A few years ago, I was almost stranded in a Cambodian airport. I was returning from an incredible trip to Angkor Wat and after a few days roaming around Siem Riep, was ready to get back home. Somehow though, I had lost my flight receipt along the way.
I frantically dug through all my luggage, looking everywhere as the gate agent calmly informed me she would not be able to print my boarding pass without it, and that I only had a few minutes before she would need to help the next customer. Budget airlines, right?
Lucky for me, I’m the kind of travel planner people describe as “obnoxiously organized.” I had printed two copies of everything before leaving home, making a folder for me and a folder for the friend I was traveling with. When I reminded her she had a copy of my receipt, she promptly pulled it out and the gate agent begrudgingly printed our boarding passes.
The only thing that saved me from living in a Cambodian airport was the plan I had put together ahead of time. Ok, it wouldn’t have been that dire, but it was still a damn good thing I had a plan.
Your UX research also needs a plan to be successful. You’ll need to consider stakeholders, your business and research goals, your research budget, the team that will execute the research, not to mention the logistics of the actual sessions themselves.
A UX research plan will help you keep all your high-level goals in mind while executing the nitty gritty logistics.
It’s always good to have a plan, but defining why your plan exists in the first place will help you stay on track as you carry out your research.
Only 8% of people actually accomplish their New Year’s resolutions. Because most people don’t actually create plans or goals to go along with their resolutions, instead making vague statements like, “I’m going to eat healthier this year.” Without meal planning or setting goal points for yourself, it’s pretty hard to know when you’ve actually accomplished eating healthier.
If the goal of your UX research is just “to get to know your customers better,” that’s totally fine. But you’ll need to set up checkpoints and create a plan to actually get to know your customers better, and understand when you’ve achieved the goal of knowing them better.
Creating a UX research plan helps you make sure everything you’re doing research-wise lines up with the overall goal of your research and helps you keep at it by hitting your goals.
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Since UX research often takes place to help businesses make smarter decisions, it’s important to make it clear how you research will help your company.
Before you create your plan, you’ll want to talk to any stakeholders who will be using the research after you complete it. This could be anyone from the CEO to the support team in addition to the product team. Get an idea for what they’re hoping this research accomplishes and how they would implement your results. Understanding how your research will affect them and working this into your plan can help you create something everyone will be able to find value in.
Let’s get to it, it’s time to create your plan! Here’s what you’ll need to include in your UX research plan.
Why this study? Why right now? Every study needs a goal. This goal should be pretty specific, so you’ll know when you’ve achieved success. The best way to set specific study goals is to ask them in the form of research questions that are specific, actionable, and practical.
“How do millennials choose a restaurant for a night out with friends?”
“Does our new pricing page accurately communicate which features are available to new users?”
“Are our customers able to successfully navigate to the support page on our site?”
These questions are specific enough that you’ll know when you’ve reached an answer, practical in that you could answer them within the scope of a study, and actionable in that you could act on your findings once you’ve completed your research study.
Your methodology will be informed by your research question. If you jump directly to methodology, you may end up stunting your study before it’s even started. Some questions are best answered by customer interviews, while others can be answered through tree tests, task analysis, or maybe even field studies. Many studies will include multiple methods as well.
Research is all about learning, so try not to jump straight to whichever methodology you think of first. However you can best answer your research question will be the right way to conduct your research. Need a refresher on what kinds of research you can do? Check out our Field Guide, which is full of articles outlining different types of research.
In the methodology section of your research plan, you’ll also need to include the details of your study, like a moderator guide for an interview style study, or the wireframe you’re testing for a usability study.
Choosing your participants will also draw from your research question. Who can best help you answer this question? You may need to look for participants outside of your existing customer pool to include in your study, or it may be answered best by your existing customers. Either way, you’ll need to define who you’ll include in your studies.
If you need help finding awesome participants, lucky for you, you’re on the User Interviews blog! Because I know finding participants can be a struggle, here’s a link to get your first three participants for free.
Your methodology will determine how many participants you need to recruit to participate in your study. An interview-style study or a usability test may only require you to recruit 5-10 participants, but a quantitative survey will likely require more responses, depending on the questions you’re trying to answer.
Your schedule will depend on your methodology and how many participants you decide to include. You may be able to do all your customer interviews in one day, or you may be conducting a diary study that will take a few weeks to complete.
Set up a timeline and dates as soon as you can. Even if you don’t schedule sessions immediately, setting a timeline keeps you accountable.
The other factor that goes into this section of the plan is any other logistical things you’ll need to cover. Is there a budget for your research? Will you give the participants an incentive? Do you need to reserve a space to conduct your research? Do you need to pay for additional software?
Write down these logistical factors in this section as well, so it’s easy to plan what you’ll need to execute your research.
This is one of the most important parts of your plan, because it outlines what happens once you’ve finished your research. Will you present your findings to stakeholders? Is there another study you want to complete after this one? How will people access your research after you complete it? These things all play a role in the actual impact your research is able to make at your company and are almost as important as conducting the research in the first place.
Consider how you will present your research findings to your stakeholders and your team. Telling a compelling story and including quotes and videos of your participants during the session can help stakeholders identify with the impact of your research. Storing your insights so they’re easy for anyone to access and understand after everything is said and done ensures your research has a lasting impression on your team. Outlining a plan for future research helps keep you accountable to actually complete said future research.
There’s only one thing left to do now, and that’s get out there and do some fantastic UX research. Once you have your plan in place, you’ll be ready to get feedback from the people who matter most to your business—your potential customers.
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The best way to create better marketing strategies? Talk to your customers.
It doesn't matter if you're running a large study or a quick user test, you should always start by involving your whole team.