06 March 2019

Don’t make me think… or furiously click on things that aren’t buttons.

The vast majority of what goes into a product is essentially invisible. We all love a cool visual design, but that design actually took lots of research, testing, and development. Lots. UX research is critical to great design (why great design itself is critical is an argument for another day).

When people do think about UX research, most people primarily think of classic usability testing. Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object such as a tool or device, or basically, how easy it is to use. In software engineering, usability is how well a software can be used by specified consumers to reach quantified objectives. Usability is not the look or feel of a product, but rather complimented by them.

UX Research methods

In reality, UX research encompasses a variety of roles and employs a huge library of methods. In a recent community evening event with Ariad, consultant Sacha Kocovski highlighted 3 important methods:

Card sorting

Card sorting is a way to involve users in grouping information for a website's usability review. In a card sorting session, the participants are asked to organize the content from a website in a way that makes sense to them. They review items from a website, and then group these items into categories. Card sorting is a good way to learn how your users think about specific content, and how they would organize that information on the website. This method helps to build the structure for a website, decide what is best to put on the home page, and label the home page categories. The outside perspective of card sorting makes it a very useful resource for ensuring that the website’s information is organized in a way that is logical to all users.

Heuristic evaluations

Heuristic evaluation is arguably the favorite child in the family of usability inspection methods, as it’s quick, cheap and easy. Developed to aid in the design of computer-user-interface design, heuristic evaluation relies on a small set of expert reviewers to discover usability problems, and then categorize and rate them using a set of principles--unsurprisingly known as heuristics.

Heuristics are considered to be more like rules of thumb, rather than specific guidelines. The most predominantly referenced heuristics for user interface design are a list of 10 defined by Jakob Nielsen. This list includes being a match between the system and the real world, error prevention, and recognition over recall. Evaluators examine the interface based on these heuristics to find and assess problems, and determine its usability. This method is widely used because it’s fast and cost-effective.

Usability Testing

No matter how carefully (or beautifully) a system is designed, it’s crucial to run all theories through usability tests. Usability tests generally are simulations that consist of typical users using the product or system in what would be considered realistic conditions. A common test would be giving a user a specific task, and recording while they complete it. From this we can learn not only the real completion time, but also the attitude of the user throughout the process. The difficulties encountered and the user’s behavior and emotions can show where improvement is needed.

The ROI of Your UX

While more and more people are recognizing the importance of good design, unfortunately a lot of UX researchers and designers still have to fight for resources or make a case for their work. Getting shareholders and executives to understand the value of investing in research and design can often be a struggle. It can be easy to overlook when compared to other efforts like fixing software bugs or adding new features, and because the work is less tangible, it’s often the first area to be scrapped when budgets get cut. And while the result of cutting back in areas of UX may not be felt immediately, the consequences become clear once the product gets into the hands of users.

It’s not hard to argue the case for valuing great UX. It’s way more effective to show it. Studies showing the return on investment on UX are invaluable—or well, quite literally determinately valuable. Demonstrating that design changes generated sales, gained more customers, or increased efficiency of processes makes an extremely strong case for investment.

User studies that illustrate how your design has positively affected outcomes and quantify results can come in many forms. During development, run A/B testing comparing different versions of a design. After releasing your product, studies can measure the differences in usage patterns. Build different types of analytics in apps and websites to learn about user patterns.


It’s important to consider not only which user research methods you will use and why, but also when in your design process you can integrate it.

You can do user studies throughout all phases of the design process—and you really should. Do studies before you start designing, during development, and after product release to understand user need, gauge user experience, and measure your design’s effect. This hat trick approach keeps you ahead, which will yield results in the final test: the ROI.

You must help your stakeholders to understand the impact of UX research. Create digestible, light executive summaries proving the added value to their product or service.

UX Research is paramount to strategy. It is key to better understanding the market, connecting your business with your real customers’ needs, and offering experiences that amaze.

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