The best way to understand what your users want is to watch what they do–and ask a lot of questions.
I conduct fly-on-the-wall studies of user experiences with software, websites, wearables, or brick & mortar customer experiences. By observing how people interact with applications, I learn their problems and pain points, which in turn inform my design decisions for how to solve those problems.
Working with small groups to learn a user’s natural workflow means I don’t design an application that forces users to change their methods and habits (which they rarely will do). Focus groups also help me identify broad mental models for human interactions and expectations. Disconnect among mental models are the number one way users are confused and frustrated by software applications.
With interviews I can dig deep into the hows and whys of user thinking. More structured than an ethnography, interviews can be constructed for use with many users during a research period.
When quantity is the driving goal behind the research, simple surveys can scrap a broad group of many users. We use surveys when the questions are simple and direct, and the survey is short.