires, motivations, and challenges even before a solution is envisioned. You can see from the name, the main purpose to generate ideas.

Purpose:
  • To uncover user needs and pain points.
  • To discover opportunities for new products or features.
  • To inform the ideation phase with rich, user-centered data.

Methods:

Generative research typically involves qualitative methods to gather deep insights. Common methods include:

  • In-depth interviews: Engaging users in one-on-one conversations.
  • Ethnographic studies: Observing users in their natural environments.
  • Diary studies: Users record their activities and feelings over a period of time.
  • Contextual inquiries: Observing and interviewing users as they perform tasks in real-world settings.
Evaluative User Research

Evaluative research comes into play after some design decisions have been made, either for a new product or redesigning an existing one. It evaluates the usability and desirability of a design, prototype, or product.

Purpose:
  • To test and validate design solutions against real users.
  • To identify usability issues or areas of improvement.
  • To ensure that the product meets users' needs and expectations.
Methods:

Evaluative research can utilize both qualitative and quantitative methods. Common methods:

  • Usability testing: Users perform tasks using a prototype or product to identify usability issues.
  • Surveys: Gathering feedback on specific features or overall user satisfaction.
  • A/B testing: Comparing two versions of a page or feature to determine which performs better.
  • First-click tests: Assessing the initial action users take on an interface.
  • Heatmaps and eye-tracking: Observing where users look and click on a screen.
Overall:

In the product design and development, both types of research are essential. Generative insights ensure that the foundation is solid, while evaluative insights fine-tune the product to perfection and validate assumptions from generative user research.

3) Generative vs Evaluative user research

Attitudinal and behavioral research are two sides of the same coin, offering complementary insights. While attitudinal research uncovers the "why" behind users' thoughts and feelings, behavioral research sheds light on the "what" of their actions. Both offer unique perspectives on user behavior, preferences, and experiences. However, they target distinct aspects of the user journey and are used under varied circumstances. Lets look in more details:

Attitudinal User Research

Attitudinal research is centered on what users say. It delves into users' beliefs, perceptions, desires, and feelings. The focus is on gathering insights about users' attitudes, opinions, and stated preferences.

Purpose:
  • To understand users' thoughts, preferences, and feelings.
  • To uncover users' perceived pain points, likes, and dislikes.

Methods: Attitudinal research is largely qualitative, emphasizing open-ended queries to capture spontaneous responses. Some common methods include:

  • Surveys: Structured questionnaires that gather feedback on users' opinions and preferences.
  • Interviews: Face-to-face or remote one-on-one sessions where users share their experiences and beliefs.
  • Focus groups: Discussions involving multiple users, facilitated by a moderator, to understand collective opinions.
Behavioral User Research

Behavioral research focuses on what users do. It observes users' actual behavior when they interact with a product, service, or interface, allowing researchers to discern patterns.

Purpose:
  • To understand how users interact with a product or feature.
  • To uncover usability issues, obstacles, and points of friction.

Methods: Behavioral research can be both qualitative and quantitative. Some widely-used methods include:

  • Usability testing: Observing users as they interact with a prototype or product, to find problems early in cycle
  • Heatmaps: Visual representations of where users click, move, or scroll on a webpage.
  • First click test: variation of usability test.
  • A/B testing: Comparing two versions of the design to see which one users prefer based on their actual interactions.
  • User Analytics: Using tools like Google Analytics to gather data on user actions, page views, bounce rates, funnels etc.

4) Moderated or unmoderated user research

Difference in these 2 approaches lays down in how researcher interact with users. As you can see from the name.

Moderated User Research

Moderated research is characterized by the active involvement of a researcher or moderator during the research session.

Features:
  • Real-time Interaction: The researcher interacts with participants, guiding them through tasks, asking questions, and probing deeper into their feedback. Allows to get deeper feedback.
  • Flexibility: Allows for real-time adjustments. If something unexpected comes up during a session, the moderator can explore it immediately.
  • Clarification: Instantly address any doubts or misconceptions that participants might have.

Methods: Some common moderated methods include:

  • In-depth Interviews: One-on-one sessions where participants share their experiences, feelings, and opinions. Moderator actively listening.
  • Focus Groups: Facilitated discussions with multiple participants to gather collective feedback.
  • Live Usability Testing: Observing participants as they interact with a prototype or product in real-time asking questions and getting additional feedback.

This type of research can provide very deep observations, however associated with high cost and there is a risk of bias when user can be frustrated by researcher or give different answers.

Unmoderated User Research

Unmoderated research is more hands-off. Participants complete tasks or answer questions without real-time guidance from a researcher.

Features:

  • Flexibility for Participants: They can participate at their convenience, leading to potentially more natural responses.
  • Scalability: Large numbers of participants can be engaged simultaneously.

Methods:Common unmoderated research methods include:

  • Surveys: Structured questionnaires gathering feedback on specific topics.
  • Recorded Usability Testing: Participants interact with a product or service while recording their screen and voice.
  • Diary Studies: Participants document their experiences over a period of time.
  • User analytiks: Google analytics and other tools
  • A/B test: when analyzed clicks of users.

When Product managers do user research?

Product managers should integrate user research into various stages of product development for a multitude of reasons. Here's a breakdown of which stages require user research and why, with examples for each:

When to do user research, summary

1. Ideation Phase

Core Question:

What are the market needs, and is there a gap that our product can fill?

What are the pain points of my customers?

Why these problems exist?

Types of Research:
  • Market Surveys
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Usage analytics
  • Field studies
Example:

Suppose you're thinking of creating a DevOps tool. Initial surveys and interviews with software developers can help identify whether there's a need for a new tool and what features are currently lacking in existing products and problems they are facing that are not resolved yet.

2. Concept Validation

Core Question:

Will our product idea resonate with the target audience?

Which problem we should resolve to bring most value to the user?

Are users ready to pay money for resolving this problem?

Types of Research:
  • User interviews.
  • Focus Groups
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Testing
Example:

You might release an MVP of a cloud-based storage solution targeted at small businesses and invite a focus group to assess its utility, thereby validating or rejecting your initial concept.

3. Development Phase

Core Question:

Is the product being developed in alignment with user needs and expectations?

How do users interact with solution?

Types of Research:
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Testing
  • Usability Testing
  • A/B Testing
Example:

While developing a new feature in a cybersecurity application, you could run A/B tests to gauge the effectiveness of different interface designs in real-world scenarios.

4. Pre-launch

Core Question:

Is the product ready for market introduction, and what refinements are needed?

How do users interact with solution?

Types of Research:
  • Beta Testing
  • Feedback Loops
  • Usability benchmarking
  • Beta testing
Example:

Before launching a new API management platform, you might conduct beta tests with select clients and use the feedback to make last-minute adjustments.

5. Post-launch

Core Question:

Is the product meeting user needs, and what can be improved?

How do product performs compared to our expectations?

Types of Research:
  • Customer Satisfaction Surveys
  • Analytics Review
  • Usage analytics
Example:

After releasing a new data analytics software, you could set up automated surveys that pop up after a user has spent a certain amount of time in the application, asking about their experience.You can check what features are used.

6. Scaling

Core Question:

How does the product adapt as it reaches new audiences or markets?

Types of Research:
  • Market-specific Surveys
  • User Personas
  • Usage analytics
  • Field stydies
Example:

If you're scaling a SaaS product internationally, you might conduct market-specific research to understand the unique needs and compliance requirements of different regions.

Incorporating user research at each of these stages ensures that product managers can make data-driven decisions, optimize user satisfaction, and increase the chances of product success in the competitive IT landscape.

For steps in user research process, you can dive deeper in our next blog post.

Conclusion

User research is not a one-time activity but a continual process that should be integrated throughout the lifecycle of product development. For product managers, especially in the ever-evolving IT industry, understanding the core questions to ask and the types of research methodologies to employ at each stage is crucial. From the ideation phase to scaling the product, research offers invaluable insights that guide data-driven decisions, improve user experience, and enhance the product's market fit.

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