The 6 Stages of User Experience (UX) Research

User Experience (UX) is an area of Digital Marketing and Web Design that is getting more attention in recent years. UX can be described as the process of designing (digital or physical) products that are useful, easy to use, and delightful to interact with. It’s about enhancing the experience that people have while interacting with your product, and making sure they find value in what you’re providing. To investigate whether your existing website is user friendly or before planning a new website or App you may want to undertake some research. The following article will go into detail of each step of a User Experience  Research Project.

So you’re going to embark in a new User Experience (UX) Research project, which you expect to provide actionable data on how users interact with your site in order to improve engagement. Before you start, let me tell you you’re in for a ride, a fascinating one at that, but in an equal measure extremely challenging. It may very well become your main source of stress if you do not plan ahead.

Bearing that in mind, here are 6 things you need to think of and subsequently plan for, before even starting. Remember, planning ahead will save you countless hours of trying to make sense out of the data you are collecting and figuring out what you’re missing or worst still, realising half way through your research that you did not need it in the first place.

 Research Objectives for UX research1. Research objectives –

Write down the primary and secondary objectives for the research!

Putting pen on paper and writing down your research objectives is the starting point for any research project. You need to know what you’re aiming to do before even thinking of the rest of the assignment. Although it may sound like a straightforward task, you’ll quickly find yourself putting so many things on the list that it becomes an big process to manage in itself. Remember that your research objectives will act as the guide for everything that follows, so it’s of paramount importance that you’re settled on your primary and secondary objectives before you move on.

The following will guide you in what you should aim for before progressing to the next stage:

Perform exploratory analysis about the requirements of users:

Bias is the main enemy of every researcher, in any field of study. To eliminate any trace of it while dotting down the research objectives, the first step is to know what your intended target audience aims to see, experience and do in a site. There is little point of steering the whole project in one direction if you’re users are not interested in it. Remember, we’re talking about User Experience not Site Owner Intended User Experience!

Develop a hypothesis or set of hypotheses – Evaluate whether your main objectives are being addressed.

After you have dotted down your research objectives you must start to think about hypothesis (link to definition). This is or are, in the case of having multiple, the statements that in one single phrase incorporate the research objectives, the target audience and variables you are going to be developing your research on. If you’re a newbie into UX research, or scientific research of any type as a whole, it might be worth limiting the number of variables as much as possible. Stick to one or two at the most. Multivariate research/testing of any kind requires advanced skills, time and effort. In any case, it’s always easier to handle the less amount of variables possible.

Design your UX research framework

The next step is for you to design your UX research framework, basically a detailed plan of everything you aim to do throughout the study and how you intend to do it. Write it down in an orderly and well-presented fashion…organisation is key. The more organised you are at this stage, the leaner the whole research process will become.

Test your assumptions so to make sure that you’re on the right track.

This should not be considered to be a standalone phase, but one that is to be carried out throughout the life-cycle of the research. Do not assume anything, UX is based on data not assumptions!

2. DataData: Quantitative or Qualitative?

Data is what you’re going to base your findings  on, hence it’s of paramount importance that you have not only the right quantity data but also the right king of data.

This stage will be of course part of your framework design, but for the sake of this blog I’ve broken it into another a further step.

If UX research is about users, and the way to understand their behaviours within your site is data, then the next obvious question is: What kind of data? To try and cover all possible angles I recommend that you gather the following:

Quantitative data:  

Quantitative research tends to deal with bigger numbers and large sample sizes.It intends to answer questions like: What are people doing? How many people are doing it? How often do they do this behavior?

Qualitative data: 

Qualitative research has more to do with observing people’s behaviour. Due to this in depth personal approach smaller sample sizes are most often than not used to answer questions along the lines of “Why are people doing X?” and “Why aren’t they doing Y?”

3. TestingUX Testing: Lab environment or web based testing

Now it’s time to test your hypothesis, following your research study design in order to collect the combinations of qualitative and quantitative data you require to prove or discard your initial assumptions.

There are two main ways of gathering data and testing your hypothesis:

You can perform your research in a Lab Environment:

This type of testing is where you bring people into a controlled environment to immerse themselves into your site with little or no external influence. A very type of lab environment research approach are the so-called ‘focus groups’.

As ever, there are benefits and disadvantages, which I have tried to simplified below:

  • Benefits:

    • You control the external variables
    • You can directly observe the users
    • You can gather great amounts of qualitative information about why they do what they do
  • Disadvantages:

    • Time consuming: Both in terms of planning and conducting the research
    • Can be costly: If you don’t have a ‘lab’ or controlled environment at your disposal, the costs of renting such a facility can be costly

Web Based Testing:

This is when participants are involved in a research study from their own location and participate via the web

  • Benefits:

    • Fast
    • Low-cost
    • Can get information about personal computers preferences, set up,
  • Disadvantages:

    • You miss out on the human side of the participants, by not being able to see expressions, body language and general non-verbal information

4. Communication with participants:UX Researcher and study participant communication

Another issue to bear in mind when approaching UX research, and testing in particular is the sort of communications that you as the researcher (or researchers) and the participants in the study will have. Depending on the overall design of the study, you might opt to have some sort of interaction with participants in order to gain further insights, troubleshoot, or provide guidance within predefined boundaries as to not affect the results of the tests. There are two types of communication possible:

Asynchronous communication:

Communication between researcher and participants is delayed. An example of this would be when a given set of participants is given a set of tasks and must record their actions, experiences and comments in a logbook, which is then handed over to the researcher. The researcher then browses through the information and extracts the usable data.

Synchronous communications:

Communications between researcher and participants is done in real time. An example would be when within a controlled testing environment, the researcher is readily available to be contacted at any moment in time.

Some times the researcher would prefer to be an anonymous observer recording information. This is generally done when a site is already live and you want to evaluate the response from users within their own environment to eliminate as much bias as possible (Eg.: Landing Page A/B, MVT Testing)

5. Manners of testingUX Manners of testing

Very related to the the previous step is whether the testing will be conducted with guidance or without any. These two approaches are called:

Moderated

The researcher issues a set of instructions and controls hand-on the scope of the activities of the participants

Unmoderated

The researcher does not interact with the participants in any manner and observes how users behave while on the website.

6. Length of the studyUX research: How long does the study need to be?

Lastly but by no means less important is to set out the intended length of the study. Depending on the requirements and objectives initially set out a UX research can be intended to last

Single experience:

Track the users interaction with the site in a single moment in time. This is usually used when testing a very specific section of a site, such as new landing page or button design.

Longitudinal Study:

With this approach, the researcher tracks users’ experiences over time, digging deeper in the bahavioural side of things

Journey Map:

If enough time is allocated and a proper sample is identified, longitudinal study results can be aggregated and a User Journey Map can be created. It is important to note the this is a complex undertaking for anyone, experienced or not, and that user(s) behaviour across multiple channels must be tracked and then relate them to the users ultimate goal.

Interested in understanding how your users interact with your existing site or want to have a user centric future web site? contact Digital Marketing Executive, John Campbell for further details at john@imsmarketing.ie or call +353 91 739450.

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