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Last updated on 12/5/18

Create a research plan

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"Nobody's perfect" is very true when it comes to design. If you were perfect, that would be a red flag. Both in research and in execution (designing a product) there will be moments of "failure". What is most important is that you are willing to learn from each situation and acknowledge these "failures". The reality is, they are not failures at all, but lessons learned!

Good research is not about finding every possible insight and solution known to man. It's about learning as much about your users as you can within your budget and scope of work. Any research is better than none!

Acknowledge limitations

It is not a fault to acknowledge limitations when it comes to research and methodology.  In fact, in taking the time to acknowledge the fact that your research may be incomplete gives you legitimacy; you are not trying to cover up or hide anything. You also have the possibility of proposing follow up steps in the event of an additional research opportunity. For example, as you present your findings to the team, maybe the team will collectively decide that more time needs to be devoted to research.

Limitations you may encounter:

  • Timeline

  • Budget

  • Manpower (not enough people on staff)

  • Access to the right audience

  • Available tools

  • Inability to travel for research

Do research that suits your needs

Depending on what you're trying to achieve, you will need to conduct different kinds of research. Let's examine a few different scenarios where you've been brought on as a design researcher to make a research plan for next steps.

  • Scenario 1: A major company wants to expand their product line. They're convinced pet toys are going to be the right direction.

  • Scenario 2: The start-up you work for wants to add a new feature to their app, inspired by feedback received though customer service.

  • Scenario 3: A small business announced a new product in their bi-weekly newsletter. The feedback they're receiving is the best they've ever received, but you're not convinced the newsletter is marketing it as effectively as you could.

I know you already have ideas, solutions, and have maybe even rolled your eyes at some concepts (watch that bias!). But hold your horses! 🐎  It's your job to regain focus, make a plan, and make sure these companies have the right information in order to make informed decisions.

Before we break down each scenario, here are the steps you can expect when approaching research:

  1. Define the problem or purpose of the research.

  2. Determine the appropriate research method(s).

  3. Make a plan of how you will conduct the research:

    • who you will talk to?

    • what are you hoping to learn?

    • when will this take place?

    • where it will take place?

    • how you will reach your target users?

    • how long will the research take? (given budget and timeline)

  4. Do the research and collect the data

  5. Analyze the data

  6. Share the findings with your team or client.

STOP! Pause here, and before skipping ahead, based on what you know, quickly think about how you'd approach steps 1-3 for the three scenarios above. We'll walk through it together below. You weren't given a ton of information, so think about what questions you may want to ask a client if you had the chance.

Step 1: Define the problem

The goal is to articulate the problem or challenge in one succinct sentence. (This is addressed in more detail in the course Dive Into UX Design). When defining the problem you are looking for clarity. Don't overly complicate the issue you're looking to explore. Keep it simple.

For instance:

Scenario 1: Determine if there's a viable market for pet toys.

Scenario 2: Evaluate if the new feature will benefit more users.

Scenario 3: Examine alternative newsletter layouts.

You can keep referring back to this statement throughout your research to help keep you on track.

Step 2: Determine the research method(s)

Scenario 1: Start with competitor analysis to better understand the market place, so it can start to drive your research focus. You want to be sure to conduct ethnography, and get out into the world (think: pet stores, dog groomers), and talk to actual people (interview people like vets, dog walkers, etc.).

Scenario 2: Conduct usability testing. Test with existing users, and, depending on the feature, test with potential users as well who aren't already familiar with the app to determine if it's relevant. You also could send around a survey to ask questions in order to help gauge interest, but actual tests are always ideal.

Scenario 3: A/B testing would be the best fit. You can design two variations of the newsletter and split test them with the audience to see which performs better.

Step 3: Make a plan

Testing on users will be addressed more in later courses, so let's focus on scenario 1 to figure out the who, what, where, when, and how of the research plan. For the sake of this exercise let's pretend you have learned a lot about the competitors and, much to your surprise, you feel like the company may be onto something with their crazy dog toy idea. Your next step is to learn as much as you can about the subject matter.

Let's say that after examining your competitive analysis, you realize you can narrow down your area of interest to three key parameters:

  • Dogs

  • Urban settings

  • Outdoor toys

Who do you want to talk to?

  • Vets (because they spend a lot of time with dogs)

  • Dog walkers (because they see inside the homes of a lot of dog owners)

  • Dog owners (fanatics when possible)

What do you want to learn?

  • Habits of dog owners and toys they buy their pets

  • How dog owners play with their dogs outside

  • Observe which toys are most popular in the current marketplace (& why they're popular)

Where will you meet these people?

  • Go to a dog park

  • Veterinary offices

  • Search Facebook, local newspapers, and Google for names of dog walkers

When will this take place?

  • ASAP – you want to get as much information as possible early in the process in order to create informed decisions

  • You realize summer is the best season because more people have time to be outside with their dogs

How [long]?

  • One month of field research in order to determine next steps (proposed – may be influenced by the rest of the team, budget and other factors; if this project was final, a longer period of research would be proposed).

Put your plan together

When you start out in research, type up your research plan so that fits on the front of one page of letter sized paper (you may need to incorporate your new design skills to both make it fit and keep it easy to read). Then on the back, have a preliminary list of questions you want to ask (see the Ask the Right Questions chapter). Once again, every company will have a different approach to research, but this method ensures, with a single piece of paper you can hold in your hand, you have everything you need to keep you on track . It's also easy to share with team members.

In addition to having an overall plan, you'll also need to make a day by day plan. Not only will you be scheduling interviews, but it may take some time to get to your destinations (remember, in field work, you're getting out into the world, not making people come to you). You don't want to schedule hour long interviews back to back; instead, you'll need to make sure you build in time between sessions so you can take down notes, and also potentially highlight key points (more on that later).

When planning your research, make sure you budget time to get places, for things to go wrong, and to process the information.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement