How to Make Sure Your Research Planning is Successful

The UX Research Planning Map

At Handrail, our mission is to inspire great design through human understanding. Understanding people, their needs, and goals, in context, is critical to design success. We work to get to understanding through rigorous user research. Like design itself, it is imperative that we, as researchers, are intentional about our research efforts. That’s why we have created the Research Planning Map. The Research Planning Map is a canvas that helps researchers and teams organize and clarify what they want to accomplish through their research efforts.

The following seven questions can help you and your team to drive towards clarity and shared understanding regarding your research initiatives.  The questions don’t need to be answered in the order outlined below. The essential thing is to answer each question, as the responses to each may force you to rethink your answers to another section.

  • Why are you doing this research?
  • How will your research be used?
  • What is the participant criteria?
  • How will your research be performed?
  • Who will be involved in the research?
  • When will the research take place?
  • Where will the research take place?

Let’s explore each question of the Research Planning Map.

1. Why are you doing this research?

Essentially, what is your research goal? What do you hope to learn? Answering this question will address the problem or opportunity you’d like to understand. Articulate your objective and goal. What do you hope to discover and why is that important?  You may have a hypothesis that you’d like to explore. Do you expect your research to be generative or foundational? How might you provide a more broad understanding of potential opportunities? Alternatively, this could be summative research testing how well a particular feature performs with customers or users. Knowing why you’re doing the research will help focus your efforts and support efficiency throughout the research effort.

2. How will your research be used?

For whom and for what? By answering this question you’re providing your understanding of who in your organization needs this information and for what purpose. Provide the context for what is expected to change in your organization as result of this research effort. Ideally, you should be driving to insights – new information that creates a change in behavior.

3. What is the participant criteria?

Who are the participants and what attribute (demographic, sociographic, psychographic, common problem, etc.) unifies them? In UX research, or human centered design research, there is a customer or user that we are trying to better understand. Articulate who this user is, what part of that person you are trying to study and understand. Is it a particular behavior, a specific need, or a mental model? Be clear on what about a person or group you’re trying to understand. Be able to articulate how you plan to recruit and screen participants for your research initiative.

Research Planning Map

4. How will your research be performed?

This section address how your research will be gathered, and through which channels you’re gathering your data. This section helps you think through methodology considerations. How do you plan to collect and analyze your data? What method(s) are appropriate from a time, scope, and resource perspective?

5. Who will be involved in the research?

Answering this question requires that you know who’s helping conduct the research, analyzing the results, or using the information. Think through the team members, their roles, and what contributions are necessary for your research effort to be successful.

6. When will the research take place?

Answering this question should provoke discussion of logistics regarding schedule and milestones. Based on your answers to the other questions on the canvas, when will the research take place and how long should it take to complete? What are the time-based or event-based triggers involved in the research? Use this section to articulate schedule and milestone considerations.

7. Where will the research take place?

What is the setting for your data collection? Where do you plan to collect the data? Answering this requires an understanding of where the data will be collected. Will this be moderated research in a traditional research facility, a dedicated space at an industry event, or an in-depth interview in someone’s home or place of employment? Will it be observational research in the workplace? If it’s unmoderated, what are the geographic restrictions or constraints to the data gathering? Understanding the setting for the research will impact what materials and supplies can be utilized to help in your data collection.

Tying it All Together: Completing Your Research Plan

The Handrail team has created a Research Planning Map that helps you capture your answers to each question. In total, your map should be able to tell a coherent, concise, and actionable story for your team regarding your research plan? You may end up revising your answers as you complete the canvas, as each answer may provide further understanding to the interdependencies at play across the canvas. The answers to each question may highlight new constraints or refined understanding.

Download a copy of our canvas to help you articulate your next research plan.

We built Handrail to help teams answer important research questions and promote better design through human understanding. You can use Handrail to help your team plan and organize your next research event. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today.

Matt Arnold

Matt is a researcher and product specialist at Handrail, Inc. He is passionate about human-centered design and helping teams do more effective research. Matt has led strategy and design work for early and late stage startups, as well as some of the country’s most recognized brands.

4 thoughts on “How to Make Sure Your Research Planning is Successful

  1. I love the idea of borrowing concepts from the popular Business Model Canvas to create a UX Research Planning Map. I can totally see myself bringing this canvas to initial research planning meetings with stakeholders. It seems hugely valuable to use a simple visual framework that gets the information out of our heads and onto something all present can see and interact with. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sam, thanks for the kind words. I hope that it helps. Keep us posted on how it works for you and your team.

  2. Looks like a great planning map! I have downloaded it and will definitely use it in my next freelance project. Thanks for sharing!

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