Foundational UX research or generative UX research means tapping into a person’s thoughts and feelings to drive an understanding of how a product impacts them in their day-to-day lives. Companies use this research to help inform design decisions to create products that support what people want rather than what they think is best for people.
Generative UX research is often performed as part of user testing but is also done before any user-centered design work takes place. The difference is that generative user research is used to identify “what” to do, while user testing is employed to test “how” people will use the product or make decisions.
But getting into the mind of users in a meaningful way is a difficult task, and it certainly isn’t possible with a one-way conversation, so how can researchers do it?
This is where foundational UX research methods come into play. The following are some of the methodologies that researchers can leverage.
UX Diary Studies
Diary studies are a foundational UX research method that involves users describing and recording their thoughts and feelings about their experiences with a product over time.
These studies are an insightful, direct method of understanding users and their mindsets. By collecting a user’s behaviors and thoughts longitudinally, researchers can get an accurate sense of the user’s mindset in their natural environment.
Diary studies can be used for anything from understanding how people use your product to revealing issues your users might be facing. Most qualitative methods leveraged by UX researchers involve participants recalling experiences or observing product usage in a lab setting. The power of Diary Studies is tied to the method’s ability to collect data on experiences as they happen, in real-world scenarios. This is important because certain issues only surface in real-world situations. And collecting the context surrounding experiences helps researchers understand user needs better, and in turn, come up with innovative solutions, features, and products.
UX Diary Studies were traditionally conducted via pen and paper and involved participants mailing back journals. Now, researchers have Diary Study tools available that leverage mobile devices and video to facilitate data collection and capture rich visual/audio information.
In card sorting, a user is shown a pile of cards with a title. Each card contains a small amount of information, telling them what’s on it. The user picks out the few cards that are relevant to the question. This allows for visual confirmation of a user’s understanding of the relationship between the interface and their needs.
Card sorting can be used to understand how users access the product, what interfaces they prefer, what information they need to use the product properly, and much more.
Focus groups are a foundational UX research method in which participants are asked to reflect on their experiences with a product. Online focus groups allow researchers to include a more diverse sample than in-person as there’s no restriction on geography.
UX focus groups are ideal for answering questions about the quality of a product, the most common user issues, and user preferences. Focus groups can also act as an insightful method of getting users to speak openly about themselves and their experiences helping researchers learn more about users’ attitudes, beliefs, needs, and intentions.
Field studies provide unique opportunities to gather insights from users that traditional research methods cannot provide. Field studies involve observing real people in their natural environments, and their behaviors are typically more dynamic than other methods.
Because they’re more naturalistic, field studies give researchers a better understanding of users and their everyday lives. Field studies also allow researchers to address risks and concerns head-on rather than purely responding to them.
Field studies can be conducted in person or remotely. Researchers are shifting to more remote methods that utilize mobile devices to capture behaviors as it helps cut down on logistics and cost while allowing for a larger sample size. Remote field study platforms also generally have tools in place that help researchers synthesize data more efficiently.
In user interviews, researchers interact with users and get them to reveal their personal thoughts, likes, and dislikes. A user interview allows researchers to make better decisions for the product’s design and, thus, for the users.
User interviews are a great method for learning more about how users perceive the product. They also allow researchers to address users’ concerns and reveal which features they are using.
Foundational UX Research Tools
While many platforms can be used to perform foundational UX research, EthOS is one of the best. In the context of field studies and diary studies, EthOS is a mobile qualitative platform that allows users or participants to record moments of their daily lives in the form of pictures, videos, voice notes, and text. Not only does this make it easier for UX researchers to conduct research, but it will also allow them to dive deeper and draw essential conclusions by using the advanced analytics that the EthOS dashboard provides.
To summarize, foundational UX research is essential for building products that users will actually use, and which are not only accessible but also truly useful. Foundational methods inform the design and development process to improve the odds that users will have a good experience with the product when it launches.