Research Methods

Research MethodDefinitionSource
Field study
Field studies are research activities that take place in the user’s context rather than in your office or lab. The range of possible field-study methods and activities is very wide. Field studies also vary a lot in terms of how the researcher interacts (or doesn’t) with participants. Some field studies are purely observational (the researcher is a “fly on the wall”), some are interviews in which the questions evolve as understanding increases, and some involve prototype feature exploration or demonstration of pain points in existing systems.
Diary study
A diary study is a research method used to collect qualitative data about user behaviors, activities, and experiences over time. In a diary study, data is self-reported by participants longitudinally — that is, over an extended period of time that can range from a few days to even a month or longer. During the defined reporting period, study participants are asked to keep a diary and log specific information about activities being studied.
User interview
User interviews are where a researcher asks questions of, and records responses from, users. They can be used to examine the user experience, the usability of the product or to flesh out demographic or ethnographic data (for input into user personas) among many other things.
Stakeholder interview
Stakeholder interviews are one-on-one conversations with people who have a vested interest in the success of the product you’re working on. A stakeholder is anyone within an organization who can offer useful advice about the product and ultimately help simplify the design process.
Requirements & constraints gathering
Requirement Gathering is the first step in the UI/UX process—it is considered the base of the project. A crucial opening step in the product development process, Requirement Gathering brings all involved parties together, both from the UI/UX team and the customer team, to discuss all the project’s goals and details.
Competitive analysis
A competitive analysis provides strategic insights into the features, functions, flows, and feelings evoked by the design solutions of your competitors. By understanding these facets of competitors’ products, you can strategically design your solution with the goal of making a superior product and/or experience.
Design review
A design review is a usability-inspection method in which (usually) one reviewer examines a design to identify usability problems. The phrase “design review” is a broad term that encompasses several methods of inspection — in each, the level of inspection varies depending on who is doing the review and the review’s goals.
Task analysis
Task analysis is the process of investigating the tasks users complete to achieve a desired goal or outcome.
Journey mapping
A visualization of the major interactions shaping a user’s experience of a product or service.
Prototype feedback & testing
A prototype is a primitive representation or version of a product that a design team or front-end-development team typically creates during the design process. The goal of a prototype is to test the flow of a design solution and gather feedback on it—from both internal and external parties—before constructing the final product.
A visual sequence of a specific use case or scenario, coupled with a narrative.
Card sorting
Card sorting is a method used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a site. In a card sorting session, participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them and they may also help you label these groups.
Qualitative usability testing
Qualitative usability testing focuses on collecting insights, findings, and anecdotes about how people use the product or service. Qualitative usability testing is best for discovering problems in the user experience.
Benchmarking testing
UX benchmarking is the process of evaluating a product or service’s user experience by using metrics to gauge its relative performance against a meaningful standard. These metrics are usually collected using quantitative usability testing, analytics, or surveys.
Accessibility evaluation
Accessibility evaluations identify barriers that prevent a person from using a product or service as it was intended. Accessibility evaluations are typically performed for two reasons: to document a product or service’s conformance with legal requirements, and to understand how to improve access for people with disabilities.
A survey is a set of questions used to collect topic-specific information from a representative sample of your target audience.
Analytics review
Analytics data describe what people are doing with your live product — where they go, what they click on, what features they use, where they come from, and on which pages they decide to leave the site or app. This information can support a wide variety of UX activities. In particular, it can help you monitor the performance of various content, UIs, or features in your product, and identify what doesn’t work.
Search-log analysis
Search engines can produce a log (text file) containing a list of all the questions and terms that users type into the search tool. Search-log analysis can help stakeholders empathize with site visitors, because the data shows people struggling to find what they need. This information can help gain support for improving the website, because it usually illuminates problems that are frequently encountered and difficult to fix without doing significant work.
Frequently-asked-questions(FAQ) review
A usable website FAQ can improve products, services, information, and user experience as part of your knowledge management process. Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.s, FAQs or Q&As), when done well, deliver a lot of value not only to your website visitor but also to your organization.
Cognitive walkthrough
An evaluation method in which people work through a set of representative tasks and ask questions about the task as they go.
Contextual inquiry
Contextual inquiry is a type of ethnographic field study that involves in-depth observation and interviews of a small sample of users to gain a robust understanding of work practices and behaviors.
Dot voting
A simple voting exercise to identify a group’s collective priorities.
Five whys
An iterative process for identifying the root cause of a problem by posing the question “Why?” at least five times to help separate symptoms from causes.
Heuristic evaluation
Heuristic evaluation is a process where experts use rules of thumb to measure the usability of user interfaces in independent walkthroughs and report issues. Evaluators use established heuristics (e.g., Nielsen-Molich’s) and reveal insights that can help design teams enhance product usability from early in development.
Hopes and fears
An exercise that quickly surfaces a group’s hopes and fears for the future.
KJ method
A facilitated exercise in which participants list their individual priorities onto cards, collect them as a group, organize them by relationship, and establish group priorities through individual voting.
Affinity mapping
Affinity diagramming is also known as affinity mapping, collaborative sorting, snowballing, or even card sorting. Affinity diagramming refers to organizing related facts into distinct clusters.
Content audit
A listing and analysis of all the content on an existing website (including pages, files, videos, audio or other data) that your users might reasonably encounter.
Interface audit
A listing and analysis of all the components, design patterns, and interface features of an existing website (including typography, color, graphics/illustration/icons).
Mental modeling
A mental model is what a user thinks they know about how to use a website, mobile phone, or other digital product. Mental models are built in a user’s brain and people reference them to make their lives easier. By referring to what they already know from their past interactions with another weather app, for example, the user can streamline their interactions with a new weather app.
Task flow analysis
A step-by-step analysis of how a user will interact with a system in order to reach a goal. This analysis is documented in a diagram that traces a user’s possible paths through sequences of tasks and decision points in pursuit of their goal. The tasks and decision points should represent steps taken by the user, as well as steps taken by the system.
Multivariate testing
A test of variations to multiple sections or features of a page to see which combination of variants has the greatest effect. Different from an A/B test, which tests variation to just one section or feature.
Visual preference testing
A method that allows potential users to review and provide feedback on a solution’s visual direction.
Focus Group
Focus Groups consist of a group of between 5 and 10 users who work with a moderator/facilitator/researcher. The moderator will pose questions from a script to the group. Their answers are recorded, sometimes by the moderator sometimes by an observer or observers, and then analyzed and reported on at the end of the process.
System Usability Scale (SUS)
The System Usability Scale (SUS) provides a “quick and dirty”, reliable tool for measuring the usability. It consists of a 10 item questionnaire with five response options for respondents; from Strongly agree to Strongly disagree.
Eye Tracking
Eye tracking involves measuring either where the eye is focused or the motion of the eye as an individual views a web page.
Context of Use Analysis
Collecting and analyzing detailed information about the intended users, their tasks, and the technical and environmental constraints. The data for a context of use analysis can be gathered using interviews, workshops, surveys, site visits, artifact analysis, focus groups, observational studies, and contextual inquiry.
Longitudinal Study
A longitudinal study captures data over a period of time (days, week, months, or years) to understand the long-term effects of changes in products, processes, or environment.
Ethnography is a type of field study, and it’s differentiated from other types of field studies in that, at its roots, it’s based on the researcher living, working, and immersing in the environment they’re studying.
Cultural Probe
Cultural probes are a qualitative research tool, where open ended activities are given to a group of participants to learn more about their daily lives and environment. They start conversations amongst designers and bring novel insights.
Participant Observation
Participant observation is a traditional ethnographic method in which the researcher joins a group and participates in their activities. The researcher observes and interacts with group members while performing the same activities.
Photo study
A sample of users are given a set of "missions" to take photos to highlight important aspects of their lives and day to day context. These may be of things that they value, cause problems, that generate certain feelings, etc. Data from these studies helps highlight opportunities for new technologies and barriers to their acceptance.
Phone Interview
A semi-structured or structured interview that is conducted over a phone or Internet audio line. Phone interviews can supplement other HCI methods and allow HCI specialists to follow users over an extended time.
Cognitive mapping
A cognitive map is any visual representation of a person’s (or a group’s) mental model for a given process or concept.
Behavioral mapping
Behavioral Mapping at its core is a systematic observation and tracking of people's behavior over space and time. The tracking may focus on either the behavior of multiple people in a particular place as in place-centered mapping or that of a particular individual as in individual-centered mapping.
Concept mapping
A concept map is a graph in which nodes represent concepts and are related through labeled, directed edges that illustrate relationships between them.
Content Analysis
Content analysis is an essential part of many UX design projects that involve existing content. Examples of such projects include migrating a Web site to a new platform or design, merging multiple Web sites into one, or assessing Web content for reuse in a new channel.
Fly-on-the-wall observations
Fly on the wall research is an observational technique that allows a researcher to collect data by seeing and listening. Usually researchers employ this method to gain insight into people, environment, interactions and objects in a space. It is the primary responsibility of the researcher to stay completely unnoticed during the observation so as to not bias the participants in any way.
Kano Analysis
The Kano model is a theory of product development and customer satisfaction developed in the 1980s by Professor Noriaki Kano, which classifies customer preferences into five categories. It provides techniques to help us understand customers’ perspectives on product features by assessing two measures for each feature: the satisfaction and sentiment. The responses to these two measures will fall into one of the five categories: Attractive, Performance, Indifferent, Must-Be, Undesired.
Laddering questions help you direct your research in order to get the most valuable information from interview subjects. This can help you expand the remit of the research or to focus it to where the roots of problems really lay.
Mind Mapping
Mind Map, currently a broad term that identifies a visual representation of a sequence of thoughts, a concept, a system or a process. Depending from the context and from the final goal, these kinds of visual representations can come in different versions, but at their basics, they are made of words and connecting lines: the first ones represent the objects, the second ones represent the relations between the objects.
Literature review
A Lit Review is a survey of the available published information on a particular topic. A simple review can be composed of just a summary of sources but often includes an overview of the information available and a synthesis of the major findings.
Participatory design
Participatory design is an approach to design strategy that brings customers into the heart of the design process. Also known as “co-creation”, “co-design”, or “cooperative design”, it emcompasses techniques useful to both initial discovery and subsequent ideation phases of a project, where the end-users of a product, service, or experience take an active role in co-designing solutions for themselves.
Image Boards
Mood boarding is a UX research technique to shape digital landscapes by gathering various closely-related design ideas and concepts.
Flexible modeling
Flexible modeling is a participatory design method that allows users to configure a software interface, product, or environment from a set of predetermined feature elements provided by the designer or researcher.
Case studies
Qualitative case study is a research methodology that helps in exploration of a phenomenon within some particular context through various data sources, and it undertakes the exploration through variety of lenses in order to reveal multiple facets of the phenomenon.
Customer experience audit
A customer experience audit maps out the journey of your customer through multiple channels. The customer journey describes the collective series of interactions, both online and offline, a particular segment or target audience might engage in at different stages of the customer lifecycle: an email, an encounter with a salesperson, subscribing to a loyalty program, etc.
One way to crowdsource both ideas for new features and Quality Assurance on what you already have is to turn your “to-do” list inside out. Rather than keeping it private and internal, you make it transparent and invite others to help you catalog issues and requests.
Design Ethnography
Design Ethnography is aimed at understanding the future users of a design, such as a certain service. It is a structured process for going into depth of the everyday lives and experiences of the people a design is for. The inten­tion is to enable the design team to identify with these people, to build up an empathic understanding of their practices and routines and what they care about.
Design workshops
Co-design workshops help designers partner with users to include their perspective in knowledge development, idea generation, and product development.
Desirability testing
Desirability studies play an important role in discovering your customer’s potential attitudes and emotional responses toward a prototype’s visual design direction.
Design Charette
A charrette is a method of collaborative design in which stakeholders deliberate on a project or issue in order to resolve conflicts and plan solutions.
Ergonomic Analysis
Embedding ergonomic consideration into product/machine/equipment/component design as well as work environment taking into account both psychological and physical needs of user helps to enhance user efficiency, satisfaction and productivity.
Artifact Analysis
Artifact Analysis is a process by which an artifact is used to better understand its users and the culture in which it typically exists. It also serves as an opportunity for a design researcher to systematically generate insights and inspiration for future product/service designs.
Personal inventories
Personal inventory is a study of relationships individuals develop with the things at their home or workplace. This method uses information about people’s relationship with physical and digital products to design of prototypes or models. Personal inventory also helps to determine the perceptions and values of people.
Picture cards
Picture Cards can be used as an effective aid during interviews. The images and or captions on the cards usually relate to general life scenarios or task specific scenes. In a picture card interview the participant may be asked to recall an event, situation, task or story by collating the cards in groups. The interviewer may then pick out cards and ask the participant to elaborate.
Business origami
The goal of business origami is to have end users create a “map” of the various people involved in the ecosystem surrounding a specific product, design, or other solution.
A/B Testing
A/B testing (also known as split testing or bucket testing) is the act of running a simultaneous experiment between two or more pages or screens to see which performs the best. And by ‘performs’ we usually mean converts.
Collaging is a projective technique by which participants select images that represent how they feel about a particular topic. The participants then explain to the moderator the reason they chose each image.
Critical incident technique
The critical incident technique (CIT) is a research method in which the research participant is asked to recall and describe a time when a behavior, action, or occurrence impacted (either positively or negatively) a specified outcome (for example, the accomplishment of a given task).
Directed storytelling
Directed storytelling allows designers to easily gather rich stories of lived experiences from participants, using thoughtful prompts and guiding and framing questions in conversation. Directed storytelling is rooted in the social science method of narrative inquiry, whereby researchers understand people and document their experiences from the personal stories they tell.
Experience sampling method
Experience sampling methods (ESM) fall under the remote research methods category. ESM are conducted quickly and on the spot. For example, the user may receive a survey on their smartphone as soon as they interact with an app. The immediacy of this brief questionnaire provides the researcher with data that is fresh and likely to be more relevant due to the recency of the user’s experience with the app.
Examining an independent variable (designs) and looking at the effects on a dependent variable–higher completion rates, faster task times, reduced calls to support or more conversions, for example.
Graffiti walls
A graffiti wall is a temporary canvas where people can write and sketch responses to a specific prompt or question as they pass through a shared location.
The love letter & the breakup letter
Instead of directly asking people what they like or don't like about a particular brand, product or service, this method gives insight into their perceptions by eliciting feelings based on real-life experiences and interactions through writing a love or breakup letter.
Participatory Action Research
Action research is a participatory process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes. It seeks to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people, and more generally the flourishing of individual persons and their communities.
Automated Remote Research
Unlike moderated research, automated research does not involve any conversation between the researcher and the participants. Instead, you use online tools and services to collect information automatically.