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Last updated on 9/15/21

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. There will be some failure in research and execution (designing a product). You must be willing to learn from each situation and acknowledge these failures.

Good research is not about finding every possible insight and solution. 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, taking the time to recognize that your research may be incomplete gives you credibility; you are not trying to cover up or hide anything. You also have the possibility of proposing follow-up steps if there is an additional research opportunity. For example, as you present your findings to the team, they may decide that there needs to be more research.

Limitations you may encounter:

  • Timeline.

  • Budget.

  • Manpower (not enough staff).

  • Access to the right audience.

  • Available tools.

  • Inability to travel for research.

Do Research That Suits Your Needs

Depending on your objectives, you will need to conduct different kinds of research. So let's examine a few potential scenarios.

  • Scenario 1: A major company wants to expand its product line. They're convinced pet toys are going to be the way to go.

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

  • Scenario 3: A small business announced a new product in their bi-weekly newsletter. They're receiving excellent feedback, but you're not convinced that the newsletter is the most effective marketing tool. 

You probably already have ideas and solutions. You've also probably rolled your eyes at some concepts (watch that bias!). But hold your horses! 🐎 It's your job to focus, make a plan, and ensure these companies have the correct information 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 for a minute. Based on what you know, quickly think about how you'd approach steps 1-3 for the above scenarios. We'll walk through it together below. You weren't given a lot of information, so think about what questions you would ask a client if you had the chance.

Step 1: Define the Problem

The goal is to articulate the problem or challenge in one concise sentence. (Find more detail in the course Dive Into UX Design). So don't complicate the issue-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.

Refer 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 understand the marketplace better. It can start to drive your research focus. Next, you want to conduct ethnography and get out into the world (pet stores, dog groomers) so you can talk to actual people (vets, dog walkers, etc.).

Scenario 2: Conduct usability testing. Test with existing users. Then, depending on the feature, test with potential users to determine if the app is relevant. You also could send out 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

We will address user testing 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, 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 dog toy idea. Your next step is to learn as much as you can about the subject matter.

Even when the topic is broad (like pets), try to narrow it down (dogs). Having a focus will help shape your research. You can always open your scope again if you feel you're headed in the wrong direction.

  •  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 outside with their dogs.

  • The most popular toys in the current marketplace (and why they're popular). 

Where will you meet these people?

  • 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 to make 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 to determine the 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 in research, your plan should fit on the front of one letter-sized page (you may need to incorporate some design skills). 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 research approach, but this method ensures that you have everything you need to keep you on track on a single piece of paper you can hold in your hand. 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 one. For example, 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 to take down notes and potentially highlight key points (more on that later).

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

Let's recap! 

  • Good research is about learning as much about your users as you can within your budget and scope of work.

  • When approaching research, it’s important to first define the problem or purpose of the research. This will help determine which research scenario to pursue.

  • Determine the appropriate research method(s). Every project will provide its own set of constraints and challenges to work around.

  • Make a plan. Having a focus will help shape your research. You can always open your scope again if you feel that you're not headed in the right direction.

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

You should by now have learned more information on how to set up your research project. Let’s see how much you remember in the upcoming quiz, and then let’s jump right into the second part of this course about gathering participant and user data!

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