User research plays a critical role in the success of any digital product. Not only can it help you understand your users and their needs, but it can also help you validate your assumptions and develop better product decisions.

There are many distinct types of user research, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

First, let's look at the two main types of user research: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is a style of research used to gain insight into product development. It typically involves in-depth interviews with customers or stakeholders and observation and analysis of customer behavior.

This kind of research helps product developers understand the needs and wants of their target market and how they interact with the product. This type of research is particularly useful for the early stages of product development when there is little known about the product, the user, and the target market.

Qualitative research is generally conducted through:

  • In-person interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Ethnographic studies
  • Contextual observation
  • Moderated usability tests

One of the main benefits of qualitative research is that it allows you to understand your user's motivations and needs. This type of data can be incredibly helpful when making product decisions.

However, qualitative data can be difficult to interpret and may not always represent the larger user base.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is a style of research used to collect numerical data. This data is then analyzed to look for patterns and trends, typically through analytics and data tools like Google Analytics or Google Data Studio.

The main difference between quantitative and qualitative research is that quantitative research can be calculated and computer.

Conversely, qualitative data gives direct insights but cannot be computed or measured.

Quantitative research is typically conducted through:

  • Surveys
  • Online polls
  • A/B tests
  • Analytics data
  • Longitudinal studies

By conducting surveys and interviews with target audiences, product developers can gather large amounts of data that can be used to inform product decisions. This research can also help product developers identify market trends and understand how customer behaviors change over time.

Using quantitative research methods, product developers can ensure that they make decisions based on data rather than guesses or assumptions.

One of the most significant drawbacks of quantitative research is that it can be expensive and time-consuming to collect enough data to be meaningful. Product developers may need to invest in paid user research tools or use data from an existing user base to collect ample data from users.

The Top UX Research Methods (and When to Use Them)

Now, let's examine specific user research methods as they pertain to user experience.

Card Sorting

In card sorting, users are given different components of a site's information architecture (IA) or user interface (UI) and logically group them based on their relationships.

This helps product developers understand how users expect to find information on a site or app.

Card sorting is useful for:

  • Designing navigation systems
  • Determining the most important content
  • Organizing information architecture
  • Creating labels and categories
  • Understanding user mental models

One of the main benefits of card sorting is that it's relatively quick and easy. It's also a great way to get direct feedback from users about your IA or UI.

When conducting a card sort, keep in mind that the results will be subjective and based on the user's current mental model.

Also remember to give users clear instructions and enough time to complete the task.

Contextual Interviews

Contextual interviews take place in the user's natural environment. Realistic context enables product developers to observe users' everyday lives and see how they interact with products.

Contextual interviews are useful for:

  • Gathering user needs
  • Identifying user pain points
  • Understanding user workflows
  • Determining user mental models

One of the advantages of conducting contextual interviews is that they provide rich, detailed data. This data can be used to generate user personas and user stories.

Another benefit of contextual interviews is that they help build empathy for users. By observing users in their natural environment, product developers can better understand the user's challenges and needs.

When conducting contextual interviews, remember to be flexible and responsive to user's responses. If they say something that piques your interest, follow up with additional questions.

First Click Testing

First click testing is navigation-focused research method in which participants are asked to complete a task on a website or app, and their first click is recorded. This metric can be used to gauge user confidence and ease of use.

First click testing is typically conducted as part of a larger user experience study. It can be combined with other user research methods such as think-aloud protocols and survey questionnaires.

First click testing is useful for:

  • Evaluating user confidence with your product
  • Measuring your product's ease of use
  • Identifying places to improve user flows within your design

When conducting first click testing, be sure to give users clear instructions and a reasonable amount of time to complete the task.

You should also provide participants with different tasks to complete, so you can measure their confidence and ease of use across different user flows.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is one of the most common user research methods. It's a user experience testing method in which two or more versions of a product (version A and version B) are compared to see which one performs better.

Typically, you can perform A/B tests with any user experience element, such as the color of a button or the placement of a call-to-action (CTA).

A/B testing typically requires a larger sample size than other user research methods. In order to achieve accurate results, you should test with at least 1,000 contacts.

A/B testing is useful for:

  • Optimizing user flows
  • Comparing the effectiveness of different design elements
  • Determining user preferences
  • Finding design and linguistic elements that convert and drive engagement

When conducting A/B testing, it's important to have a clear hypothesis and metric for success. You should also test one element at a time so you can isolate the impact of each change.

Parallel Design

Parallel design is a design methodology that involves several designers pursuing the same effort simultaneously but independently to combine the best aspects of each for the ultimate solution.

This approach can be especially useful when user research is involved, as it allows for different user groups to be considered concurrently.

In addition, parallel design can help to ensure that all stakeholders are considered in the design process. By working independently but in parallel, designers can bring their unique perspectives to the table, combine their products, and create a more holistic solution.

Parallel design is useful for:

  • Involving multiple user groups in the design process
  • Considering all stakeholders in the design process
  • Generating a more holistic solution

Parallel design is best used early in the design process when there are many potential solutions and user groups to consider.

It's important to note that parallel design is not the same as user-centered design or participatory design. In user-centered design, user research is conducted before any design begins. In participatory design, users are involved throughout the entire process.


Another frequently-used–and often critical–product testing method is prototyping. Prototyping involves creating a model of your product–usually in the form of a wireframe or clickable prototype–and testing it with users.

This user experience testing method allows you to gather feedback about your product's user flow, navigation, and overall design before investing too much time and resources into development.

Prototyping is useful for:

  • Evaluating user flows
  • Testing navigational elements
  • Gathering feedback about overall design

Prototyping works best somewhere in the middle of the product development process–before full development begins, but after user research has been conducted.

This user experience testing method can be especially helpful for web and mobile app development, as it can be difficult to change user flows once development has begun.


If you're looking for quantitative user feedback, surveys are a fantastic method to use. Surveys allow you to collect data about user attitudes, behaviors, and preferences.

You can distribute surveys through email, social media, or your product's platform. There are plenty of sites that can host surveys as well, including Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, and Typeform.

Surveys are useful for:

  • Collecting user feedback from a large sample size

Surveys can generally be conducted throughout the design and development process and will serve different purposes at different stages.

During the early stages of design, you might use surveys to gather user feedback about potential product features. Later on, you could use surveys to gather user feedback about your product's overall user experience.

Final Thoughts on User Testing Methods

There are endless user testing methods out there. The best method for your product will depend on your specific goals and where you are in the product development process.

Chances are, you will use several different kinds of qualitative and quantitative research throughout the product life cycle.

The important thing is continuous improvement–users' needs will change and you need to be prepared to change with them.

Unsure of where your product stands? Read these signs that your user experience needs work for some guidance.