User Research vs. User Testing: Which is Best for Improving User Experience?

Adam Cellary
February 26, 2024

There are many things to think about when building a website or creating an application. Some of them are the design, functionality, and user interface. But, one of the most important aspects that you should not overlook is user experience (UX). This one aspect of your digital product can mean the success or failure of your project.

If you want to optimize UX, you should learn about the different ways to achieve this. In this article, we'll talk about user research vs. user testing. We'll also discuss how these methods can help you deliver a positive UX.

The Definition of User Research

When comparing user research against user testing, you might not know the difference. However, user research has a broader scope.

User research is an umbrella term that refers to the methods used in improving UX. It is an effective way of creating a user-centric design process. This is because it helps you gain better insights into the buyer's journey. It also allows you to identify their pain points.

By understanding users' needs and motivations, you can create a product that meets their expectations. In other words, user research helps you build something that your target audience wants.

User Research Methods

There are several ways to determine what your target users want and need. Some of the most common user research methods are the following:

1. Qualitative Interviews

Gathering qualitative data is essential to finding room for improvement in your digital product. One of the most efficient ways to achieve this is by conducting one-on-one or group interviews.

Qualitative interviews allow you to gather in-depth insights from your target audience. You can also use these interviews to hear their thoughts about your digital product. Additionally, you can ask follow-up questions and gather more detailed feedback.

2. Surveys and Questionnaires

You can also use surveys and questionnaires to collect user feedback. This method is useful if you don't have much time or have limited resources for interviews.

All you need to do is list a structured set of questions and distribute the surveys to your target users. The questions can focus on learning more about users' opinions, thoughts, and preferences. These will allow you to come up with decisions backed up by data.

3. Field Study

This method requires you to go to a natural setting and observe your target users' behaviors. It allows you to gather data while they use your digital product in their usual environment.

When you study how people interact with your digital product, you can identify usability issues and areas for improvement. You can also understand their needs and preferences better by seeing them in a natural setting.

Because there isn't any direct feedback coming from the users, you need to hone your observational skills. You need to know what to look for and how to analyze the data you gather so that you can use it to improve your product or website UX.

4. Diary Study

A diary study involves asking participants to write about their experience when using your digital product. This approach is more detailed compared to a field study. It also allows you to understand users' behaviors, preferences, and challenges.

The advantage of this type of user research is that it gives you a deeper understanding of how users interact with your product over a given period. By looking at their experiences in the diaries, you can identify patterns and trends that can inform your design decisions.

5. Focus Groups

Another popular user research method is focus groups. It involves a small group of participants gathering to discuss your digital product.

In this method, a moderator leads the discussion. Their main task is to ask the participants a set of questions related to the product.

Focus groups help you gather insights from different perspectives. It allows you to understand how users interact with each other while discussing your product. It also enables you to identify any usability issues that may arise within a group setting.

6. Attitudinal Research

Attitudinal research uses questions and scales to measure users' attitudes toward your product. This approach is conducted before the participant uses your digital product.

This research method allows you to understand why a user behaves toward your product in a certain way. It also helps you gather insights into their preferences and motivations.

Attitudinal research is useful for finding out what drives your target audience to use or not use your product. By identifying these factors, you can make changes to improve their overall experience.

What is User Testing?

Also referred to as usability testing, user testing is a form of qualitative research method that falls under user research. It aims to determine how well a digital product works for the user. It is also used for finding any issues with user experience before developing and releasing the final iteration of the product.

User testing allows you to reduce costs and avoid wasting time on features and functionalities that don't work. It also helps you identify any barriers or confusion in the user journey. In turn, this can help you improve UX before launch and ensure the success of the product.

How to Conduct User Testing

User testing involves having a participant use the digital product. As they do so, they will be asked to complete various tasks while being observed by a researcher.

Most of the time, the researcher will also ask the participant to think aloud. This allows the researcher to know what they are thinking about while using the digital product and hear any feedback in real-time.

Choosing Between User Research vs. Usability Testing

Most people think that user research and testing are interchangeable. However, you should know that they are only related terms and not synonymous.

When deciding whether you should use user research vs. user testing, you know that the answer is both. It's ideal to do user testing to understand why they do certain actions.

However, you should forget about the other user research methods. Using different approaches in assessing UX will provide you with a more comprehensive view of how to improve your product. With different research methods, you'll be much closer to developing a product that meets your users' specific needs.


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