Whether you’re a trained researcher or a designer leading your own user study, it takes time to brainstorm questions, identify the goals, and write a discussion guide for design research—not to mention actually finding the right participants.
Just like with a gourmet meal, the prep work might be the most time-intensive, but you can bet it pays off in the end (yum!).
Here are seven ways to prepare for conducting design research:
1. Figure out what you’re going to test
What is the actual thing you want to research? What will users see and interact with? It can be tempting to get caught up in the research part of this process, but don’t forget your prototype should really be the star.
Related: Who should conduct and observe design research?
Will you be testing a low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototype? Do you want users to be able to interact with the UX or do you want to present a paper mockup to get feedback on general concepts? Depending on your goals for the research, you may have to make changes to your prototype.
2. Agree on goals
Decide on a main research objective that your whole team can get behind. Your goal will evolve over time and will depend on the stage of your prototype. For example, if you are in the final stages of your product, your goal may be very specific, like wanting to validate if customers can go through a certain flow successfully.
On the other hand, if you’re in the early stages of ideation, you may simply want to understand the problems your users face in their everyday lives, helping to inform the product.
3. Articulate your assumptions
We all bring our own assumptions to the table, and while it’s almost impossible to instantly get rid of those biases, it helps to write them out before testing. This will help you ask better questions and can also provide a useful comparison point.
By listing your assumptions and hypotheses before the research, you can go back and compare the actual findings post-study.
“Before doing user research, articulate your assumptions.”
4. Select the interview method
Will you be conducting in-person or remote research? Do you want to record the sessions and do you have the proper software to do so?
Don’t forget to think about the research method itself. Primary research can be the most common in design research, but you’re usually choosing between gathering two types of primary information: exploratory (general, open-ended research) or specific (research used to solve a problem identified during the exploratory phase).
You may also want to do evaluative research, looking at a specific problem to evaluate usability and interaction. This usually involves having people use your product or service and think out loud as they interact with it.
5. Prepare a discussion guide
Put together an interview guide ahead of time to provide structure and guide the conversion. Think of this like your cheat sheet, complete with questions that you can fall back on. Writing down your questions in advance will help you stay focused and identify what you really want to get out of the research, but don’t make the mistake of thinking your discussion guide is the be-all, end-all. Your guide should direct the discussion, but it’s important that you ask unscripted follow-up questions or go down a different path if unexpected results come up. Let your users ultimately guide you.
And while we’re on the topic of preparing questions for your discussion guide, remember that there are good questions and bad questions. Make sure you ask open-ended, unbiased questions. For example:
Bad: Would adding XYZ functionality be helpful to you?
Good: How would you feel about XYZ functionality being added?
Bad: How did you like the onboarding process?
Good: What did you think about the onboarding process?
“Let your users ultimately guide you.”
6. Find interviewees
You can’t have a study without users, so think through where you will find your participants. Do you want to invite current customers or people completely new to your product? Are you looking for a certain age range or job function?
Related: Scalable user research recruitment
Depending on who you want to invite, you may be able to find participants yourself or you can hire a recruiting firm to find people for you.
7. Remember your role
The most important think you can do during design research is to listen. Don’t get wrapped up in the discussion guide you created or your own hypothesis of how things should work.
Move the interview at a pace that is comfortable for the participants and just be patient. Learn to be okay with silence and recognize that some people need time to process things before articulating them. Or, if you sense that someone is shy or needs some prodding, ask follow-up questions like “Why?” or “Can you tell me more about that?” to keep the conversation going.
The prep is worth it
Design research takes time, resources, and preparation, but the results are worth it. The user insights you uncover allow you to design based on facts and not assumptions, help with focus and prioritization—and it all results in happier customers.
More on design research
Emily has written for some of the top tech companies, covering everything from creative copywriting to UX design. When she's not writing, she's traveling the world (next stop: Japan!), brewing kombucha, and biking through the Pacific Northwest.