The role of user research in a UX audit

UX/ UI Designer

This blog explains the importance of user research within a UX audit. Looking specifically at different types of user research and when they are used, best practices when recruiting participants and how user research results are used within a UX audit report. 


1. User research and its importance in a UX audit

So, what is user research, and why is it so important? User research is usually conducted at the start of a project or audit, and it focuses on understanding user behaviour, goals, motivations, pain points and experiences. The field of user research comprises a wide range of different research methods and ways of testing, so it is essential to make sure that you are using the correct type of research to suit your needs. Within a UX audit, user research provides an understanding of exactly how your product is currently being used to get to the heart of your user’s specific needs. It enables UX researchers to build user personas to support future decision-making and ensure user-centric products are being created.


2. Different methods of user research and when to use them

As there are so many user research methods, it is essential to know which to use to ensure you are getting the most relevant and accurate insights about your product and as efficiently as possible. There are numerous ways that user research methods can be split; one of the most common ways is in a three-dimensional framework which follows the following three types of user research; Attitudinal vs Behavioral, Qualitative vs Quantitative and Context of use.


2.1 Attitudinal vs Behavioural

Attitudinal user research is used to understand what users believe or, in some cases, what they say they believe. Common examples of attitudinal research methods are card sorts, focus groups and surveys where users actively engage with the reporting of data. Surveys are one of the most widely used types of user research due to their versatility, and they are a good place to start when it comes to initial user research as they are low-cost and more time efficient. Card sorts are a more specific form of user research that focuses on a product’s information architecture. A card sort lets you understand how your user would structure or organise your content to engage with it best.  A limitation of attitudinal research is that it relies on how much information users are willing to give and how honest they choose to be. 

In contrast, Behavioural research tells you what is actually happening as you observe users interact with a product. Some of the most common examples of behavioural research are A/B testing, where different versions of the same site are presented to different users at random to test users’ reactions, eye tracking, which follows when users are actually interacting with a product and moderated user testing which means researchers can see the user’s body language as well as the attitudinal feedback they provide. 


2.2 Qualitative vs Quantitative

Qualitative research is based on user behaviours, opinions and feelings that are gathered directly through user interviews, focus groups, diary studies, social research and observations. Qualitative research provides key insights that build up an understanding of the user’s journey and experience of a product, really focusing on the how and why.

Quantitative research provides researchers with large amounts of data through numerical and statistical analysis that help measure the usability of a product, a key part of a UX audit. Some of the most common examples of quantitative research methods include analysis of task time, success rate, click rate or multiple choice questions. Quantitative research provides valuable numerical insights that are unbiased and can be easily reflected in graphs making it easy to compare results and track progress. Having defined metrics is beneficial when creating a strategy with clear goals and targets in a UX audit report. 


2.3 Context of use

Within user research, the context of use considers the user’s real-life settings. It highlights that users may act differently when in their natural environment compared to a test environment. During an in-context study, a researcher observes user behaviours in their real-life setting; often, participants in this type of study are not given tasks to perform. 

Context studies, diary studies and field methods are beneficial during a project’s discovery stage. They help build a true understanding of users’ experiences and where there is room for improvement. They are also helpful when developing user journey maps, scenarios and personas.  


3. How user research can inform the creation of personas and user scenarios

Having a wealth of user research is invaluable when creating accurate personas and user scenarios. The results provide a thorough understanding of the user’s actual experience, current behaviour and pain points, and what they want to achieve. This enables UX researchers to build out user personas and scenarios focusing on accurate user experience data, accounts and observations rather than assumptions.


4. Best practices for recruiting and managing participants in user research

One of the hardest parts of user research can be recruiting participants. This is because it is important to ensure you involve users representative of your target audience. One way to do this is by using screener surveys; screener surveys quickly gather information about potential participants and allow you to prioritise those that meet the criteria for your research. Using a screening process helps to ensure that you get results that benefit your user, it will help you reduce bias, and it also means being as cost-effective as possible in the next stage of your user research. 

When recruiting participants, it is important to be aware that there may be biases within your recruiting process. It is best to avoid using colleagues, friends or UX professionals in your research as they may either know too much about the subject or may be reluctant to be completely honest about your product.


5. Analysing and synthesising data from user research to identify pain points and opportunities for improvement

Once the initial user research has been completed, you can start to analyse the raw data, identifying valuable information relevant to your product and user experience. Synthesising your research into key findings and insights will highlight user pain points backed up by either quantitative or qualitative data, meaning you can provide evidence-based next steps and opportunities for improvement.


6. Using user research findings to guide the design and development of an e-commerce website

With your knowledge of your users’ pain points, expectations and experience while engaging with your product, you can realign your business strategy to focus on your users’ needs. User research can also provide you with metrics that you can use to measure the success of your new strategy. 

An example is when you are developing an e-commerce website, you can use quantitative user research, such as task completion and click-through testing, to identify pain points. Through this research, you could discover that you have a high user drop-off rate during the checkout, so you know you need to improve your check-out flow or that users cannot navigate through your site and need to look at your sign-posting. Once you have identified user pain points, you can use qualitative user research, for example, user interviews or focus groups, to understand how to improve the user journey and what your users need and expect. Once you have implemented design changes, you can track their success by conducting further user testing using your pre-defined metrics and comparing the results. This ensures you are developing solutions that meet the user and business needs. 



User research is an integral part of a UX audit; it helps researchers to understand how your product is being used and gets to the heart of user needs and pain points. It enables UX researchers to create valid user personas that represent key target audiences to support future decision-making. And, importantly,  provide evidence-backed, actionable, user-centric design recommendations to guide your product and improve usability going forwards. 


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