Top 5 things to know before starting user research

Image of glass board with research project sketched out.

“If you want to offer products or services that have value for your customers, you must first make the effort to understand what customers consider valuable.” – Jan Jursa, author of UX Storytellers

Leading companies understand that in order to create successful products and services, they need to conduct research on a regular basis. But creating a research plan and ensuring your research project is successful can be challenging.

Here are the top 5 questions you need to be able to answer before starting any research project:

1. Why are you doing the research?

This might be the single most important question you need to be able to answer before starting your research project. Clearly understanding why you are doing the research helps inform the overall goal and the specific questions you might ask participants. Typically, the reasons you would conduct a research project are based on business priorities, but you can quickly figure this out by having a discussion with the person or group that is requesting the research.

Here are a few examples of why you might do research

  • Identify pain points users experience to help inform new a product or service
  • Answer specific questions like “Why are people abandoning the shopping cart?”
  • Identify areas of improvement for the next phase of development

Image of Handrail sticker with text Caution: Do Not Skip Research

2. How will your research be used?

Understanding how people will use your research is a critical component in making sure your effort is successful. Depending on the phase of development you are in, your research plan and the information you gather may change development priority and drastically influence a team’s direction. For example, if you are evaluating concepts for a new product line, the development team may use your findings to inform their backlog.

Here are some common ways your research could be used:

  • Identify priority of design/development items
  • Capture a baseline to be used towards future research efforts
  • Identify ways to increase traffic and sales

UX Design Framework: A guide to creating meaningful experiences

3. How will you gather that information?

Now that you’ve answered the most critical parts in preparing for your research project, you can start to identify how you will gather the information. Typically, figuring out how you will do this can be broken into two parts. First is identifying who you need to talk to and second is figuring out what research techniques are most appropriate.

Here are some examples:

  • Goal: Identify business requirements
    • Audience: Internal Stakeholders
    • Techniques: One-on-One Interviews, Working Sessions
  • Goal: Capture users experiences
    • Audience: People that match your Personas (typical customer archetypes)
    • Techniques: Field visits, Observational Studies, Interviews
  • Goal: Identify interaction problems
      • Audience: Internal & External Users
      • Techniques: Moderated Usability Testing & Assessments, Expert Reviews (Heuristics)

4. When do you need to deliver the results?

As Agile, Lean and Iterative development methodologies become more mainstream, most of the time you can assume the answer to this question is “ASAP!”.  But timely information is a major thing for all companies and understanding when results need to be delivered is critical.

Here are a few subjects to dig into to help inform or influence when results should be delivered:

  • Current project phase and when next phase starts
  • Key milestones or development road-map dates
  • Season or weather dependencies
  • Personal schedules

5. What is the budget?

Even though this question is placed last on this list, it has the biggest effect on your user research plan and effort. If your budget has been pre-planned, then there might be very little you can do about it. But if you are charged with creating and proposing a budget, it can seem pretty intimidating.

Here are the main areas to consider when influencing or creating a research budget:

  • Hours of effort per person
    • Planning
    • Collecting research information
    • Sharing results and findings
  • Recruiting & Incentive Costs
    • Typically associated with external participants
  • Travel
  • Tools & Tech used

 Key Takeaways

  • Research preparation is critical to the success of a project
  • There are multiple factors that can influence the success of your research effort
  • Communication with stakeholders is key

Next Steps

About Handrail

We built Handrail to help teams collaborate throughout the entire user research process. Plan, collect, analyze, store, and share your research all in one location. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today.

Mat Winegarden

Product manager at Handrail. Sometimes I have ideas...other times I am brilliantly late to the party.

2 thoughts on “Top 5 things to know before starting user research

  1. Nice summary. I was just going through this with a new team member today. One thing I suggest is to think about the presentation, or email, or whatever you want to write when you are done. What is in there? Are you recommending a direction for the product, prioritizing usability enhancements, other? Then think about the data you would have to have/questions you would have to ask have to support that. Ruthlessly strip any other questions out.

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