Stage 1: Planning your UX research

Slot game A research plan helps to define the scope of the project and create clear goals and outcomes.

Before you start, it is important to spend time planning your research. A research plan helps to define the scope of the project and create clear goals and outcomes. You should consult with your internal stakeholders and reach agreement before you begin any research.

Slot gameCreate a research plan that includes the following information as a minimum:

  • Project background
  • Research objectives
  • Research methods
  • Target audience
  • Timeline
  • Outputs

Research objectives

Setting research objectives helps you define what your research needs to achieve and how you can get the best value for money out of your research. Objectives can be described as the main reasons you want to conduct the research. What are the questions you want answered? What do you want to learn?

Slot gameYour research objectives should then be used as the base of all the questions and activities you perform. When writing your research objectives, try to be as specific and clear as possible.

Example objectives:

  • Understand the end-to-end experience of how people travel to work
  • Identify the different tools people use to plan their weekly meals and how they feel about each tool
  • Understand past experiences when applying for a government grant
  • Uncover the pain points and delights with signing up to an account using the new prototype
  • Test which navigation label is more effective at driving traffic to find information on travel disruptions

There can be so many questions and assumptions when starting a project that it’s rare to have the luxury of time and resources to research everything that interests us – so it’s critical that your research objectives are prioritised by those most likely to deliver business value.

Research methods

Before you start your research, you need to think about the best methods to answer the type of questions you have. There are many to choose from, and it is important to select the most appropriate method for your research.

The first step is to understand where in the design process you are, as different methods are more suited to discovery or validation research. Do you need to conduct discovery research in order to understand the motivations and needs of your users? Or are you looking to validate a prototype, solution, or existing product?

For information about the different UX research methods and when to apply them refer to the following websites:

For any project you may have multiple types of questions, and some questions may require two or more research activities using different methods to answer satisfactorily.


Who to recruit

Recruiting the right people is critical to the success of your research. Whilst it can be tempting to use friends, family and colleagues, they most likely are not your target audience. Who you involve in the research should represent the end user of your product/service. Depending on the project it could be a range of people, or one specific group.

Start by identifying a list of criteria for your target audience, taking into consideration demographics, characteristics and prior experience. Things you might like to include in your criteria are:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Education
  • Specific qualifications
  • Living environment
  • Language
  • Previous usage of a particular product or service I.e. “Must have used ‘x’ service in the last 12 months”
  • Current behaviours I.e. “Must use public transport to travel to work every day”
  • Familiarity with a subject, product or service I.e. “Must have heard of ‘x’ service”

It can also be good to consider including people that are on either side of your target audience; known as extreme users. This will help you to arrive at a solution that is likely to work for the majority of people.

To avoid bias, make sure to include all types of people including those who:

  • Have a disability, or use assistive technologies
  • Have different levels of digital and literacy skills
  • Come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Slot gameOnce you know who you want to target, you need to decide on the number of participants to recruit. Depending on the criteria you might need to recruit a few people from different groups I.e. 1 group for people that only use public transport for work, and another group for those that only use public transport occasionally outside of work.

How to recruit

Slot gameThere are a number of different ways you can recruit participants for your research project:

  • Use a research recruitment agency
  • Invite existing users of your product/service
  • Reach out to existing community groups or organisations

In many situations, the easiest way to recruit people is through a recruitment agency. They are specialised in this field and know how to find the right people. They also help to alleviate the resources needed to schedule and manage participants. Using a recruitment agency can represent a significant cost, but compared to the time and effort required to recruit yourself, it can often be the best option. Be conscious that it is still your responsibility to accurately brief the agency on the types of people you need to speak to.


Slot gameIncentives can help you find research participants. If using a recruitment agency, they can usually help you provide the incentives. You should keep a record of the payments you make to your participants. If handling cash incentives yourself, ensure each participant completes an incentive form as acknowledgement of payment.

Write a recruitment brief

A recruitment brief is a document which outlines all the details of who you want to recruit, when the research will be held and where. If using a recruitment agency, this is the document you will send to them.

Include the following information in your recruitment brief:

  • Brief outline of the topic and the type of research i.e. one-on-one interview / group workshop
  • Number of participants
  • Participant criteria and the number of participants per criteria

Slot game· Who to exclude (you most likely want to exclude participants that may be too familiar with the process or product to remain objective, such as participants who has been to market research in the last 6 months, those who work in digital design, or VPS employees)

  • Session duration (this will be guided by your discussion guide)
  • Dates and times the sessions will be held
  • Location, including any specific directions or instructions
  • Incentives (see above for more information)

Research plan checklist

Use this research checklist to help plan and keep your research on track and ensure your activities run smoothly.

Reviewed 08 December 2019

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