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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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
· 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)
· 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.
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).
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.