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Types of User Research: A Complete Guide

January 15, 2024
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User research is an essential step in developing a user-centric product design. Thus, choosing the appropriate types of research methods can highly affect the outcome of this process. Given its complexity and the need to handle large volumes of data over an extended period, user research is a crucial step in developing a user-centric product design. That’s why, in this article, we’ll elaborate on the most effective types of user research, how to use them, and their benefits.

By giving you a comprehensive guide on the most common research methods used, you’ll be able to determine which option is best for your circumstances. Furthermore, you’ll get an insight into how these techniques work and the types of information you can expect from them. Continue reading to discover the best research techniques and how to properly implement them during user research.

The Importance of Choosing The Right Research Methods

As mentioned, user research is an essential step in identifying key pain points and areas of improvement in your product or service. The ability to make data-driven decisions will allow you to optimize the overall design and usability, while also enhancing user satisfaction. However, many businesses often overlook the importance of choosing the right research methods for their circumstances.

It’s important to remember that each type of method extracts different kinds of information which then needs to be analyzed. Therefore, it's crucial to identify your business goals and research objectives before selecting the most suitable research method. Doing so will allow you to focus your attention on creating the appropriate tests and coming up with suitable questions for the users.

Person analyzing user research findings on desk

Photo by on Unsplash

Types of User Research Methods

After you’ve determined your research objectives, you can decide on which research techniques you want to use. Depending on the information you’re looking to gather, the main types of user research methods you can try are the following:

  • Qualitative research
  • Quantitative research
  • Mixed methods

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is the first common method you can use. It’s used to collect non-numerical data surrounding the user’s experience with the product or service. The primary goal of this method is to get a deeper understanding of the customer’s behavior, needs, and motivations. 

Since qualitative research requires direct observation, it’s more suitable for smaller study groups. Thus, some of the best ways to conduct such research are user interviews, usability tests, field studies, and co-design sessions. 

When utilizing this research method, you should always be mindful of its accuracy and reliability. That’s why you should always take the time to come up with suitable open-ended questions that will drive the participants to give an in-depth explanation. Furthermore, since your goal is to analyze the user’s behavior, it’s important to frequently use the “Why?” question. 

Gathering and analyzing qualitative data is always a time-consuming and complex process. That’s why our User Evaluation platform offers various features to accelerate the process. Besides being able to quickly generate AI insights by transcribing your content, you can also collect and organize them to your preference. Whenever you come across hard-to-understand data, you can rely on our multimodal AI chat to explain the meaning. 

Quantitative research

The second method you should know of is quantitative research. This type of research is based on numerical data and can help you generalize to a wider audience. The main use of this research method is to gain insight into relevant trends and identify existing patterns. 

Unlike the previous research technique, quantitative research is more suitable for larger study groups. Therefore, the best outcomes are achieved by utilizing click tests, A/B tests, surveys, card sorts, and usability studies. When using some of these techniques, it’s important to include questions such as “How many?” and “How much?”.

Many people prefer this option because it can handle complex issues and bring attention to hidden factors often missed in qualitative studies. It also allows for comparing results across different contexts, making testing more thorough. Thus, quantitative research is widely used in various fields like healthcare, marketing, and economics.

While the gathered quantitative data is thought to be easier to analyze with the appropriate software, it often lacks context behind the findings. That’s why many people try to balance them out with qualitative information, which leads to the use of mixed methods. 

Mixed methods

If you’re looking to make the most out of both research techniques, you can also consider implementing mixed methods into your strategy. By combining both qualitative and quantitative research, you can achieve precise data that’s backed up by context. Furthermore, this integrated approach plays a crucial role in fostering more effective and user-centric product development.

By using a combination of methods like usability testing, surveys, and interviews, you can collect a diverse range of data. Discovering how users interact with the product and highlighting their preferences through a variety of research methods can lead to valuable insights. Not only can they be used to improve interface elements and navigation, but enhance the overall user experience.

Additional research methods

Besides the already mentioned research methods, you can use additional techniques to broaden your findings. For example, try implementing the following noteworthy options:

  • Remote vs in-person
  • Attitudinal vs behavioral
  • Moderated vs unmoderated
  • Generative vs evaluative

Remote vs in-person

The first additional option you can choose from is whether you’ll conduct the testing remotely or in person. While some businesses want to stick to the traditional ways of conducting user interviews in real life, today’s advanced technology offers various remote options. 

Choosing to conduct the research online allows the users to partake in the testing while also enjoying the comfort of their homes. Furthermore, it’s proven to be more time-efficient because the testing will be conducted in a predetermined time frame. 

Attitudinal vs behavioral

The second additional research method you can try is attitudinal vs behavioral. While attitudinal research focuses on the users’ beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes through self-reported data, behavioral research determines their actions through observation. 

Even though the first option is ideal for identifying the participant’s train of thought, it can often be unreliable. This usually happens because the user can articulate their perception and is blindsighted by their expectations. That’s why many businesses prefer the second option, which is based on real-life scenarios and is more reliable. 

Moderated vs unmoderated

Another common additional differentiation is between moderated and unmoderated methods. As the name implies, unmoderated research techniques allow the participants to complete the test without being observed. Such examples are surveys or questionnaires which they have to send in before the given deadline.

On the other hand, the moderated method requires you to observe the participants either in real life or remotely. This allows you to give more detailed instructions to the users and guide them through the process. Furthermore, it may give you additional insights into how the users interact with your product or service which you can note during the testing.  

Generative vs evaluative

Lastly, you can choose between generative and evaluative methods. While generative research focuses on gathering information about the audience and market, the evaluative technique aims to understand the users’ response to the product or service.  

Generative methods, like brainstorming and user interviews, generate ideas and uncover needs. On the other hand, evaluative methods, such as usability testing, assess existing designs for effectiveness. Combining both methods can help you come up with innovative solutions and refine them based on user feedback.

Best User Research Techniques

After highlighting the common types of user research, we also want to elaborate on the effective testing techniques and their use. In our experience, most businesses have experienced substantial success by implementing the following options:

  • User interviews
  • Usability testing
  • Focus groups
  • Card sorting
  • Surveys and questionnaires

User interviews

User interviews involve a one-on-one discussion in a predetermined time and setting. They allow you to get to know each participant individually and guide them to give in-depth responses. When conducting such testing, it’s important to prepare the right questions beforehand and note any significant answers and behaviors. 

Usability testing

Another commonly used one-on-one research technique is usability testing. While the participant indulges in using the product, you’ll have the opportunity to observe them and note any areas of improvement and pain points. During such tests, remember to include real-life tasks and actions that are commonly completed by real customers. This way, you’ll get a better understanding of the product’s functionality and come up with ideas to optimize its performance.

Focus groups

Focus groups are moderated discussions with a predetermined group of users surrounding your product or service. They serve as valuable tools for gathering diverse perspectives on a particular topic. By bringing together a small, representative group, researchers can gather insights, opinions, and desires. 

Focus group during a testing

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Card sorting

The card-sorting research method is used to uncover insights about how the audience understands and categorizes information. During the testing process, the participants are asked to organize the information on the cards in a logical order and in groups they deem appropriate. It is commonly used in designing user-friendly digital interfaces by improving how information is organized and accessed.

Surveys and questionnaires

Lastly, surveys and questionnaires include a list of questions about the product and service which are distributed to a larger testing group. Their goal is to gather information through which you’ll get a better understanding of the user preferences, opinions, and experiences. Not only will you learn more about your audience, but it allows you to further tailor your design to their needs.


After learning about the different types of user research, always ensure that the option you choose aligns with your research goals and objectives. While the three main types are qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods, you can further specify the research techniques by including additional methods. 

Remember that you can learn more about user research through trial and error. So don’t be afraid to experiment with various user research techniques to determine which works best for you.

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