“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
— Charles Kettering
You don’t embark on a journey without a destination. Well, maybe you do, and it works for you. But I’m pretty sure that doesn’t work with user research.
If your research is to lead anywhere, you need to define what you want to know. You’ll also need a benchmark for measuring success i.e. how would you know when you have the answers you need?
A good research goal is specific, actionable, and achievable, like this: “To assess the usability of our mobile fitness app among adults (ages 18 -35) to identify key areas for improvement and enhance user experience.”
If you have a well-defined research goal, everything else will flow like butter, including determining your research category.
An easy way to categorize user research is through the Christian Rohrer framework. He suggests mapping user research methods into four categories along two axes: Qualitative vs. Quantitative studies and Attitudinal vs. Behavioral studies.
In attitudinal studies, you want to learn “what people say,” while behavioral studies focus on “what people do.” On the other hand, qualitative methods answer questions like “why” and “how,” while quantitative methods answer “how much” and “how many.”
Now, let’s move on to mapping your research goal to a research category.
I’ve found the following questions quite helpful for determining a research category based on the research goals:
- Are you interested in numerical data and patterns (quantitative), or do you want to understand the underlying reasons and motivations behind user behaviors (qualitative)?
- Are you focused on studying user actions and interactions (behavioral) or learning about their thoughts and feelings (attitudinal)?
To illustrate further, let’s plot our research goal example on the Christian Rohrer graph:
Our example falls in the upper left quadrant because we want to observe what users do (behavioral) and how they do it (qualitative).
💡 Quick note
- It’s possible for a research goal to fall under multiple categories. However, due to constraints (time, budget, etc.), it’s best to focus on the most practical options that can provide valuable insights.
- In this case, the focus is on behavioral and qualitative studies because they offer more insights into usability than measuring data (quantitative) or listening to users (qualitative).
And that’s your research categories sorted.
I adapted this user research cheat sheet — more like a cheat graph — from Nielsen Norman. The graph is based on Christain Rohrer’s framework. You can use it to identify the corresponding categories for each user research method.