Ux Strategy: Research plan

Why establishing objectives, methods, and desired outcomes from the jump is necessary for accountability on any project.

Somedays I wake up, and I just want to make music. I’ll sit down by myself, turn on my drum machines and synths and just see what happens to come out. So it's not really a big deal if I have hundreds of partially started track ideations that more than likely will never be completed. I’m not really accountable for anything except possibly wasting my own time.

Though, when I make music with others, tend to think more strategically as it's not viable to just wing it. I always prepare a sketch or an idea that can provide alignment between us. Sometimes we’ll find inspiration from a track we like in the same genre, and completely deconstruct it as an outline to establish a process to follow. Approaching making music with a strategy always seems to be more successful than just jumping into the music-making process.

In UX, having a strategy ensures that the business vision, user needs, and technical capabilities are aligned and helps to prioritize a team’s attention and resources by keeping them focused on solving the right problems for target users. To set expectations, prevent misunderstandings, unwanted variations, and unnecessary reworkings within a project, we start by strategizing our objectives in a research plan.

What is a research plan?

A research plan is a living document that outlines the designer’s plan and strategy that will be focused on to better understand a specific project.

It looks at the open-ended questions you're looking to study and the methodologies that you’re going to use to understand those unknowns.

The plan can be both an inward-facing document for external team members like a product manager or product team, and an outward-facing document for clients and stakeholders. It helps everyone better understand:

  • How long the research will take?
  • What will be included in the research?
  • What you’re hoping to learn by conducting the research.
  • Any budgetary considerations.

What goes into a research plan?

At the absolute least, a research plan should outline objectives, methods, and outcomes that you’re hoping to achieve, though, each project will require its own information. Here are a few key elements to have a good research plan:

Project context

You want to understand what is the project about. A short, opening paragraph that outlines what the project is about and what you're creating the research plan for. You also want to describe the current understanding of the project to give everyone involved a baseline of where you’re starting from. This is a great place to include statistics or research provided by the client.

Objectives

The objectives section is ideally what are you trying to learn and what research questions are you trying to answer. Here you can list what your initial assumptions are as well as what client assumptions and stakeholder desires need to be validated. I generally split this into two sections, Research Objectives, and Research Questions.

Some starter statements:

Understand the end-to-end process of how participants are currently making XYZ decisions.

Uncover the different tools participants use to make XYZ decisions.

Identify any problems or barriers they encounter when trying to make XYZ decisions.

Learn about any improvements participants might make to their current decision-making process.

Participants

For your participants, you want to include your target audience for your research. State why are they relevant to this project. Consider the differences between the Primary and Secondary users as well as anyone else relevant to the problem space.

Include the characteristics of the participants, like the key demographics psychographics as well as how many participants are ideal for each research method.

  • If applicable, do the participants for the user research method differ by approach? Subject-Matter Expert vs User vs Stakeholders interviews, Survey
  • How are you sourcing and recruiting these participants?

Example:

Target Audience

Millennial (ages 20–40) Homeowner/Renters

Digitally Savvy

Has a social identity

Likely to not have children

Value Convenience

Want the most for their money

Prefer a Cashless, Digital Experience

Locations

The location should list where the research will be conducted. Will it be In-Person? Online? Will it be a contextual inquiry where you’ll interact with the participant in the context of the environment where the behavior takes place? Is there a target city or area that is more ideal than another?

  • define the tools and materials needed (Zoom, Interview script, Google Forms, OtterAi)

Methodology

The methodology should describe the techniques that will be utilized to answer your research questions. This should be a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research and should show how each method will help fulfill your objective. Some research methods are:

  • Client Interview: To discover and understand our client’s team, business, mission, and pain points.
  • Exploratory Research: Preliminary research to clarify the exact nature of the problem to be solved.
  • Competitive Analysis: To learn more about the other organizations that our client has identified who also work in this domain.
  • User Interviews: Identify and empathize with user groups.
  • SME Interviews

Schedule

The schedule is the course of time in which the interviews will be conducted, and the key dates these research results will be completed, such as:

  • What’s the timeframe the research will be conducted? When will each event take place? Are there any deadlines that you’re working within?
  • When will research be conducted and by whom?
  • Who will be involved? What roles are needed (for example, a facilitator, a notetaker, etc.)?

Sometimes I combine the Schedule and Locations and call it Schedule and Logistics…

Outcomes

The outcomes are the expected deliverables for your findings. Each can take the form of a summary and how it supports your research objectives. Each deliverable should be ideally be itemized.

What deliverables do you plan to produce?

1. Survey Data & Graphs

-Information from our survey results will give us both qualitative & quantitative results which then help us to put mass information into graphs for better understanding of the results.

2. Affinity Diagram

-Another way to gather mass information, which in this case will be more thoroughly focused on user interviews. This will help with understanding potential users and the underlying problems that currently exist. By synthesizing this data into a diagram, we’ll be creating insights by groups of participant quotes.

Appendix

Here you can include your user interview script, once you create it. It should include highly detailed sections specific to the interview type.

Research Considerations

Build a strong foundation

If you don’t have a ton of questions and assumptions to validate, do more research.

Be open-minded with your research

and explore different research methods as each has different goals and types of insight.

Define clear research objectives

What goals are you setting out to learn and better understand? Make sure to update them as your research leads to more findings.

Be strategic when deciding a method

Every research question should be answerable by one or more of your research methods. Every interview question should connect directly to one of your big picture questions or goals.

Written by

UX Designer w/ a background as a photographer and digital artist. I’m a visual storyteller dedicated to solving complex problems & producing creative solutions.

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