Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”. While Benjamin Franklin wasn’t talking about UX research, the statement applies.
Many researchers fail to plan because they assume they understand user research well enough to create a budget, timeline, process, and more. They conveniently forget that planning is the cornerstone of a successful project and expertise is never enough to see anything through.
Creating a UX research plan allows you to leverage multiple perspectives from project stakeholders and teammates. Stakeholders can help you understand where techniques might not work, timelines may be too tight, or budget insufficient to execute a research project.
Research planning prevents surprises that may come up along the way. It reduces cost and helps you determine how each step of the UX research will be executed to ensure success.
In this guide, we’ll lead you through the steps of creating a UX research plan. You’ll also get a free template so you can create your first research plan immediately.
What Is UX Research?
UX research is the study of user interaction to obtain insights that improve the design process. UX researchers study a group of target users to collect and analyze data that leads to user-friendly products.
The primary goal of UX research is to build products for the end-user based on real data not what you think the user wants. When you conduct UX research, you can give your audience the best solutions because you know what they need.
As a UX researcher, you could begin with qualitative research methods to collect data and understand the user’s needs and motivation. Next, you use quantitative measures such as usability testing to test your hypothesis and results.
What Is a UX Research Plan?
A UX research plan is a document that sets expectations and highlights the most important information you need to communicate with stakeholders in a research project. It is usually a collaboration between all stakeholders to ensure it meets the goals and objectives you’ve laid out.
A user research plan acts as a starting point to help you write easily and keep your team focused on the who, what, why, and when of a UX research project.
What Are the Benefits of Planning User Research?
Show Project Sponsors and Senior Executives the ROI of Your Research
In most scenarios, project sponsors do not care about the process or the user research techniques you choose. They want to know what your research will achieve and how much it will cost to execute. A brief research plan lays out the objective of the research and how it will benefit product design.
A written research plan is also a great way to engage stakeholders and ensure they’re involved with the research project and the results. You’ll also be leveraging the experience of team members who’ve conducted similar research in the past.
Keeps You Accountable
When you write something down, it looks different from what you pictured in your head. It eliminates the risk of missing steps in the process, going above budget, or losing sight of your research objectives. Think of a research plan as a list of checkpoints to make sure you’ve achieved each goal in your research.
Easier to Plug Holes in Your Process
A research plan helps you to learn what works or doesn’t work and questions you need to be asking. As you write down your plan and process, you can find holes and improve your research plan. It makes it easier to focus and prepare for the study.
How to Create a User Research Plan?
1. Write the Background of the Research
The background section should be brief. Tell stakeholders and clients about the recent history of the project, why you’re conducting the research, and what you’re going to accomplish. In a few sentences (no more than five lines of text), everyone should understand the purpose of the study.
The background section should also include the problem statement. A few ways to identify the problem statement include interviews with stakeholders, a deep analysis of the current data, or team sessions to brainstorm.
2. What Are the Objectives of the Research?
You must have an objective before getting in a room with users. The research objective drives all the research questions you’ll be asking participants during the user interview process.
Why are you conducting user research? What problems do you hope to solve? What is the end goal after completing the research?
Getting answers to these questions should be a collaborative effort between stakeholders and team members involved in the project.
3. Define Stakeholders
Who are the stakeholders that will benefit from the results? Research project stakeholders could be employees in sales, customer support, C-level executives, or product teams.
When you’ve listed everyone you think should be involved, set up a meeting to brainstorm ideas and collect input. It’s easier to deliver the right insights when you’re involving the right stakeholders in your project.
4. Study Existing Solutions
Have any studies been done on this topic in the past? Perhaps your competitors or in-house teammates have published previous findings that will work as the basis of your research? The answers will help you determine where to begin.
If your team uses Aurelius as a research repository, you’ll be able to easily search through past research projects to quickly find information and make Cross-Project Insights and recommendations from past research with your current project.
5. Recruit Participants
After defining the problem and objectives, it’s time to create a participant profile. Choosing the right participants is one of the most crucial parts of a project.
When creating participant profiles start with characteristics such as occupation, age group, geography, and level of engagement with the product. Next, determine the number of participants to recruit for each UX research method.
We advise internal collaboration with all stakeholders such as sales, marketing, and customer support teams to brainstorm a hypothesis on who your ideal user is. Analyze your competitors to see what type of users they have in their audience.
If you have a database, consider looking inwards to customers who already know your product. If you don’t, use a research recruitment platform to find participants.
When recruiting externally, use a screener to hone in on your ideal participant. Is there a particular behavior you’re looking for? A qualifying action they must have taken within a specific timeframe? Do they need to be a certain age? Screeners ensure you’re bringing in the right users for your research.
6. Establish KPIs and Metrics of Success
How will success be determined? What criteria will you use to check milestone achievements? Examples of success metrics include:
- Time on task
- Specific information about the user
- Decisions that the collected data will help you make
- Statistics you intend to create
7. Outline Scope and Focus of Research
Outlining the focus areas leads to efficient research planning. The deeper you’re able to hone in on the specific information you want to collect from the research, the more clarity you’ll have.
8. Write Research Questions
This is the section where you’ll write down the research questions to ask during user interviews. Start by examining what you already know about the problem such as insights from previous research. Find the knowledge gaps and create questions to answer them.
When brainstorming research questions, it’s important to determine if the goal is to create a new design or to fix an existing design.
If your objective is to build the right design, then your questions will focus on observing user behavior and leveraging mental models.
If the goal is to fix an existing design, then you’ll ask questions about usability to improve the current design. Whatever the goal is, aim for open-ended questions.
9. Determine Your Budget
Budget plays a role in the amount of data you gather and how you conduct research. More budget equals flexibility to outsource to a dedicated recruitment service, run paid campaigns to attract more people, or even increase the incentives for participants.
More money also makes it easier to choose the right UX research methods that translate into quality insight. Conversely, with a small budget, you have to think of ways to stretch your funds such as using zoom over in-person meetings, limiting the number of research participants, or choosing inexpensive research techniques.
10. Establish Project Timeline
Having a timeline for executing the research plan lets stakeholders and clients know how long the research will take. There might be different expectations between what you think the timeline should be versus the client’s expectation.
When establishing a timeline consider the following:
- The scale of the project
- The time needed to collect data for research analysis
- Time for recruiting research participants
- Number of teammates to engage in research activities
- Unforeseen circumstances such as participants showing up late or needing to reschedule for another day
11. Develop Research Protocols
The research protocol is a list of questions and tasks you’ll cover during in-person sessions. It also includes a list of research methods you’ve chosen.
A common practice is to write down the opening and closing statement of your UX interview. It begins with an explanation of the product, research objectives, and how long each interview session will take. In the end, you thank the participant for their time and answer any questions they might have.
Make sure you get feedback from stakeholders on the research questions as well as the following:
- The duration of each session
- Tasks each research participant will complete during usability testing
- A script to guide each session
- How to record interviews and protect participant data
12. Determine the Research Methods
In this section, you’ll discuss the UX research methods you’ll use during the research and explain why you’ve chosen these techniques.
While there are dozens of research methods to choose from, your choices should be informed by your research questions. Some, like A/B tests and surveys, are suited for quantitative research while others like user interviews and contextual inquiries work best for qualitative research.
13. Choose UX Research Tools
Similar to research protocols, the research tools you choose should be based on your research objectives and questions.
When choosing UX research tools, consider the following:
- Are you recruiting participants internally from your database or externally?
- Is it going to be a usability test?
- Will you conduct interviews via video conferencing?
- How will you store and analyze research data?
- Are you going to A/B test certain elements for conversion?
- Will you conduct surveys to collect mass feedback?
There are different tools that fulfill each of these objectives. For example, you can recruit participants from platforms like User Interviews and Userbrain. You can build a research repository to store data and get insights with Aurelius. Tools like Optimizely and Crazy Egg are great for A/B testing.
14. Draw Insights and Present your Research Findings
This is the final stage when creating a UX research plan. The insights will be determined by the goals of the research. Is the goal to improve an existing product or create a new product? Which stakeholders will need access to the result?
Make sure you document your process and include details about setbacks you faced along the way, methodologies used, and session materials. This way, your team can have an overview to look back on when conducting the next research project.
To get insight from your research data, use Aurelius to analyze dozens of notes, audio/video recordings as well as spreadsheets.
Create a new project in Aurelius, import your data from anywhere, find information quickly with Tags, search for patterns with Keywords, highlight major findings with Key Insights and make suggestions with Recommendations.
Aurelius turns your recommendations and key insights into shareable reports that you can customize as you like. You can share or present your research findings via email, a PDF, or a live link to your report.
Asides from having a plan of action for research issues, you must have a plan for working with research participants.
A few things to do during the first interaction with research participants include:
- Inform users about the background of the research and what they’re signing up for
- Tell them how you plan to store their data
- Ask for permission to record the process
- Ask for permission to use their data for research purposes only
- Share details about the UX research process
- Tell them the methods you’re using to collect data
If you feel like it’s too much information, remember that it’s better to overshare than to not give sufficient information.
Use a Template to Streamline UX Research Planning
Templates help you create research plans quickly. Think of it as a starting point for your research project. It includes all the essential elements you need to conduct research and communicate your findings.
Go ahead and download our free UX research plan template. Then, use the tips above to fill out the template.