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Getting started with UX research

November 14, 2023

Elise Johnston

By Elise Johnston, Director, Strategy and Content, Breakout Studio

  • Insights
UX Design

In a successful user-centered design process, user experience (UX) research and analysis help us understand the behavior, preferences, and motivations of the user. Typically, we think about the UX research process as the first step in designing, writing, and building a website or product. Alongside initial brand and product definition, UX researchers, writers, and designers conduct interviews, audits, and a competitive analysis to better understand who we’re designing for and how we can build a seamless user experience. Beyond this initial investigation, continued research and analysis help to refine the finished product and adapt when necessary. 

From the moment you begin conceptualizing your brand to designing and launching a website or product, UX research can provide valuable insights into how your clients and potential clients are finding, perceiving, and interacting with the brand you’ve created.

The time is truly always right for conducting user research, and although it can seem intimidating, there are many ways to conduct UX research that require no advanced technical skill and can be implemented right away to learn more about your users. 

UX research methods vary widely in scope, time, and budget. If you’re building or rebuilding your website or brand identity, we’ve outlined some of the basics of UX research here to help you create a plan, determine whether it’s time to reach out to an agency partner, and, hopefully, help you get started right away with the resources you already have on hand. 

Getting started with common UX research methods

Before diving in, take some time to understand the following UX research methods and choose the approaches that make the most sense for your goals. Consider where you are in the process of designing a user-centered website or product, the resources you’re able to allocate now and in the future, and which methods will give you the most useful insights.

Typically, UX research is divided into qualitative and quantitative methods.

UX Research

Quantitative UX research involves hard data and numbers about user behavior. Some common quant methods include usability testing, A/B testing, survey data, and web analytics. 

Qualitative UX research methods are focused on gaining insights about user opinions, preferences, and perceptions. Typically, these methods include individual or group interviews with users and stakeholders, as well as secondary web research.

A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods will likely provide the most holistic understanding of your users.

Types of UX research studies and methods

Here, we’ve outlined a few of the most common methods for conducting UX research. We’ve also included some tips from the Breakout Studio content team for how to get started conducting your own research to better understand your users. 

UX Competitor audit

Competitor audit. Sometimes called a competitive analysis, a competitor audit takes a deep dive into your competitors’ websites and products to better understand your competitive landscape, take audit of UX/UI features that your audience is interacting with on those sites, evaluate targeted messaging, and it can even help your team better understand your own design and functionality preferences. 

An agency partner can be invaluable for conducting, reporting, and summarizing a thorough competitor audit. Your team can also gain some valuable insights by exploring your competitors’ websites on your own. A few suggestions for getting the most out of a simple competitor audit:

  1. Make a thorough list or spreadsheet of every competitor you’re familiar with, and conduct a thorough web search to uncover any unknown or unlikely competitors. 
  2. Include both direct and indirect competitors for a holistic understanding of your market.
  3. While investigating their websites, keep track of notable trends. Some questions to ask yourself:
    • What steps must a user take from start to conversion?
    • How is the navigation menu arranged?
    • Are there clear gaps in content, UX/UI, or accessibility?
    • What design elements are appealing, and which ones aren’t?
    • What are the primary and secondary messages on each page?

A deep understanding of the competitive landscape, and this investigative process itself, will likely spark new ideas, team discussion, and help you create a roadmap for your own website. 

UX web analytics

Web analytics. Familiarizing yourself with a tool like Google Analytics can help you get immediate, budget-friendly insights into how users are experiencing your website. Staying informed about your site data can help you better understand what web content your users are finding and engaging with, which areas are going unnoticed, and whether there are obvious pages, sections, or points along a user journey that are in need of urgent attention. An agency partner with a UX researcher or analyst can help you turn these insights into an actionable plan for user-centered web design.

Secondary research. To better understand your users, what they’re looking for, and how they perceive your brand, product, or web experience, you can start by conducting a simple online search. What are people saying about your brand and the industry? Start Googling. At Breakout Studio, this is one of the first steps our team takes when we embark on a new web project, and with a few goals in mind, a simple web search can be quite illuminating. Where should you begin?

  1. Read reviews of your product or service and compare this to reviews of your competitors. 
  2. Investigate what users are saying about your product, industry, and competitors on social media.
  3. Consider professional groups, email listservs, and chat forums. Does your product or service serve a niche industry? Where do professionals have discussions?
  4. Ideally, multiple people on your team will conduct their own research, merge their findings, and discuss.

UX Interviews

Stakeholder interviews. Conducting dedicated interviews with internal and external stakeholders at the start of any user-centered design process is essential to earning buy-in and launching a finished product on time, on budget, and aligned to core business objectives. A few considerations as you conduct interviews with key stakeholders:

  1. Are all teams accounted for in the interview schedule (e.g., management, marketing, product, development)?
  2. Identify each stakeholder’s must-have goals.
  3. Are there any essential technical issues or requirements to address right away?
  4. Take stock of key stakeholders’ visual and design preferences.
  5. What historical or business context can be obtained from each interviewee?

User interviews. The goal of a user interview is to glean qualitative information about your target audience’s experience using your website, product, or service. These are conducted individually and can be very helpful for understanding general impressions of your site and glaring gaps in a user’s path to conversion. The downside to these interviews is the small sample size. Your team gains insight from a single user at a time. The upside, however, is that these interviews are relatively easy to conduct and can be helpful for viewing your website through a fresh set of eyes. 

UX User Testing

Usability testing. Also referred to as usability studies, this type of research is similar to a user interview but conducted on a much larger scale, typically requiring a skilled research team, a lab, and participant recruitment efforts. This can be a high-cost, high-reward research tool for some organizations, but it is not necessarily appropriate or feasible for the scope of many UX design projects. A skilled agency partner can help determine whether usability testing aligns with your business objectives and budget, and they can help design and conduct a study that will be most effective for your goals.

A/B testing. This type of study compares two versions of something to determine which is more successful with your users. A common example is A/B testing for an email marketing campaign. Your marketing team sends two emails with the same goal, but they may have different subject lines or different calls to action within the body of the email. A/B testing is a formal way of tracking metrics to see which option performs better. Which subject line entices more users to open the email? Which call to action leads to higher click-through and conversion rates? 

When designing a user-centered website, an agency partner can help you set up an A/B study to compare page designs, placement of UI features, copy and messaging, or other critical components of your site. A well-designed A/B study will give you real data about how real users are interacting with your website. 

UX Survey

Surveys. If you have used the Internet, you have likely been asked to complete a survey about your customer experience or a product you’ve purchased. These surveys and questionnaires are often intended to gather insights into the behavior, preferences, or demographics of existing customers. 

The advantage of survey data is that it’s coming from real customers, and surveys can be designed to track very specific metrics related to user experience. The downside is that it’s tough to get user participation, and good survey design takes a specialized skillset. A successful survey has a clear objective, tracks a specific measurement, and makes a bid for participation at the right moment in the user’s journey. There are a number of readily available survey tools, including Google Forms, to get you started with surveying your internal team or your existing client list, and the right agency partner can help you optimize your survey or questionnaire process.

No matter where you are in the branding or design process, it’s possible to better understand your users and what they need from your product or website. A well-designed UX research plan can support your long-term design, marketing, and business objectives. Find an agency partner who emphasizes UX research at each step of the design process. At Breakout Studio, we help our clients conduct research to build brands, websites, and campaigns that center the user and drive engagement.

Our full-scale agency partners with leaders in every industry to rethink and rebuild outstanding, scalable, and effective brands. We’ll help you figure out where you stand in the industry, and we’ll design, write, develop, build, and launch a brand and website that can grow alongside you into the future.

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