How to do scientific research correctly in UX? A Simple 7 Step Guide

Scientifc Research in UX: Heatmaps

Scientific research is a set of phases in the search for an answer to a problematic situation.

The method is the way forward in that search. That is, the procedures to be used through generic norms and rules of scientific action.

We cannot say that there is ONE single scientific method. Instead, there are different sets of methods that vary according to the discipline and the historical moment.

UX scientific research
UX scientific research in controlled environments

However, all scientific research (including, but not limited to UX research methodologies), regardless of the paradigm in which it is inserted or the methodology it uses, presents certain common characteristics:

  • it starts from a situation identified as a problem
  • is based on empirical observation
  • and through logical reasoning processes, contributes to generating new knowledge and theories.

What you will read below is a simple guide based on common series of steps. Please be aware that these steps can vary based on many factors, and they’re not set in stone.

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty common series of steps, and it’s very easy to follow, even for beginners at the research field. More important: it will provide results and it’s academically correct .

The 7 easy steps to scientific research

The 7 easy steps to scientific research

2 days

Delimitation of thematic area and scope or statement of a problem

Scientific Research: Delimitation and Scope of Research

The scope and delimitation are the two main elements of the research work. If we cannot define these elements properly, our results will probably be unreliable, or the investigation will become very extensive and complex.

The scope of the investigation clarifies to what extent the research area will be explored at work and defines the parameters through which the study will operate.

Example: suppose a UX researcher wants to study the variations between two versions of a web page design (what we call A / B testing, one of the simplest and most popular forms of UX research).

For the purposes of the example, let’s say the website sells life insurance for people over 50 in the New York area.

When studying the variables, we realize that doing a study of this type with a heterogeneous audience would throw us a lot of useless data, since we would have people of all ages, in any geographic location and with varied interests.

And surely the target audience will be no more than a small fraction of the total sample.

It is easy to see that the variables that limit the scope of the study and the description of its limitations are determining factors in an investigation.

For the aforementioned case, we could reduce the scientific research to what matters to us, taking into account the size of the sample, the geographical location, the interests of the people, the demographic characteristics, etc.

On the other hand, at this moment the methodology (not to be confused with method!) And the tools that will be used in the investigation are defined. There are many ways to investigate, but not all will be within my reach.

For example, if I am a UX researcher in New York, then I may have facilities to do certain types of face-to-face studies.

On the other hand, if I am in a remote location, or the studio demands it, I can do remote studies.

The important thing is that at this point we must explain why we chose one scientific research methodology (and its data collection methods), and why we did not choose another.

Also, we must clarify how choosing one methodology over another can affect, what are the advantages and disadvantages, and how the chosen methodology can affect the final results.

Literature review

Scientific Research: Literature review

Literature is the body of knowledge you have, or what is already known and published that is relevant to your scientific research project.

Literature review is a process of identification and documentation of published work on a topic of interest, evaluating that work against the problem you may have, whetehr it is research in UX or otherwise.

Therefore, if you are conducting scientific research, the first thing to do after selecting your research topic and formulating your hypothesis is to conduct a literature review using all possible sources of information on your research topic.

These sources could be references, textbooks, written and online articles, etc.

In other words: the work of other researchers before you. This will help cover the gaps in your research, speed up time and help you answer a very important question: is your research adding something to the corpus of knowledge in your area of interest?

Please note that research in UX is a type o scientific research in which the asnwer to the question above is always YES.

Statement of hypotheses

UX research hypothesis

The research process involves a series of steps that begin with the delimitation of a subject area, where problems of interest arise that encourage the researcher to ask pertinent questions (social, scientific, practical).

This problem must be identified, described and explained as far as possible, based on previous scientific knowledge.

Based on this knowledge, the concepts and variables involved in scientific hypotheses are reviewed. In this way, we arrive at the establishment of the HYPOTHESIS of the investigation, that is, the way to answer the questions posed.

Thus, the hypothesis is a tentative solution to research questions and has no truth value, it must always be tested.

It should be noted that this process of deducing hypotheses from previous theories is not always possible, especially when the problem occurs in research areas where the knowledge phase is recent and in an exploratory stage. Thus, there are investigations where there are no previous theories, and the hypothesis is a point of arrival rather than a starting point.

Once the hypothesis is raised, derived from a theory, observational consequences must be deduced from it: that is, if the hypothesis were true, what consequences are expected to occur in reality. These consequences are what we test.

Example: take a look to our A/B Testing article. You’ll see that in one of the examples, previous observation and theory was proven wrong when tested in a real situation. Simply because in UX Research all environments and variables can be modified in as little as a few minutes (for more information, see our introduction to Quantum UX, or QUX)

Hypothesis testing using standardized procedures

User Experience History

The empirical test of a hypothesis (or an observational consequence of a hypothesis) must follow clear methodological criteria.

In principle, all the terms of the hypothesis must be clearly operationalized. That is, it must be possible to specify the empirical indicators to be obtained in order to obtain data that support or falsify a hypothesis.

The study sample must be established (taking into account the characteristics of the population of interest).

The instruments and techniques for measuring the proposed indicators must be carefully selected.

A study design should be developed that is the most consistent with the objectives of the research and the data should be taken in as controlled a situation as possible.

Analysis of results

UX Research using scientific methods and tools

Once the raw data has been obtained, it must be analyzed with the appropriate tools (statistics, etc.), in order to later interpret the results found.

In this way, we can evaluate whether the data supports the hypothesis we raised at first, or if it doesn’t.

Drawing conclusions and theoretical discussion

A theoretical map based on Quantum UX (QUX)

Finally, an essential step is the communication of the results. This implies the writing of reports to be presented for publication, either in scientific journals, conferences, lectures, etc.

In this publication, each and every one of the aforementioned steps must be detailed, in order to be subjected to scrutiny and revision, be replicated and / or modified and, ultimately, obtain the necessary consensus so that a certain knowledge can be considered scientific : the inter-observer agreement.

Now, when we’re doing research in UX, the publication is the work itself. No matter if this is for a website, a mobile app, CX, Urban UX, Accessibility or whatever, UX methodology changes the steps of classic scientific research.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean we don’t need to follow a plan and fill all teh steps as mentioned. Also, we need to have every part of the research with users, competition, market, etc, completely documented. This is part of the UX deliverables, adn we need to provide this to our clients

Conclusion: Research in UX is easy

Scientific research and each of the different methodologies for such research are very broad fields, which obviously require a lot of study and dedication.

The video above shows Fabio Devin doing Qualitative Research to assess emotional attachments to a brand (no sound due to NDA)

But the use of research methods and methodologies in UX is relatively simple. And most importantly: it is strictly necessary. UX without research is simply rolling the dice and entrusting ourselves to luck. Maybe it will work. But in statistical terms (by the way, statistics is an important part of UX research), the chances are really very low. We could say that almost nil.

Learning to do scientific research can take a couple of weeks. One month at the most. From there, it’s a lot of practice and staying current.

On the other hand, learning to do scientific research in UX is much easier, and in no more than a week we should already handle the basics. Which does not imply that we know everything. A good researcher takes years of development. But for the simplest research and methods, UX research can be done by newbies (in fact, it’s what most UX novices do). However, it is recommended that the analysis of the data obtained and the direction of the research be supervised by expert researchers.

Scientific Research Resources and Bibliography

On the learnability of frequent and infrequent word orders: An artificial language learning study. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65(9), 1848–1863. Tabullo, Á., Arismendi, M., Wainselboim, A., Primero, G., Vernis, S., Segura, E., … Yorio, A. (2012).

Writing a scientific article: A step-by-step guide for beginners. European Geriatric Medicine, 6(6), 573–579. Ecarnot, F., Seronde, M.-F., Chopard, R., Schiele, F., & Meneveau, N. (2015).

Academic Writing in English Language Services University of Helsinki , Carolyn Brimley Norris, Ph.D. (2016)

UX Research: Practical Techniques for Designing Better Products (Book) Brad Nunnally, David Farkas, (2016)

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