As we have already pointed out in a previous article, well-implemented user experience design can have a positive impact on the success of websites/apps and revenues of e-commerce businesses. It has also repeatedly stressed that UX is a scientific process based on thorough research. In the rest of the article, we’ll go to examine this specific topic, which is commonly known as user experience research.
UX research is the systematic exploration of users and their requirements, needs and objectives, in order to add context and intelligence into the process of a website’s or app’s UX design. It deploys various methodologies and techniques to reach conclusions, identify problems, and uncover patterns that assist the UX design process. UX research does not attempt to understand broad frameworks or to create/improve any theories, but to investigate real-life phenomena to provide reliable evidence to UX design team, which is why it can be described as applied research.
Explaining this part is a piece of cake. In the era of e-commerce, websites and applications are perhaps two of the most valuable assets for any business. It can be devastating for any business to create a site or app that users will not find appealing and understandable. In addition to the wasted money and time, a company will most likely face major losses in customers’ trust, branding and total revenues. As far as concerns the work of UX designers, research removes assumptions from the design process. Furthermore, as it will be based on intelligence about customer needs, requirements and objectives, it will eliminate drawbacks and expensive redesign processes.
The user experience research process adopts multiple methods and a combination of techniques to answer fundamental questions around users, in order to move forward with UX design of sites and applications. Some of the most critical questions that need to be answered by any company that wants to thrive through its website or app are:
– Who are our users?
– What are their needs?
– What do they want to succeed?
– How and where(device) do they prefer to do things?
UX researchers investigate users and their demands with techniques embedded in the following research methods:
– Observation: Monitoring interactions between a website/application and users can lead the researchers to useful conclusions about the usability and the broadest UX of the site/application examined. Also, through observational methods, UX researchers can capture critical points about the level of sentiments generated through these interactions by analysing user behaviour, body language and expressions while the interaction is taking place. Before performing the observation, it is essential that UX researchers determine whether the research will be structured or unstructured and also if it will be controlled or not.
– Understanding: During the entire research process, one of the primary goals is to gain an in-depth knowledge of users’ mental models. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, the mental model is what a user believes about the system at hand. The identification of a user’s mental model is crucial, as the user shapes his future actions relative to the system (website/app) based on these beliefs and not real facts.
– Analysis: When the above steps have been completed, UX researchers will analyse the exported data to track trends and patterns related to users‘ expectations, requirements and actions. Then, they can share this knowledge with UX designers to make well-educated decisions.
The methodologies described above incorporate numerous tools and techniques. Below are some of the most effective, and broadly used, qualitative and quantitative techniques.
This technique provides valuable information for UX designers when designing or re-evaluating the information architecture or website/app. During a card sorting session, the participants or a group of participants are invited to organise the topics into categories and even more, to tag or label these categories. By taking into account the users‘ perception of the information hierarchy, designers can structure every aspect of the site, from what a homepage should include to workflows and navigation menu, in the most intuitive and useful way for their users.
During a usability test, the researchers assigned to a sample of users to complete tasks on the site or an application under review, and through observation, they can discover problems and gaps that lead to misinterpretations of experience. This method is an excellent way for UX researchers to understand how intuitive and functional a website is, and if it is easy for users to accomplish their goals on it.
A / B tests or split tests fall under the usability testing techniques. It’s a great way to compare the performance of two or more versions of a site or app. Execution is straightforward. UX researchers create two or multiple site/app designs and then analyse how the distinct variables of these versions are performing by randomly assigning users to these versions. Through A/B testing UX researchers and designers can extract useful conclusions about the performance of minor or more significant elements of a site or app, i.e. call to actions, navigation menu, information structure and layouts.
As in every other research process, surveys have a prominent role also in UX research. UX researchers typically deploy online user surveys in two ways. Firstly, it is common practice to interrupt consumers during their visit on the site under investigation using a questionnaire in banner format. The second method is to invite targeted users to participate in a survey, usually by offering incentives such as discounts or membership cards.
In addition to classical techniques, UX researchers can use web analytics tools. Two of the most well-known and valuable are Google Analytics and the Google Search Console (Webmaster Tool). Using these, researchers acquire in-depth knowledge about their users‘ behaviour, such as device preferences, location and other demographic understanding. Also, users can get instant feedback on site performance through metrics such as total visits, bounce rate, pages per visit, average time per page, and so on.
UX researchers can adopt these tools, especially when they re-evaluate/redesign a site to determine which sections/elements of a website are more relevant to users and what’s not. In this way, they can think of ways to improve the structural information of a site and, consequently, improve the overall user experience based on the perception of users. Crazyegg.com provides a brilliant online tool.
In the same way as any other business decision, the UX design process can only be based on research. UX research ensures that a site or app will serve its primary goal of fulfilling user expectations, and assisting them to achieve their aims. By achieving this role, an appropriately optimized UX website will also help the company achieve its own business goals.