Design process

UX Research Plan Template. From Objective to Timeline


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UX research is a complex process. To get the most of it, the process has to be organized. Even if your research consists of just a few interviews, you need a plan to make it effective and focused and not to end up with vague conversations.

With a good research plan, all the team will be on the same page, the deadlines will be met, and the research report will be relevant to the objectives.

As a design agency, we do UX research for each project we work on. One thing we can say for sure is that there is no universal template for UX research. Each project needs an individual approach. Yet there are some general steps that help us organize the research and build a structure around it.

Cat reading newspaper: I need a research plan

So, how to create a UX research plan?

When you think of research strategy, a great guide is the DECIDE framework described in the book Interaction Design by Preece, Rogers, and Sharp. Here are the main steps:

  • Determine the goals.
  • Explore the questions.
  • Choose the evaluation approach and methods.
  • Identify the practical issues.
  • Decide how to deal with ethical issues.
  • Evaluate, analyze, interpret and present the data.

However, what works great for the user research strategy may not work as well when you have to make a concise UX research plan, short and clear. What is great in this framework is attention to ethical issues. On the other side, in an actual research plan, you might need to focus more on practical issues, such as budget, schedule, user database.

Here we suggest breaking the plan into more practical points.

Study existing situation

First of all, a researcher needs to understand the subject well, conduct interviews with team members, understand how the team is working. At this stage, they can also check the findings and results of previous researches, as well as related studies conducted with other products on the market.

This step may take more time for a product that is already on market, and less for the one that is yet to be developed. However, even in the latter case, there is always a certain background that is important to consider before the start.

When we start working on a product, one of the very first steps of the research is to ask questions to the team, before even talking to users. Here is a sneak peek to our working process with Acadeum, an educational SaaS for whom we did the UI/UX services. Each sticky note is a question that opens new possibilities to the product design.

UX research audit. Miro board


Defining the user research objectives is crucial to understanding if the research was successful or not.

“Understanding our users better” is a vague objective. Of course, we should not underestimate the importance of empathizing with the customers. Most researchers are inherently directed at this “understanding” and it is awesome. Even if you just talked to your customers and got to know them better, the research can’t be considered “unsuccessful”. However, to get the most out of UX research, you need a more concrete objective.

For example, here is how we did UX research for Gridle, a CRM platform. While the research consisted of just a few in-depth interviews the result was the creation of a whole empathy map, a tangible version of “understanding”. It was short, just a few in-depth interviews, but the result was not just “better understanding”, it was an empathy map. It can also be a customer journey map or a detailed buyer persona profile. These are the things that can be used by other team members and won’t be lost when the researcher will stop working on the project.

Empathy map with notes. Hear? Think and feel? See? Say and do? Pains. Gains

The other extreme is too much “KPI-oriented” objective. “Increase revenue”, “improve conversion rates” sounds very concrete and measurable. However, UX research alone can’t fix these issues. It can suggest a certain hypothesis, but after that, the changes have to be made and the hypothesis has to be tested to finally reach those KPIs and improve metrics.

Here are some examples of user research objectives that are both concrete and feasible:

  • What are the weak points in user flow?
  • What are the main factors of users dissatisfaction?
  • What are the a-ha moments of customer journey?

Estimated budget

At this stage, there is no need to define a detailed budget. What we are looking for here is to estimate the amount of money the client is ready to allocate for the research. Depending on the budget, the research methods and the number of users researched will vary. For example, an email survey can be run at a very low cost, while eye tracking requires costly technical resources and software.

At the final stages, the budget needs to be revisited. Only when the plan is done can we estimate the real budget.

Research methods

There are so many different UX research methods, that it is easy to get lost among them. Fundamental research may use all of them, but in most cases combining just a few is enough to get answers to the focus questions.

If you know little about all these UX research techniques, here is a quick guide on choosing the right one for your project:

how to choose UX research methods

As you can see, there is no way to avoid talking directly to users. Try integrating elements of an interview in every step of the research where you get access to the users. To learn more options and choose wisely, check out our list of 14 essential UX research methods.

If the product is at the very initial stages of development, generative research with deep interviews and competitors study works great. When the development is taking off, card sorting and contextual inquiry would help. When the product or prototype is ready and needs to be assessed, it is time for usability testing and email surveys.

In any case, a good practice is to combine quantitative and qualitative research, evaluative and generative research.

Choice of UX research techniques affects the tools. This might be even harder than picking the methods, but we’ve got a list of best UX research tools to help.

Participant profiles

Picking the right participants is a key to success. In many cases, you would not have a defined user persona before running UX research. Start with basic characteristics: age group, occupation, geography, and, what is important, the level of their engagement with the product (active users/prospect users/other options).

Some of these characteristics would not be relevant for your case, while others will be important. When you are done with a profile, define the minimum number of participants you need for each research method.

At this step, you should also think of ways to recruit the participants. There are many services and tools that help to find people for UX research sessions. It may be a great choice when you are just about to launch a product and not sure where to look for the participants. If you already have a user database, recruiting some of them would be more efficient than relying on the participants found by a third party.


The research protocol contains specific guidelines for each selected research method. Interview questions have to be phrased correctly and correspond to the objectives.

A good practice is to write down the opening and closing of a user interview. At the beginning it is a short presentation of the product, an explanation of the study and its objectives, noting the amount of time it would take. At the end of the interview, there should be an expression of gratitude for the participation and asking if the interviewee has any questions.

Survey questions have to be planned in a similar way, as well as usability testing and even field research. “Just observe the users” isn’t a very effective approach. It is important to know what you are focusing on and what the questions are, even if there is no direct user interview planned.


Once you have decided on research methods and the number of participants, a timeline should not be a hard task. The problem here might be that the time period that the client has planned for the research is shorter than what a researcher thinks is needed. Maybe hiring a research assistant can help save time. Another benefit of a clear and concise UX research plan is that it allows engaging other people to work, even if they are not familiar with the project in detail.

How long should UX research be? The timing depends on the scale of each project. Based on our experience, research takes on average from 1 to 5 weeks. When making an estimate, consider these factors:

  • Time needed for the collection of data and time needed for the analysis
  • The number of team members you can engage in user interviews and other research activities
  • Time for the recruitment
  • Time needed for the collection of data and time needed for the analysis
  • The number of team members you can engage in user interviews and other research activities
  • Time for the recruitment
  • Human factor. People might be late, absent, or simply not available for an interview the next few days.

Make sure you plan with some spare time, so you won’t have to do the analysis in a rush: this is the key element of the UX research plan.


Ethics is the last but not least part of the DECIDE framework. Yet it is overlooked way too often in user research plan. Should we give special attention to ethics when we just ask some people to interact with an app and tell their experience? Whatever your opinion is, the rule of thumb with ethics consideration is better to overdo than do not enough.

What are the most common points that you should consider?

  • Receive the permission to record/film the process
  • Receive the permission to use the information for research purposes (if it is needed for publication, it has to be stated clearly)
  • Receive the permission to record/film the process
  • Receive the permission to use the information for research purposes (if it is needed for publication, it has to be stated clearly)
  • Inform the participants of all the details of the UX research process

Explaining to all the participants the background of the research, the methods used, and the purpose can be annoying and many researchers deem it unnecessary. Yet people have to know what they give and what they get.

The best way to save time on explanations and secure the ethics issues is to prepare a Research Participation Agreement (RPA). The document does not have to be long and there is no need to engage a lawyer in writing it. Follow this RPA template to make sure you inserted all the necessary info.

Budget (again)

Now that all parts of the plan are ready, it is time to check if the final budget fits into the initial one. There is no need to write a detailed budget into the UX research plan when it is just a part of the product design process, but often it is useful for researchers to know the sums to be able to estimate the costs in the future.

UX research plan graphic templates

Now that we are long gone into the process of crafting a UX research plan, and the process is far from any real template… Here are some templates that help you visually organize the plan (or at least the most important parts of it).

UX research template Miro

Miro UX research plan template. Goals&questions-oriented 

Airtable template. Timeline-oriented 

Milanote template. Brief 

An example of organizing all the user insights in Trello 

To sum up

This template is more of a how-to instruction. That is because UX research is a complex process that needs to be tailored to each project. Having some guides helps make the planning a bit easier.

If you need professional UX research for your project, contact us and we’ll present you an efficient and realistic plan.

Masha Panchenko


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Design process
min read

Designing Tools for Software Developers: What We've Learnt

Developer tools have been a rather small niche compared to other professional instruments, like design or sales tools. Some call it a typical “cobbler’s children” effect. However, with the rapid growth of the software development sector, things have changed. There are more and more offers on the developer tools market, and the potential is huge.

Our designers got to work with two products made for developers, creating UX design for them from scratch. After diving deep into the world of developer tools design, we discovered that there are so many challenges and issues specific to this type of software. This experience has led us to many insights, some of which we would like to share.

Why is user experience often neglected in developer tools? 

The logic is very basic: developers have been active software users long before UX was a thing. As professionals, they easily recognize quality and put functionality before anything else when choosing a product to use (or so we assume). That is why many dev tools look complex and hard to understand for inexperienced users. There’s no point in making an app look sleek and pretty for people who know very well the “dark” side of the software.

designing tools for software developers. SageMaker Studio
SageMaker Studio. Image credit: aws.amazon.com

Developers often tend to oppose themselves to the users. In this case, by “users” we mean people who interact with software on the very basic level, don’t get the things that are behind the user interface, and believe that most issues can be solved with the "Reset" button. Yet, developers become users, too, when they use the product. Of course, they would make less of the typical user’s silly mistakes, but the rules of the UX design apply to them as much as to any other person.

Also, product owners who make tools for “serious work” tend to invest less in design because they think that there is no need to make such products “fancy”. However, UX design is not about making things pretty. 

Think of Adobe products as an example. This is not a developer tool, but it’s a product that most of us are familiar with. Different Adobe products, such as InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator have quite a complex design that looks serious, professional, and a bit old school. Despite having different functions, all the products follow the same structure and logic so that designers who use all of them won’t get confused. These classical products were created in the nineties. In 2016, when Adobe XD, a tool for UX and UI designers, was launched, its interface was quite different, as the standards of usability have changed, too.

adobe photoshop ui vs adobe xd

But when it comes to developers tools, good UX doesn’t necessarily mean modern and sleek UI. Let’s take Vim, a code editor developed decades ago that hasn’t changed its look much since then. You have to spend time to learn how to use the software, but it doesn’t seem a problem because, well, that’s part of learning how to code. What is important for developers compared to other solutiona, the tool is functional, light, and adjustable. You can change its look according to your needs.

designing tools for software developers. Vim UI
Image credit: Rittik Dasgupta

And here is Sublime, a code editor developed in 2000s. It is quite fast and has introduced new features such as multiple cursors. Developers value it for neat UI and UX. Would you expect Vim and Sublime, two products from distant digital epoques look as different as first and last MacOS do? Let’s take a look: if you are not well familiar with these products, interfaces of both Vim and Sublime don’t look that different.

design developer tools Sublime text
Image credit: Unix Tutorial
Most developer tools start with a programmer noticing they have a problem, imagining a way to fix the problem through software automation, and then writing the code that implements that automation. Building for yourself means you get to wear the hat of product manager, engineer, and customer simultaneously. 

Beyang Liu, CTO, co-founder of Sourcegraph

Owners of products for developers are often developers themselves. Naturally, they are well-aware of the challenges that their colleagues face, and they have the ability to build a solution to solve them. So, they often end up testing the product themselves, and as a result, the product seems to have no UX flaws at all — because people who have been developing it know the logic and structure well and won’t be confused with the interface: their focus is to test functionality.

As a UX design agency, we always advocate for quality design based on proper UX research and user testing. It’s not just because our job depends on that. Here are some arguments for the importance of UX in tools made for the developers.

Reasons to pay attention to user experience in developers tools

Working efficiency. Good UX decreases the task time, making the work of a developer faster and more productive. This one reason could be enough, but we have a couple more.

High competition. In the past, having a unique technology or functionality was enough to be on top. Nowadays the market is growing faster than ever. No matter how unique your product is, alternatives will appear sooner or later (maybe even sooner than you expect). And that is when usability can play a crucial role, helping you to keep the market without having to lower the prices.

Product owners who think strategically don’t leave design for “later”. That is what our client SlamData did. They developed Reform, a product that can load data from any source and transform it into a comfortable-to-use form. When we started working on the design, we realized that there were no analogs to use as a reference: the idea was completely new.

Developers often launch their product without thinking much of the design because they want to reach the market before competitors do, but it’s a good idea to make a redesign before starting to lose clients.

Simplifying the onboarding. There’s no doubt that developers are tech-savvy enough to operate  a complex user interface faster than other people would. But do you know how much time they spent practicing? They have been using this interface daily for many years. Every product owner wants the onboarding to be as fast and smooth as possible, and UI/UX design is a key to that.

Advantage at sales. We have to remember that not all developer tools are sold to individuals. Often the audience includes managers, directors, and other specialists who make the purchase decision. They might have a bit different perspective than developers, and it is likely that a good-looking app will have more points in their eyes (even if they don’t say it directly). A similar effect works with pitch decks: investors are more willing to trust a product with good design, which signals there has been real work input in the project.

This was the case with , a code security app. The founders of Tromzo are developers themselves and they had a very clear image of the product when they came to us. What they needed was a good-looking prototype that they could present to the investors. There are quite some code security apps on the market, so quality UX and UI are a way to stand out.

Developers are humans, too. Tools are made to make the work easier, so why not make the developer's working process more enjoyable? We all like user-friendly and good-looking apps in our daily life, so why do we make developers use those cluttered and clumsy designs at work?

So, how do you design tools for developers? Here are some pieces of advice that we found useful while working with Polaris and Reform by SlamData (with examples).

Three golden rules of UX design for developers tools

Organizing a large amount of information

In many dev tools, you will face large amounts of information. And these are not the things that you can hide in the burger menu: all of them are important for the proper functioning of the app. To not overclutter the screens, you have to use different ways of visual organization.

Here are some examples. In Tromzo, we used heatmaps to give a fast overlook of large depositories. Below there is a long table of vulnerabilities, which would be hard to analyze without some visualization. Heatmap draws the attention of the user to the most problematic repositories, teams, or projects by coloring them in bright red.

On the dashboard of Tromzo that contains a few blocks of information, we used separated cards for each and visualized trends with a graph. In addition, all the most important numbers are shown with big font sizes.

Another way of visualizing a complex system is intelligence graph: each separate element is shown in connection with team, project, vulnerabilities, and so on.

Keeping lots of data on one page

Developers often work with two monitors showing different data that they need to check regularly. Unlike “average” users who easily get lost when they have too much information in front of them, developers are used to it. Even more, some of them would consider it inconvenient to spend precious time switching between different apps or clicking buttons to get to another screen.

One of the solutions can be creating keyboard shortcuts, preferably the combinations that are familiar to the users of other popular software. However, there are more ways to fit big information clusters in an accessible way.

Look at the screen in Reform below: it shows a sequence of steps/choices for setting data conversion variables. We chose point-and-click card-based user interface instead of alternatives such as wizard pattern (each step opening on the new page, like when entering shipping and billing data in a typical online shopping process). This way, each variable is shown at the same time and can be changed within the same screen.

Minimalist colors and visuals

After all, this is a tool for professional developers, so the fewer distractions, the better. Don't use more than one bright color, keep fonts classic and readable, and avoid decorative elements. This advice comes very logically after the previous ones.

For both Tromzo and Reform, we've chosen minimal color palettes with neutral basic color and one accent. Green, red, and yellow are used occasionally when they have a certain function, such as signing the status of items in the list or showing trends: increase or decrease in indicators.

Final thoughts

Designing developer tools is a real challenge: complex software with lots of important information. It may look like “strictness” and “minimalism” constrain creativity, but we think it is the opposite: these requirements stimulate designers to find original solutions and create developer tools with the level of UX that they deserve. 

Would you like to get a consultation from experienced UX designers about your product? Contact us!

Design process
min read

Design Thinking Examples: Five Real Stories

No other area of design requires such deep immersion in the client's world as UI/UX design. To create a user-friendly and practical product, it is necessary to understand the customers’ pains, needs, and expectations. This is what design thinking is all about.

Design thinking is a unique client-centered approach that helps businesses create innovative ideas using a human point of view instead of raw historical data. For example, our recent client, HandPrinter, based their project on a goal that is very important - to encourage people to protect the environment - which helped them become a company with an inimitable vision and no analogs around the globe. Interested in how they did it? Please, read further in our case study.

With the help of design thinking, you can help your clients solve their problems and create benefits for your business. Of course, in theory, using this approach seems just a piece of cake. But what about real life? I guess you are wondering if it is possible to efficiently apply design thinking in your business.

In this article, we will discuss five design thinking examples of real companies that actively use this approach as a part of their corporate strategy. So, get ready for your dose of inspiration!

Examples of companies that use design thinking

To show how resulting the design thinking can be we won't have to dig through the whole internet. What's more, I bet that you have not only heard about companies we're going to talk about but even use their products regularly!

Anyways, without further ado, let's analyze some cases when companies revolutionized the market using design thinking.


Design thinking in Airbnb
Image credit: cubicgarden.com

The first design thinking case study is Airbnb, cloud software for vacation rentals. The creators of Airbnb, designers Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia met at the university, moved together to San Francisco, and rented a nice spacious apartment there for two. In 2007, there was a design conference in the city and that’s why the prices for rooms in hotels went up a lot. That’s the time when two friends came up with a simple business idea: they bought several air mattresses and hosted colleagues in their flat. To find guests, they created airbedandbreakfast.com.

The idea was good and Brian and Joe wanted to continue developing it. They used the empathy method they studied at design school and asked themselves:

  • What do people do when they travel?
  • How can they quickly and easily learn the way from the airport to their home?
  • How can you recommend your favorite place on the next street to have dinner?

Answering these questions gave Chesky and Gebbia useful ideas on how to update the website. From that point with the help of the app, the user could rent apartments, order breakfast, and also communicate with the host like with a friend (ask them for advice or recommendation).

With design thinking, they solved the problem of distrust between the host and the guest: the ability to leave the feedback from both sides broke that barrier.

How to apply design thinking? Airbnb example
Feedback for the host. Image credit: airhostsforum.com
Solving the problem of distrust with design thinking method
Feedback for the guest. Image credit: reviewtrackers.com

Now every design team at Airbnb has a leader whose first priority is to represent the customer and their needs.

Sasha Lubomirsky, head of User Research at Airbnb says: “When you understand the problem, the solution is way more straightforward. If you understand the problem, the ideas follow!”

These words prove the importance of design thinking for Airbnb.


Netflix design thinking
Image credit: xd.adobe.com

According to Forbes, back in 2001, Netflix founder Reed Hastings spent $10 million a year on streaming technology research. This fact alone shows how customer-centric Netflix has been from its very beginning.

In the same article, the author points out that Netflix's design thinking can be boiled down to four rules:

1. Think Big - Netflix was not afraid to destroy its existing successful DVD delivery business and follow the technological advance.

2. Start small - the company did not rush headlong into the implementation of a new product, but waited for the right moment.

3. Fail quickly - Early streaming attempts were abandoned.

4. Scale Fast - Netflix has been able to grow rapidly by moving to the original content.

Many of us are familiar with all the advantages of the Netflix platform and its human-centered UX design:

  • Card design (you can interact with each card: pick it, bring closer, flip over, etc.)
Human-centered design of Netflix
Image credit: Netflix
  • AI-powered recommendations (based on your view history Netflix personalize the experience for you)
Using design thinking to create a successful SaaS product
Image credit: Netflix

But Netflix's design thinking goes beyond digital design. It covers the entire process of user interaction with the system.

Image credit: Unsplash

Making the customer a top priority and continually thinking about what would be better for them helped Netflix to not only reshape the video rental industry but also let Netflix become an essential part of how to relax correctly. Because let's be real, there's "Chill" and there's "Netflix and Chill".


Image credit: blogs.gartner.com

More than 75 million people in 600 cities in 65 countries around the world use Uber, and for many, it has become the most familiar mode of transportation. The main reason for the success of this online ride-hailing taxi app is its unique business model that Uber managed to develop using a design thinking approach.

Putting themselves into their customers’ shoes allowed Uber’s team to define that the most critical issue that influences the client’s final impression is the need to wait. That is why Uber has given a lot of attention to this issue.

Let’s take a look at how with the help of a design thinking approach Uber managed to develop the user experience that helps to cope with the problem of waiting and makes this application impossible to give up.

  • Eliminate inaction. The first thing that Uber’s design team did great is coping with inaction with the help of interactive elements. In the example below, you may see how Uber uses animations that entertain and inform the passenger while they are waiting for the car.
Uber interactive design
Image credit: iphonehacks.com
  • Make all operations clear and transparent. Uber deliberately demonstrates some aspects of the work of the service. It helps users see that the company makes a lot of effort to improve the experience of their customers. Thanks to this, people value the product more and feel more satisfied.
does Uber use design thinking?

The screenshot from Uberpool shows how the app calculates arrival time. This information gives the user an understanding of what is going on without overloading the reader with technical details.

  • Show the goal. Most of all people want to know how much time is left before they reach the goal. The closer the reward, the faster the user wants to get it. That’s why Uber explains each step when the customer is waiting for the car, making people feel like they are getting closer and closer to their goal.
Uber: engaging UX design

There is no doubt that Uber's success is largely due to the fact that the company uses design thinking to improve user experience. With the help of this customer-centric approach the idea to replace cabby blokes with ordinary and trustworthy people owning their own cars resulted in a usable and convenient app we all love so much.


IBM design thinking
Image credit: design-thinking-association.org

Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services, recently told: “There’s no longer any real distinction between business strategy and the design of the user experience” and these words make a big difference.

IBM design has gone through many stages in its development ("good design is good business"), and now the company provides design services and invests $100 million in implementing principles of design thinking in their organization.

In 2014, IBM used design thinking when creating Bluemix (now IBM Cloud), a cloud platform for application development. IBM’s main goal was to help developers in big companies create cloud applications much faster.

Researching their target audience allowed IBM to create an easy-to-use and functional platform that attracted more than 1 000 000 developers.

Here are three main points why all these developers fall in love with Bluemix:

  • Choice. Bluemix allows to build a consistent application that can run both on and off premise. It helps to reduce the cost and time developers spend on setting up infrastructure
  • Extensive catalog with tools. Bluemix offers almost 150 tools and services that propels you months ahead in development (e.g. Internet of Things for secure data collection, Watson for cognitive computing services, etc.)
the use of design thinking for IBM's Bluemix
Image credit: balena.io

Methodology. Using the DevOps tool chain allows to easily scale your projects.

That’s how identifying pains and needs of the target audience allowed IBM create a platform that helps developers quickly build applications.


Intuit: design thinking example

Intuit is a global platform that helps its customers cope with financial issues (accounting, tax preparation, etc.).

Back in 2006, Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit decided that his accounting software company has to be more innovative. Inspired by an article about design thinking written by Roger Martin, Cook started thinking about how this approach can help to develop and improve his product.

First of all, Intuit’s team identified the problem. Most people hate spreadsheet-based personal finance tracking solutions, and they stop using them as soon as they start. The research of competitors helped to realize that existing solutions are suitable for professional accountants but difficult to use for an average person. Although there is a need for financial planning for individuals or small businesses as well.

The solution was to create an easy-to-use and consistent UX. When Intuit introduced its software to help people control their finances, there were 46 similar products on the market. At the beginning of the journey, they joked that at that moment they had the "47th mover advantage."

The basic version of Intuit offered only a third of all available features, but with a great design. Instead of spreadsheets, the program displays familiar images with check receipts on them.

Image credit: quickbooks.intuit.com

Because of its extremely intuitive design, Intuit immediately became the market leader in personal finance software.

the use of design thinking by Intuit
Image credit: quickbooks.intuit.com

As a result, Intuit has shown software companies that good design is something every industry should care about. You can use empathy to create well-designed software that can both solve business problems and serve people.

Think of people and they will think about you

To make a successful product you need to put user needs at the center of your efforts focusing on designing usable, delightful, and efficient experiences. Design thinking helps you to understand real people’s needs and problems and uncovers ways of improving user experiences.

So, don’t hesitate to make design thinking a part of your company culture. It will promote creating products that deeply resonate with your customers — ultimately driving engagement and growth.

And if you need help in creating products that show how much you care about your customers, come to Eleken for a human-centered UI/UX design.

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