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The Fundamentals of UX Research

UX research is critical if you want to build websites and digital products that provide outstanding user experiences.

You can’t afford to guess about your customers’ needs. The right kind of UX research can help you determine your users’ pain points and how they behave.

The insights you gain from ongoing UX research will keep your development of new products on track, as well as help you improve and refine ongoing projects.

In this article, we’ll define user experience (UX) research and learn more about how you can investigate the needs and wants of your customers to create remarkable user experiences.

If you’d like to go deeper, check out Baymard’s 550+ UX guidelines, distilled from over 71,000 hours of usability testing and UX research. With Baymard Premium’s research-based findings, you can discover what features and design patterns perform well, and which consistently cause issues.

What Is UX Research?

UX research is an investigation of your users to gather and interpret data about their behaviors, needs, pain points, attitudes, and motivations. Research is an essential step in the UX design process.

You can get the information you need to design user-centered products by asking insightful UX research questions and running experiments.

UX research tools like journey mapping, usability tests, and benchmark testing help you understand the problem you’re trying to solve and, ultimately, what your users need and want from you as a designer or developer.

Since we frequently need to design solutions for people who are different from us, conducting UX research also helps us avoid our own biases. Because it’s driven by data, user research helps product development teams put their assumptions aside and take an unbiased look at what customers are doing and thinking in the real world.

UX research helps you:

  • Identify user problems and challenges
  • Find patterns and commonalities about the way people think and behave
  • Validate or invalidate your assumptions

The UX research methodologies you choose will depend on your user experience goals, the questions you want to investigate, and the available resources.

There are two main types of UX research: quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative User Experience Research

Quantitative UX research is expressed numerically. Picture objective things like graphs, charts, and analytics reports.

This type of research is useful for understanding what's happening on a website or app from the user’s point of view.

Qualitative User Experience Research

Qualitative UX research directly assesses the behavior of users, based on observation, interviews, field studies, and usability tests.

This type of research helps break down the main user issues on a website, so that you can address them.

The Basics Steps of Conducting UX Research

You’ll follow five basic steps to conduct UX research for your projects.

Steps 1 and 2 require you to form your questions and hypotheses (so you know what you want to get from your research). The final 3 steps focus on gathering and understanding the data.

  1. Objectives: Identify the knowledge gaps you need to fill. For example, what information do you need to learn about your users and their needs, so you can start creating or refining a UX process?
  2. Hypothesis: Figure out what you believe about your users and come up with a testable hypothesis. What is the presumed outcome or result of your research? Your research methods will either prove or disprove your theory.
  3. Methods: Choose appropriate research methods based on deadlines, the size of the team, the environment, and the hypothesis.
  4. Process: Conduct the research and gather data using the methods you’ve chosen.
  5. Synthesis: Take the information you’ve collected during the research process, organize it into patterns, and translate the data into insights you can use to improve design efforts.

5 Key UX Research Methods

Let’s talk a little more about specific UX research methods. There are five primary methods for conducting UX research:

  • Usability testing
  • Card sorting
  • Journey mapping
  • Benchmark testing
  • Analytics review

1. Usability Testing

Want to see how people honestly respond to your website? Try it out with real people.

Usability testing is the process of evaluating a product by testing it with real-life users who represent your audience.

During usability tests, researchers ask participants to complete specific tasks while the observers watch, listen, and take notes about things like:

  • Whether they can find what they’re looking for and achieve the goal
  • How quickly they can achieve it
  • Whether or not they take the expected path, or if they take an unexpected detour
  • How users feel during the test. Do they feel frustrated? Delighted? Neutral?

Many usability tests use the “Think Aloud” protocol. Researchers and user experience consultants ask participants to say whatever comes into their minds as they are completing the assigned tasks. The things they say aloud might include what they are seeing, thinking, and feeling.

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2. Card Sorting

Card sorting is a fast and effective method that helps UX researchers sort a site’s information and features into a logical structure that is easy to navigate.

UX researchers write the names of items or features on cards, then give the cards to users to categorize logically. The results of the sorting exercise get used to create sitemaps that match the way users think.

3. Journey Mapping

Journey mapping is the process of creating a step-by-step visual representation of the way a user interacts with a website, along with their needs and perceptions during the interactions.

The map helps you tell the story of your customers’ experiences with your brand across all touchpoints, including email, social media, live chat, or other channels.

Using journey mapping helps you go beyond what you already know about the customer’s experience.

Visible interactions only account for a small portion of the entire customer journey. Mapping the customer journey helps your UX research team understand all of the steps customers take when interacting with your business (both the visible and invisible ones).

Once they can see the entire user journey, UX designers can align a website or app with the way users think and the actions they take.

4. Benchmark Testing

UX benchmark testing is the process of evaluating a product’s user experience by measuring it against meaningful standards (like the previous performance of earlier versions, competitors, or industry benchmarks).

Benchmarking helps you measure improvements and track progress. You can use the data you gather from this type of user-experience testing as a metric for redesigns.

Want to see how your site UX stacks up against some of the biggest companies in the world? Check out some of our publicly available benchmark collections across various industries.

5. Analytics Review

Reviewing analytics gives you quantitative information about how your users respond to your site.

You can look for issues within your site, like a high bounce rate, or get accurate data on your cart abandonment rate.

Adding an analytics review to your UX research enables you to:

  • Prevent or correct conversion decreases
  • Spot problems with traffic, content, navigation, or visual design
  • Prove or disprove assumptions about correlation vs. causation
  • Show hard data to stakeholders about research results

What Results Can You Expect from UX Research?

The UX research process has been essential to the success of the world’s biggest online retailers and e-commerce websites.

Insights from UX research can lead to:

  • Increased conversion rates
  • Better goal alignment across teams and organizations
  • Increased user satisfaction
  • Decreased design and development time

User experience research processes provide powerful insights that allow companies to understand their customers’ needs, intentions, and behaviors so that they can keep their users in mind throughout all phases of the design process.

Doing ongoing UX research can also give you valuable insights about your audience that you can use repeatedly.

If you’re looking for the best way to create experiences that meet — or exceed — customer needs and expectations, UX research needs to be at the top of your priority list.

Top Insights about UX Research for E-Commerce Websites

Want to consistently develop high-performing e-commerce sites that users love?

Baymard has synthesized data from 71,000+ hours of testing e-commerce sites with real users, and distilled it into concise design guidelines that help you improve your site’s UX performance and conversion rate.

More than 3,000 brands, agencies, researchers, and UX designers across 80+ countries use Baymard’s in-depth, research-based recommendations to provide superior user experiences for their customers.

Find out more about Baymard Premium research and tools today!