What are the most popular UX research methods and which one to adopt? In this article, we’ll present Nielsen Norman Group’s proven and recommended research methods by matching them to the specific stage of the project. You’ll sort out the different methods and understand at what point a particular method will be the right choice.

UX research method – table of contents:

  1. Stages of the research process
  2. When to use which UX research method?
  3. Research methods at the Discover stage
  4. Research methods at the Explore stage
  5. Research methods at the Test stage
  6. Research methods at the Listen stage
  7. Summary

Stages of the research process

We divide the UX research process into four main stages: DISCOVER, EXPLORE, TEST and LISTEN. Their names suggest their basic concept but we’ll cover each briefly.

The DISCOVER stage concerns conducting an in-depth investigation aiming at revealing more about the issue we chose to resolve. Here, we interview experts and do the first desk research looking for data already available on the market. We also try to engage stakeholders as well as determine UX metrics.

The second stage – EXPLORE – consists of an undertaking that focuses on seeing finer detail of our research problem with user research, competitor research together with an audit of the existing solution. At this stage, we try our best to get to know the users, their problems, pains, requirements, and needs, as well as to develop a persona – our ideal user, which will be our guidepost at further stages of research and design.

At the TEST stage, we have already developed a solution (or at least a prototype of it), which we can more or less test, evaluate, learn from and make improvements.

The LISTEN stage is about paying attention to users’ emotions and how they feel about using the product, recruiting users for further research as well as communicating plans.

When to use which UX research method?

After getting familiar with the stages of the research process steps, you’ll come to the point when you should decide upon a particular UX research method. By design, each UX approach requires an individual approach. There’s no template nor matrix to copy and paste a solution. It all depends on many constantly fluctuating variables and even during the implementation the process is fluid. The specific circumstances like the context of the organization, character of stages of product development, the needs of the customer and other stakeholders, as well as the possibilities and constraints (if only financial or time) determine the method selection.

However, the Nielsen Norman Group shared on its blog a method-matching classification where the stage of the project indicates which approach may provide the most outcome. We will present it later in the article. Nonetheless, as with most “principles” in UX design, this is not a rigid division, just a guideline for which way to go.

How to choose a research method?

Research methods at the Discover stage

At the stage of discovery while learning about the problem and product we can use the following research methods:

  • field research
  • interviews with users
  • diary studies
  • interviews with stakeholders
  • design requirements and constraints
  • interviews with other departments – such as sales or customer service
  • testing of competing products

Research methods at the Explore stage

The EXPLORE stage involves delving into the research process, the problem as well as the product analysis. Most recommended methods include:

  • benchmarking (competitive analysis)
  • design review
  • creation of a persona
  • analysis of how the task was performed
  • creation of a Customer Journey Map
  • human-centered design
  • prototyping and testing
  • creating user stories
  • card sorting
  • Research methods at the Test stage

    The TEST stage, as the name suggests, centers around testing the prototype, tracking usability over time, identifying bugs, as well as taking care of the developed data and personal information of users. Most popular methods at this stage are:

    • qualitative usability testing
    • social media monitoring
    • benchmarking testing
    • accessibility evaluation
    • test instructions and help

    Research methods at the Listen stage

    The last stage of research discussed – that is, LISTEN – focuses on evaluating what designers hear – users’ opinions, their emotions about using the product, team communication, and follow-up planning. At this stage, it is worth implementing such research methods as:

    • surveys
    • analytical overview
    • search-log analysis
    • usability bug review
    • feedback review
    • FAQ overview


    We have presented a general breakdown of research methods in the UX process and their allocation to the various stages according to the Norman Nielsen Group. However, keep in mind that every UX project is different and flexible. Remember to avoid sticking rigidly to frameworks or rules.

    It may and will happen that at a given stage you will conduct a study through a non-obvious method, at other times a planned research approach may prove impossible to implement (due to its cost, pressing deadline, or lack of a suitable user research group) and your team will have to pick another one. Still, the key to success is to stay focused on the goal of the project, and the search for answers to the research questions posed earlier while constantly minding the requirements of the business and the needs of the user.

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    How to choose a research method? | UX research #8 klaudia brozyna avatar 1background

    Author: Klaudia Kowalczyk

    A graphic & UX Designer which conveys into design what cannot be conveyed in words. For him, every used color, line or font has a meaning. Passionate in graphic and web design.

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