Cards, Concepts, Trees and Guerillas: Six Rapid UX Research Tools for Quick Insights


This article was written by Kandrea Wade, Director, User Experience Design Research

In the fast-paced world of digital product development, speed really is of the essence when you need to understand the user experience (UX) – whether you’re developing a prototype, launching a new site or fine tuning a platform. Traditional UX research using methodologies such as focus groups can be time consuming, but these six UX research methods reveal key insights on a tight timeframe, enabling you to make the right design decisions and avoid costly UX mistakes.

Competitive Analysis 

This type of UX research, the only one of the user research methods on this list that doesn’t require user feedback, is essential in the early design phase. By paying close attention to the UX performance of competitors, you’ll be able to learn which user experiences and pain points are standard, and then identify opportunities to create a superior end user experience and improve conversions. You’ll be able to assess the overall platform usability and information hierarchy of rival sites, platforms and experiences and use data-driven market research to unite stakeholders around your own design decisions.

Competitive analysis is also useful later in the design process to ensure your product design hits the mark, you are problem solving effectively and that your site or app meets (and hopefully exceeds) industry-wide standards.

Concept testing 

Think of this early phase like a brainstorming session with your target audience. You can quickly mockup designs without investing significant resources and use text and visuals to elicit user feedback. You could present two concepts side by side, for example, and ask respondents to evaluate each. Instant impressions are important at this phase.

Concept testing enables you to iterate quickly and make informed UX design decisions based on real user feedback. This type of UX research can also be helpful when you want to design an accessible user experience for visually or hearing-impaired users.

Card Sorting

With this technique, which can be conducted online or in person, the target audience is presented with cards featuring different content or functionality elements and asked to group them.

Some card sorting techniques have predefined categories while others feature user-generated categories, but all are useful tools to understand how users categorize and organize information. By analyzing the patterns that emerge from card sorting sessions, you can optimize your experience, site or platform’s information architecture and navigation to better align with user preferences and expectations.

“Card sorting is a less frequently used, but invaluable technique to assess how users instinctively organize the topics and concepts you’re developing.”

Kandrea Wade

Tree testing

Tree testing, sometimes referred to as ‘reverse card sorting,’ validates (or invalidates) your existing informational architecture. While card sorting asks participants to organize information, tree testing requires them to seek information. You’ll learn how users prefer to navigate from the homepage and whether your current structure – aka the tree – makes sense. During the tree testing phase, you’ll be able to quickly identify any pain points likely to cause a flawed user experience.

Going Remote or Guerrilla 

The technique, called Guerilla Usability Testing, involves approaching participants in public places for on-the-spot feedback about language, information hierarchy, layout and other specific elements of the overall digital experience. This real-time feedback elicited in this type of research enables you to identify roadblocks and provides a clear picture of a site or app’s functionality. If you witness users struggling to navigate a particular feature, for example, you’ll be able to tweak it before the launch.

Remote usability sessions allow you to engage with a more targeted audience and carry out tests via usability testing platforms that enable data collection and generate actionable insights. By observing user behavior with your prototype, you’ll be able to identify navigational pain points early in the development process.  Remote sessions can yield more in-depth, qualitative data than guerilla testing. You’ll receive valuable insights about human behavior and learn how end users interact with your product.

Micro surveys

As the name implies, these questionnaires are short and a nimble way to conduct UX research. They’re easy to build and deploy and feature both qualitative and quantitative research elements. Respondents are asked to rank or rate items and provide more detailed answers in open fields. Chances are you’ve been asked to take these surveys – which provide invaluable insights for the product team – numerous times in a retail outlet or online after using a new product or service.

“Micro surveys are a light lift for both users and researchers but have a dual purpose: they yield valuable quantitative and qualitative feedback in a short timeframe and propel user-centered design.” 

Kandrea Wade

In conclusion, these six FAST UX research techniques are key to informing design decisions and empowering your design team to improve the user experience. Ultimately, you’ll be set up to quickly gather actionable insights and iterate to satisfy target users.   

Material used several cutting-edge UX research techniques to help State Farm create a strategic innovation blueprint to broaden their market presence and prioritize driver safety. We also provided a global consumer tech brand with fast and flexible solutions to help boost its in-house UXR capacity to service sprints and concept iterations through cycles of rapid studies.  

Achieving high-performance, low-friction interfaces and interactions means testing, analyzing and implementing at the same rate your customers are evolving. At Material, our team of UX researchers serves some of the world’s largest brands with a nimble, iterative approach that’s built for the moment. 

We streamline the research process, conducting dimensional, scalable UX research that empathizes with real world user needs, identifies information gaps and defines new areas of opportunity. We combine deep qualitative research expertise with quantitative methodologies to solve complex UX challenges. Our research translates to action—not just conclusions.  

Want to learn more about how Material’s UXR values, capabilities and experience can unlock transformational customer relationships for your organization? Click here.