Methods and methodology for ux research

While the problem and question at hand will always determine how, when, why, and to what extent to do research, with hundreds of methods available to the user experience researcher, it’s helpful to define a few principles and a few core methods to practice before trying to get too creative.

In the last five years of researching a few key principles have returned again and again to guide my research. In addition, a few key methods have returned to determine my

The principals

User research is essential

Research helps us define and improve:

  • product usability
  • potential benefits and costs to design decisions
  • product progress towards business goals
  • our users and their needs

To this end, research is an essential part of a good design process.

User research it iterative

Research is valuable throughout the product development cycle:

  • when gathering requirements
  • to validate designs before we lose time building
  • after initial build out to be sure nothing broke

To this end, iterative research is best to ensuring you are making the right decisions for the user and the business across time.

User research is multi-method

To understand our users and their needs, we want to balance flaws in individual research methods by utilizing multiple methods appropriate for the timing and situation, including:

  • Qualitative and quantitative research
  • Research learning from users
  • Research learning from data and best practices
  • Research learning from stakeholders
  • Through a variety of methods outlined below

To this end, approach running multiple research methods for any project.

The methods

Methods broadly break down into three categories:

  • research involving users, talking to users and digging in with them, such as a user interview or usability testing
  • research around the space or product without direct user contact, such as a literative review or heuristic evaluation
  • research with stakeholders, such as a collaborative user journey or MVP exercises

We’ll dig into our favorite methods for all three buckets.

Digging in with users

Usability testing and user interviews


  • Talk to users and get their input on designs, their workflow, etc.
  • Watch users attempt to complete key tasks on those designs. See which tasks the design enables well, and which need rethinking
  • Get qualitative and quantitative feedback on 3–5 users per persona
  • Learn: Can users effectively perform key tasks with this product / design. Does this product / design satisfy key business requirements in terms of user’s ability to interact?
  • Are there any flaws, anything missing, anything confusing about this new product / design? What delights users? How is their overall state towards these new designs?
  • What motivates / demotivates users generally?

Contextual inquiry

  • Visit the places where work is being done, and observe how environment hinders or helps that work and collaboration
  • Take notes and videos while also building empathy with our users by recreating their workflow in situ
  • Combine with user interviews / usability testing to see and learn in context and build empathy with users and across users


  • User surveys to gather quantitative and qualitative data from our users
  • Put together a 10–30 question survey, send survey out after a review with key stakeholders and review findings after
  • Access qualitative and quantitative data across a wide variety of users, especially users that are hard to access
  • Save time for researcher by not having to schedule / interview
  • Easily produce quantitative graphs and help reach specific segments of users

Affinity Wall Mapping

  • Take findings across research and write one idea per sticky note
  • Group notes up on a wall with others
  • Help bubble up findings and groupings from once disparate information
  • Give visibility to research and walk through with various stakeholders
  • Help others understand they can contribute and evolve research
  • Allow for easy ways to regroup and rethinking learning as needed

Card sorting

  • Bring users together locally or remotely and have them sort cards in order of importance / logical order
  • Provide them the opportunity to rename / make their own cards
  • Most useful when trying to define taxonomy or hierarchy
  • Can also learn how users call things and how they imagine things should be sorted

Learning absent users

Comparative analysis

  • Look across products in a similar space / with similar goals. Highlight what works well, what we can steal.
  • Understand what does not work well, where we can gain advantages.

Heuristic evaluation

  • Evaluate our current products against a set of best-practices. Identify what works well but also what we can improve and relative serverity of current problems. Highlight these issues and value gained with potential solutions.
  • Look closely within a product and across a product. Identify what is and isn’t working in current product features. Identify bugs
  • Help people understand how to critique design with established principles

Literature review

  • Google search best practice websites to search and existing design patterns. Review 3–5 documents and pattern libraries. Read a book about the given design area.
  • Identify some of the elements of these practices that can be useful in your own designs. Reuse and steal where most relevant.
  • See how others have encountered and risen challenges in the past

Analytic insights

  • Analyze which data is available within a given domain (Google analytics, database analytics, previous survey data)
  • Put together some key questions that data can answer
  • Understand how something is being used today and frequency of use
  • Understand which data is missing we should gather towards the future

Facilitating conversations with stakeholders

Collaborative user journey session

  • If you have multiple stakeholders with differing views / sets of knowledge, and a complex journey for a user across multiple touch points, get users in a room to work together to create a user’s journey and experiences
  • Break into multiple teams with a variety of disciplines, to foster good discussions
  • Use a set of axes: Action, Touch point, Negatives during that action, Positives during that action, Ideal solution / experience during that session
  • Have teams discuss their journeys, and why / how they differ, towards finding alignment on how things are now and how they might be into the future
  • See the full journey for a user across multiple teams / interfaces / individuals and align on the journey and identify opportunities for improvement across teams
  • Identify where we can fix / improve the journey and the user’s experience / emotions throughout the journey

Brainstorming sessions

  • Get stakeholders together around a future vertical or business need and provider individuals sticky notes and markers
  • Start by asking why, ideating ideas why you may move forward with a project in the space
  • Then consider who it is for and how you might do it
  • Along the way, individuals can explain their ideas while you can group into related themes
  • Helps get ideas from a variety of individuals out on the page and helps individuals feel involved
  • An easy way to produce lots of ideas and goals for a new project without much definition

MVP In / Out / Future

  • After initial project definition and a round of designs, run this exercise to understand what is a must have for an MVP
  • Outline all potential feature buckets and feature elements on individual sticky notes. Separate into what is in for the MVP, in for V1, and what is out for the future
  • Get lots of stakeholders on the same page in terms of what is valuable for an MVP. Make the expected MVP smaller by negotiating what can be done soon after.
  • Understand how features will go together in a simple and understandable place and visually represent the sum total of a first release.

Collaborative sketching

  • Bring together stakeholders in a room and set out a goal
  • Identify a user task or flow and have individuals sketch multiple iterations
  • Best practice is to put a title on your sketch, draw something, and outline important features / value
  • Have individuals explain their sketches
  • Let’s people flex their design prowess and get lots of ideas for UI and workflows from multiple parties
  • Create something highly visual to reflect possibilities for the future while people get excited and invested in future designs, knowing they contributed

Anchors and engines

  • Draw a boat on a big piece of paper
  • Get stakeholders in the room and have them identify what is driving the organization / team forward (engines) and what is holding the organization / team back (anchors)
  • Optionally have everyone vote by putting a tally on ideas (5 votes each)
  • Allow for a broad discussion on what is moving us forward / what is holding us back
  • Identify action items to help fix root cause issues for teams / projects / organizations