Planning is one of the most elemental activities in businesses. It brings order to workflows and sets the direction for operational decisions. It’s impossible to achieve success in the absence of a comprehensive and diligent plan.
UX design plans ensure efficient, seamless, and result-oriented development processes. They specify the objectives, milestones, dependencies, and deliverables for each stage of the design cycle. Among the steps, UX research is of primary significance as it defines the outline of the product, influencing all successive design tasks. It is thus essential for user experience design companies to develop and follow a robust UX research plan.
What constitutes a UX research plan
In simple terms, a UX research plan is a document that gets the project off the ground. It describes the critical steps in the exercise, identifying how each of them will contribute to the study. It acts as a common reference for the scope of work and the final objective of the project. The plan is developed with inputs from key stakeholders and shared among the teams.
Why is a UX research plan essential?
As with any business-critical process, the research activity must proceed along a scrupulously defined path to yield the expected results. A robust UX research plan benefits organizations in several ways:
- It ensures the goal is explicit, objective, and coherent. A research plan also helps you track the progress, foresee potential issues, and rejig tasks for trouble-free workflows. It encourages everyone involved in the UX design project to focus on the overarching objective. When all the teams are sensitized to recognize the common aim, the value of their contribution multiplies.
- It helps teams understand what’s expected of them. It’s not enough to describe the goal and disseminate it among stakeholders. Synergizing their efforts is critical. A written plan describes what their individual roles are, what they must do, and by when they must complete the work. They also learn how their work gains from — and makes a difference in — others’ contributions to the project.
- It creates a platform for interaction among stakeholders. A UX research plan underlines the collaborative nature of design projects, co-opting all stakeholders and encouraging their active participation in the process. A closer engagement among members minimizes bottlenecks and miscommunications while accelerating the project.
How to create a top-notch UX research plan?
Given the importance of a research plan for UX projects, designers must master the art of building one that suits the exact needs. We’ll now discuss the techniques followed by top-notch UI/UX design agencies. Leverage them to achieve success in your design initiatives.
- Understand the problem Every design project must start with the definition of a problem statement — a concise account of what we’re trying to address. The problem statement represents the premise that will shape our decisions directly or indirectly. It provides an outline of the challenges and their contributive factors, the knowledge we may already have, and the limitations of current approaches.Drafting a categorical problem statement requires information from several stakeholders. You may need to interact with individuals and teams to collect information, analyze the data, and identify the key pointers. You must be conscious of people’s assumptions and preconceived notions –you need to calibrate their inputs for objectivity. Once you firm up the ideas, get them validated by business leaders and product managers.
With the problem statement, you can establish the scope of the research work and earmark the deliverables. It guides us toward the next step: identifying the objective.
- Determine the objectiveWhile the problem statement outlines why research is needed, the objective explains what we intend to achieve. The purpose of the objective is to spell out what’s expected from the exercise, helping us visualize what we’ll be doing and how our endeavor will be of relevance.It’s a good idea to start with a few questions when we try to define the research objective. After all, research is all about asking the right questions – and finding convincing answers. Here, the challenge is to find the right questions that’ll ferret out the required information. The strategy followed by successful UI/UX design companies is to envision the expected result of the activity and work backward. As we focus on the goal and delineate the scope, we seek answers to a few questions, which will, in turn, help us describe the objective. For instance, you can unearth valuable insights by asking:
- Who are the end-users of the product?
- What are their problems? And what are their expectations?
- How are they managing their needs now? Are they looking for a new solution? If so, what is the compelling need?
- Who will use the research results, and how will they impact their decisions?
It’s important to keep the questions pertinent. This will ensure the scope is not too wide, with unproductive research questions making the process longer and costlier.
Once the objective is defined, we can develop an effective research methodology.
- Adopt a best-fit research method Each research approach has unique benefits and limitations, impacting consequent processes and the final result. The suitability of each option must be evaluated to devise the optimal strategy. To illustrate this point further:
- Qualitative and quantitative methods offer vastly different insights. A qualitative study looks at usability, but it may not reflect the experience of a large user base. On the other hand, a quantitative approach is more tuned toward mobilizing a representative group for the study.
- Generative and evaluation methods cater to different needs. With generative research, you start from ground zero by describing the requirement that must be addressed. Evaluation research is to assess an existing design in its current form, as the final product, a prototype, or a concept.
- Attitudinal and behavioral studies attempt to examine the user’s experience from divergent viewpoints. Attitudinal research is concerned with what users feel about the product, while behavioral research focuses on how the users will interact with it in real life.
Once the approach is finalized, the next step is to determine the sequence of processes.
- Prepare the list of tasks The selection of research processes depends on the product type, market, timelines, and constraints. Yet, data collection remains the fundamental requirement. UX researchers employ several strategies to fulfill this need:
- Surveys and interviews: With thoughtfully phrased questions, you can seek users’ opinions at the start of the project, when design options are explored, or when the prototype is ready.
- Usability tests: You can obtain valuable insights as participants interact with the product or the prototype. Remote usability tests offer reasonably accurate real-world data.
- Diary studies: Getting the user’s experience logged as “diary entries” is useful, particularly when long-term feedback is needed.
- Card sorting: This qualitative research method is commonly used to evaluate the navigational aspects of a web page or site. Here, the design concept is represented as a collection of smaller, logical parts (or “cards”). These are then grouped and reordered by users as they interpret the information.
- Enroll participants in the program The outcome of the research project is shaped by the data you get from the participants. Thus, selecting an appropriate set of users is of critical significance. Consider these key factors while constituting the participant group:
- Do they adequately represent the personas? If your product is designed for diverse needs, select participants whose assortment mirrors the target customers’ profiles. This is critical as an inappropriate selection of users can drastically alter the results.
- How many participants do you need? This is determined by the nature of the study, the deadlines, and the methods you’ve chosen. It’s essential to arrive at the correct figure. If the number is too low, your data will be inconsequential; if your group is large, the project will be difficult to manage.
- Where do you find the resources? Chances are, you already have participants among the organization’s regular employees. While this means you save the hassle of hiring people, you must be aware of the biases internal users may introduce. If this is not workable, you need to identify external resources for the research. Sometimes, people who use a competitor’s product can offer decisive insights.
- Get the brief ready Now that plan has the building blocks in place, your next task is to prepare a document that’ll serve as the guide for the team. The brief must not only list the questions but also provide guidelines on how to conduct the sessions in a professional, result-oriented manner.The brief follows a structured format that includes an introduction, a questionnaire, and an outro section.
- The introduction explains how you must start the exercise. It contains the narrative to be shared with the participants before the session. This message serves as the ice-breaker, putting users at ease and acquainting them with the research objective.
- The questionnaire is a collection of research queries to be used as a reference. It includes sample questions, which must be redrafted to suit the type of research – personal interviews, electronic surveys, or field studies. You may add possible follow-up or supplementary questions for specific responses if needed.
- The outro provides guidance on how to conclude the session. Besides thanking the participants for their contribution, you may need to check if they’re open to taking part in future studies. You may also use the opportunity to collect feedback on the research methodology to further improve the process.
- Stipulate the schedule Timelines are crucial for any project, and UX design programs are no exception. UX research work, in particular, must stick to a set schedule as the results influence consequent design tasks. The strategy followed by leading UI/UX design agencies includes:
- Identifying key milestones in the program
- Analyzing the requirements and dependencies for each of them
- Reviewing the resource availability
- Estimating the time and effort needed to reach each milestone
- Specifying the responsible and accountable person for each milestone or task
- Drawing up a schedule and fine-tuning it based on stakeholders’ inputs
- Publishing the timeline and implementing a tracking mechanism
Accurate judgments may appear impossible, considering the dependence on human intervention and the resultant unpredictability. But, as long as you’re aware of the assumptions, you can work out a pragmatic timeline that serves the needs.
- Formulate a presentation strategy The study must culminate with a conclusive presentation of the results. Your UX research plan must describe when and how you’ll share the findings with the stakeholders. Including the presentation plan in your research document offers several benefits:
- It sets the right expectations. It allows decision-makers to be prepared, eliminates misinterpretations, and encourages productive interactions.
- It ensures uniformity in the way researchers summarize the results. Consistency in presentation is essential to build confidence among the audience.
- It infuses discipline in the activities, ensuring the teams work with specific targets in mind in terms of data and timelines.
- If the plan envisages periodic reporting, researchers gain insights during interactive sessions, which facilitate continual process enhancement.
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