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Research Methods

This section explains some of the methods that we use in our research. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but an example of how we approach our research.

Card Sorting

Card sorting is used to build the information architecture of the site. Participants organize topics into categories (either provided or they label) that make sense. Card sorting is either open (i.e., participants organize topics into groups that make sense to them and then the label the groups) or closed (participants sort the content into pre-defined categories).

Cognitive Walkthrough

A cognitive walkthrough is a usability inspection method. It’s used to identify design problems by having evaluators apply user perspective to task scenarios. 

Contextual Interview

Instead of being in a lab, researchers watch and listen to users as they work in their own environment. Contextual interviews tend to be more natural and realistic and don’t use scripts, but as a result are less formal than lab tests.

Eye tracking

Eye tracking measures either where the participant’s eye is focused or the motion of their eyes as the individual views a web page. The technique requires eye tracking software and allows you to see where the participant is looking, how long they are looking, what they are focusing on in the web page, what they did not look at, and how size and placement of items affects attention.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a discussion led by a moderator that typically involves 5-10 participants. Focus groups are a market research technique. In a focus group, the participants talk about their experiences and expectations to a researcher-posed question.

Heuristic Evaluations and Expert Reviews

Heuristic evaluations are completed by usability experts who review the website’s interface using accepted usability principles. The goal is to identify a list of potential issues. Expert reviewers already know and understand the heuristics, so they don’t use a specific set of heuristics. As a result, expert reviews tend to be less formal.

Mixed Methods

Mixed methods research uses both qualitative and quantitative data. Mixed methods provide a more complete understanding of the research problem. In sequential explanatory methods, quantitative data are collected first and the qualitative data is collected last. Sequential explanatory designs begin with collection and analysis of quantitative data followed by subsequent collection and analysis of qualitative data.

Online Surveys

Online surveys are structured questionnaires that a target audience completes online over the internet by filling out a form. Survey tools are used to build and display the survey and data is often stored in a database.


Personas are used to create a reliable and realistic representative user for reference. Personas represent a major user group of your product. Describe realistic people with backgrounds, goals and values.


A prototype is a draft version of a product. Using a prototype, you can explore ideas and show the features or the overall design concepts to users before investing time and money into the development of something that might not work. Prototypes can be a paper drawing (lo-fidelity) to a fully functioning site (high fidelity). 

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative research involves collecting information from individuals via interviews, and video to understand participant’s opinions and experiences about a topic. We use the method to gather in-depth insights into research questions we want to answer. We analyze the rich data by coding the data into a priori codes and then refining the codes.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative research involves collecting and analyzing numerical data. We use this method to find patterns and averages to make predictions and test causal relationships to generalize results to the population.

Task Analysis

Using task analysis, we analyze how the goal of a task is accomplished. Hierarchical task analysis results in a hierarchical representation either text or graphical of the steps needed to perform a task.  Procedural task analysis can be simple such as a one set of steps in a sequence but often are complex with decisions points that the task requires.

Usability Testing

Usability testing refers to evaluating a product by testing it with representative users performing representative tasks. The goal is to identify any usability problems by collecting quantitative (e.g., time on task, errors and successful completion rates) and qualitative (e.g., comments, likes or dislikes) data to determine participants’ satisfaction with the product.

Use Cases

Use cases are written descriptions of how users will perform tasks on a system under development. It outlines how the system will respond to a user request. Each use case is presented as a sequence of simple steps beginning with the user’s goal and ending when that goal is fulfilled. The actor in the use case performs an action and the system responds.


A wireframe is an illustration of a page’s interface that focuses on space allocation, prioritization of the page’s content, available functionalities, and behaviors. Wireframes do not include any styling, color, or graphics. They can be lo-fidelity (i.e., tend to be abstract because they use simple images to block off space and implement mock content) or high-fidelity that have a higher level of detail (i.e., include information about each item, including dimensions, behaviors or actions related to the element.

Created April 12, 2021, Updated October 4, 2023