When thinking about research, many people think primarily of usability testing.
While testing is an integral part of user research, many other methods are essential in determining product viability and whether we're creating the right product. I use a wide range of user research methods. The first phase of work on any new project is usually an intensive research period. I conduct ethnographic interviews, review competitors, and sometimes conduct a round of benchmark testing to validate the information gathered during the inital briefing.
What all user research has in common, is that it places users at the centre of the process.
Method 1: Quantitative research Quantitative research methods are research methods dealing with numbers and anything that is measurable in a systematic way. Surveys and A/B tests are common/easy quantitative research methods.
Quantitative research aims to measure user behaviour in a 'quantified' way and is used for statistical analysis. For example, if you created two versions of your webform and split your traffic so that 100 users in Europe got one version and another 100 within the same region got the other. You'd be able to measure which form lead to higher conversion rates. Ending with confirmation or contradiction of the hypothesis tested in the design. You must however only test against one or a few variables so that data collected can be attributed to that specific variable. Have a look at the work I did for British Gas or Opus energy.
Method 2: Qualitative research Interviews and Diary studies are examples of qualitative research. Often used to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences and everyday lives of individual users or user groups. Best used for exploring a question or scoping out a problem. It is generally used to answer clear, pre-defined questions in the advanced stages of a research study or to get products off the ground. The only way to achieve an understanding of the people who are going to use your design is to interview them. I often place this type of research at the very beginning of a project to ensure that the overall direction for the project is relevant to potential customers and users. Have a look at the work I did with for Tourism Ireland.