How to plan effective design research

Frances Brown

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Creating a detailed and specific research plan will help to ensure that any design research you carry out is efficient and cost-effective.

Our design research plan details all the elements you need to consider. Download a free template to help you get started.

1. Research objective 

The purpose of design research is to shape or inform design decisions. Before you begin you should always clearly detail which decision the results of your research will influence - if your research is not directly linked to a decision then there is a danger that it will lack coherence and direction and result in findings that are not useful or relevant. 

The design decision could be a broad one, such as whether the company should develop a particular app, or very specific, such as which page structure is easiest for a particular user group to engage with.

The ‘Questions to answer’ section should detail what the research needs to find out in order to inform the decision you’ve identified.

If you’re deciding whether to create a particular app, some questions you might consider are:

  • What problem would this app solve/what need would it meet?
  • Who would the app solve this problem for?
  • How do those users currently solve this problem?
  • Is our company capable of delivering what users need?

2. Knowledge and Assumptions

In this section, write down the relevant things you already know. It’s vital that you distinguish between genuine knowledge and assumptions. Assumptions are any key pieces of information  - about your users, your market, or your team’s capabilities - that are not backed up by clear evidence. If any of these assumptions could affect your company’s success, you need to test them in the research and debunk them if necessary.

3. Methods

Consider the methods that are likely to get you the responses you need. If your research is early stage and exploratory, qualitative methods such as interviews and focus groups are likely to be most effective. If you’re gathering more specific information, a survey or user testing might be more appropriate.

4. Resources and Constraints

Considering the questions you need to answer and the methods you think might work, what sort of resources might be needed in terms of time, skilled staff, budget for incentives etc. Do visual designs or basic prototypes need to be created? What constraints do you need to consider? Will it be difficult to get access to relevant participants? Are there time pressures that might limit how much research you can do?

5. Participants

Clearly define what type of people will give you the answers you need. Be as specific as you can - researching with too broad a range of participants is likely to lead to vague results that are difficult to interpret. Our participant screening tool will help you to narrow down which characteristics are relevant for your project.

6. Timeline

Based on what you need to find out, your methods and your constraints, create a timeline for your research. Be realistic about how long recruitment of participants might take and include time for research analysis. 

If you need help to scope, plan and deliver research, get in touch.

Use our design research planning template to get started