Whether you are a researcher, project manager, entrepreneur, or designer, understanding the steps it takes to plan an effective UX research study is key. If you miss something, it could mean wasted resources on a study that does not produce the results you want or just runs poorly. Here are your eight steps for planning a great UX research study.
1. Determine the goals of the study
From quick informal coffee shop intercepts to longitudinal diary studies, every study should have clear goals or research questions. You aren’t just trying to “see what you find.” A study can go in any number of directions depending on what you are trying to learn. It’s very important to hone in on this before you do anything else.
2. Choose a research method
Now, in order to answer your research questions, what method do you need? Interviews? Prototype testing? A combination of both? Spend some time considering common methods like usability testing, card sorting, etc. and see if what you expect to get will answer your research questions. Also, decide whether a remote/online study is doable or if it needs to be in person.
3. Decide on participants
What characteristics are important? Should they be users of your product? Of similar products? How old should they be? What type of prior knowledge should they have? The answer is never “anyone should be able to use it.” There are always primary users for any product or experience. Define these criteria as tangibly as possible and seek out those people. Along the same lines, be sure to screen out for characteristics you don’t want, such as certain occupations. For standard usability testing, there should be 5 people per main user segment. For other methods you may want more. Oh, and don’t forget to recruit extra in case of no-shows!
4. Choose the stimuli
Unless you are only doing interviews, decide what you will be showing the user to get feedback. A website? Prototype? Hardware? Cards? What will they be evaluating, organizing, using or reacting to? If designers or engineers are involved, include time to work with them on optimizing the stimuli for your study.
5. Create the moderator’s guide
This is usually a separate document than the actual plan (although it should be listed in the timeline). This is where the goals really come into play. The mod guide should contain your introduction to the participant and a list of questions, exercises, or discussion topics for the researcher to follow during the sessions.
5. Set a (realistic) timeline
Your project timeline should include each task and deliverable, the person responsible, and the date it will be completed. This would include everything from drafting the plan to the final report.
6. Plan logistics
Make a list of all the items needed and the technical requirements. This will include your stimuli, NDA, lab set-up and requirements, etc. A mental walkthrough of how the session should go should help you pinpoint all of the requirements.
7. Run the research sessions
The fun part, right? When running sessions, interact and phrase your questions in the least biased way that you can. Do a lot more listening than talking. And always run a pilot (practice) session allowing time to work out the kinks in your mod guide or anything else before running the remaining sessions.
There are many formats and styles for reporting on research studies. Quick bullet points, debrief meetings, long graphical presentations, or some combination of both, are all great options here. Effective reports should always answer the research questions and provide recommendations. Participant quotes are also great at illustrating points (and clients love them.)
There you have it!
But that’s not all! We’ve created a free ux research plan template which includes sections for the planning items above along with instructions and example text to get you started. This is exactly what we use and, we have to admit, is pretty awesome. You’re welcome!