How do I choose the correct UX research method?

Esmee Lewis

Junior Researcher

09 March 2023

User experience research (UX research) studies target users and their needs to supplement design processes with valuable insights. Several research methodologies can be employed to unearth insights within a user experience study, ranging from moderated usability testing to card sorting.

However, different research methods yield different types of insights. With a wealth of UX research methodologies available, it can be challenging to decide which one to use, or even a few (we recommend that more than one research method is used in triangulation). There are a few questions that your UX team should consider before deciding on a UX research method. 


Qualitative or quantitative?

Qualitative research endeavours to get to the heart of ‘why’ users feel, think and behave in relation to a digital product.


Qualitative research methodologies include:


These research methods typically obtain extended verbal or written responses to open-ended questions. For example, during unmoderated usability tests, users are recorded as they complete tasks and talk aloud while undertaking them. Depending on the software used, the user’s screen might be recorded, which allows the researcher to see their cursor movements to provide further context for what they’re talking about. Therefore, qualitative research methods such as usability testing are suitable if you would like to gain insights into users’ thoughts, feelings and perceptions as they navigate a product.

On the other hand, quantitative research measures user behaviour by answering ‘how many, how often or how much’ questions.


Quantitative research methodologies include:

  • Web analytics
  • A/B testing
  • Card sorting
  • Tree testing 
  • Eyetracking testing 
  • Surveys with closed questions 


These research methods capture pre-determined data types, such as task duration, success, or whether a user has clicked on a particular UI element. 


Attitudinal or behavioural?

Attitudinal research is a method which is used to understand a user’s feelings, thoughts and perceptions. An example of attitudinal research might involve a one-to-one user interview that asks a user open-ended questions about how they feel about a digital product and whether they could imagine themselves using it. On the other hand, an example of behavioural research would be viewing a user interact with a digital product through closed scenario tasks. To summarise, behavioural research informs researchers of what’s happening, whereas attitudinal research helps to provide reasons why this might be happening. 


While each research objective is different, it might be worthwhile to utilise both attitudinal and behavioural research methodologies as sometimes what users say they do might be different to what they do. Triangulating various methods might yield more profound and more complex insights from users. 


Phases of product development

Another crucial factor to consider when selecting a UX research method is the product development phase. For instance, in the strategising phase, the overall research goal is to pinpoint opportunities and develop an understanding of the project’s direction. These project objectives necessitate generative research methods, which include the following: 


  • Surveys
  • Participatory design
  • Field studies
  • Diary studies
  • Interviews


The following broad stage in the product development process is designing, which entails the improvement of the usability of the digital product. At this stage, formative research methods are employed, which consist of the following: 


  • Usability testing
  • Card sorting
  • Tree testing


Finally, when it is time to launch and assess the digital product, summative research methods might be used to measure the product against itself and its competitors. The following summative research methods might be applied:



Still not sure about which UX research method to choose?

Below are some UX research methods and their common usages. 


Usability testing is primarily used to test wireframes, prototypes and early-release versions of digital products. Usability testing identifies how users respond to and interact with these digital products, providing an opportunity to uncover problem areas, pain points and avenues for opportunity. Read more about why usability testing should be embedded early in your product development here


User interviews can be conducted with client stakeholders, users or other key individuals. Interviews are conducted to understand participants’ perceptions, thoughts and feelings about using a digital product. User interviews can identify what site or app content is essential to users, what might be memorable, and what is causing friction. 


Surveys are typically used to gather quantitative data, but open-ended questions within surveys can serve as a source of qualitative data. Survey insights can uncover user attitudes, opinions and satisfaction levels concerning a digital product. 


Card sorting is a technique used to discover how users expect the content or functionality to be grouped within a digital product, and the outcomes of card sorting are used to inform the design of Information Architecture (IA). 


Tree testing validates a digital product’s proposed structure (IA) by asking users to select where they expect to find specific information. The results from tree testing will indicate how well users understand the proposed structure and labelling. 


A/B testing is a randomised experimentation process in which two or more versions of a variable (e.g. a webpage) are shown to website visitors simultaneously to determine which version leaves the maximum impact. A/B testing enables organisations to make data-driven considerations about what changes must be made to their digital products to optimise the user experience.


You can find out about more UX research methods in our UX glossary


While these critical factors are crucial to consider when selecting a UX research method, it always is recommended that UX research methods are used in triangulation. Diversifying the breadth of UX research methods increases the chances of obtaining more reliable and valid results as a research question is being answered from multiple perspectives (e.g. an unmoderated usability test will uncover how a user navigates a site and highlight friction points within the user experience, and an in-depth user interview will enable the user to unpack their thoughts on this experience through answering open-ended questions). As a result, insights that might not have been previously apparent could come to light and improve the data quality.


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