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How to create an effective UX research plan (2024)

Last updated

23 January 2024

Author

Chloe Garnham

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You wouldn’t build a home without a solid architectural plan. The plan ensures what you create fits the brief and will delight future residents. The same level of planning is needed when it comes to research.

While it might be tempting to think that a user experience (UX) research plan isn’t needed, a plan provides essential foundations that will dictate the research you conduct.

Think of your research plan as the building blocks of your UX research, helping to streamline the process, firm up your goals, and ensure the results are reliable and actionable.

Let’s take a look at what a UX research plan is, and how to create one.

What is a UX research plan?

A UX research plan outlines the research problem, objectives, strategies, participant profiles, budget, timeline, and methodology. It serves as a guide for researchers, designers, and project managers to understand the scope of the project and carry it out efficiently.

There’s no one format for UX research plans––they may be compiled into a slideshow, a simple document, or a more comprehensive report. The important thing is not the format, but that the plan covers all the essential elements of the research your team will perform.

In some cases, a UX research plan could also be required to secure funding or approval for the project.

What's the difference between a research plan and research design?

A research plan and research design are two related, but distinct concepts. A research plan includes a summary of the intended research design.

Research plan

This outlines the goals, methodology, and strategies of the research. The research plan is typically compiled into a document or slideshow.

A research plan outlines the goals of the project while providing an overall structure.

Research design

This is the specific method by which the research will be conducted. It includes the UX research methodologies and tools that will be used to conduct the research, the sampling size, and the data collection process.

The focus of research design is to decide which research techniques will be used, how the information will be gathered, and how the analysis will be conducted.

What are the benefits of using a UX research plan?

Having a solid foundation, or specific outline, for any UX research you wish to conduct can make the process much faster, more accurate, and more specific.

The UX research plan helps teams to firm up their goals, set clear research questions, decide on the research methods they’ll use––ones that will be most effective––and consider how the results will be analyzed. This process allows teams to consider contingencies and differing methods, and to make adjustments accordingly.

An effective research plan can also save organizations money by providing a clear path to success, highlighting potential challenges, and helping a team gather all the elements for success.

Some key benefits of research plans include:

  • Problem definition: having a research plan helps you clarify the problem you’re solving. A well-defined problem statement can firm up the focus and direction of the research, outlining specific issues and challenges you’ll look to address.

  • Goal clarity: all research projects should begin with clear goals. This ensures your research is relevant, useful, and measurable for your team’s needs. Creating a UX research plan can help you not only create goals but also consider if they are feasible and relevant for the business and the user.

  • Stakeholder alignment: creating a detailed UX research plan can help align all key stakeholders. This guides everyone toward the same goal, provides clarity for objectives, ensures teams don’t work in silos, and helps the whole organization work together to improve the customers’ user experience. It can also be useful to collect questions and requirements from stakeholders to keep them engaged with the research.

  • Method choices: through the process of defining the UX research goals, strategies, and data-collection process, it can be simpler to see the right research method for your project. Potential issues or roadblocks will become clear, allowing your research to be conducted more effectively.

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What should a UX research plan include?

While there is no one way to create a UX research plan, the most effective plans include a few core elements.

Some of the most essential aspects of a UX research plan include:

  • Challenges: identify challenges that users and the business may encounter. These may be fluctuations in revenue, friction in the user experience, insufficient information, or issues related to customer service. Addressing these challenges ensures the research aligns with the pertinent issues from user and business perspectives.

  • Research questions: pinpoint the specific questions that will be asked during the project to check they align with the overall project goals.

  • Methodology: note the UX research methods that will be used during the project. These should also be relevant to the overall goals and challenges.

  • Timeline: clarify timings so teams won’t complete research that’s too big for the budget or time available. Timings will impact what can be researched and even the results.

  • Participant selection: as part of UX research, usually participants are required to answer questions or complete exercises. Choosing the right number of relevant participants can be challenging. Having a plan in place for this can streamline that part of the process and prevent teams from getting bogged down by delays.

  • Data-collection methods: make sure your team knows how the data will be collected and analyzed. Having this as part of your plan can ensure the data collection aligns with the project goals and access to your team’s resources.

  • Budget: include your research budget to help you allocate resources, estimate overall costs, and prioritize activities. A clear budget will support the approval process, aid in risk management, and increase accountability for teams.

  • Ethical considerations: ethics are important in any research, whether or not it involves humans. UX studies typically involve participants, so it’s important to consider a range of critical factors. Personal privacy, potential for harm, and persuasion are just a few areas to be aware of.

  • Risk: all projects have the potential for risk. Considering what those risks are before the project starts can help the team consider potential contingencies.

How to create a UX research plan

Creating a UX research plan doesn’t have to be intimidating. By following a framework and including essential elements, you’ll streamline the research process and reduce work down the line.

Let’s look at some best-practice steps.

1. Define the challenge 

UX research seeks to understand the pain points, wants, and needs of your customers so you can develop better products and services. Before beginning UX research, you need to understand what challenge you are looking to understand, and solve, for your business and customers. Here are three examples:

  • We seek to uncover the root causes behind the significant drop-off rates at the shopping cart, aiming to identify user behaviors and potential barriers to retention.

  • Our focus is on understanding and evaluating the factors influencing user behavior to transition from free to paying platform members, aiming to optimize our conversion rate.

  • Our current challenge is to identify functionalities and features for our B2B fitness coaching app that will drive conversion and revenue.

Before diving in, it’s important to know what the challenge is, and therefore, what the UX research will be focused on.

2. Set your goals 

Once the challenge is clear, it’s essential to set your specific goals for the research. The goals you set at the start will define the entire project, so this aspect is worth spending time on.

There may be several areas that your team would like to research, but, for the best results, keep things simple. Set a small number of goals that relate to the core challenge. You can order your goals by priority to select the most essential ones for your project.

An example of a goal could be:

  • To decrease shopping cart drop-off rates by 25% by identifying and solving the challenges our customers experience.

3. Select your research method 

Based on the goals you’ve set, choose a relevant research method. With many research methods to choose from––customer interviews, focus groups, user testing, A/B testing, surveys, diary studies, analytics, and more––choosing the right method is important.

First, consider whether quantitative or qualitative research (or a mixed approach) will be most helpful for your project. Then select a method that aligns with your project objectives.

To discover why users are abandoning their shopping cart, for example, a range of methods may be relevant. These include:

  • User testing: users could be tasked with adding items to a shopping cart and completing a purchase while being observed by researchers. This may reveal moments of friction or difficulty in the checkout process.

  • Surveys: users could also be asked to provide feedback immediately after using the shopping cart. This would help researchers gain insights into customers’ feelings and frustrations directly after interacting with the product.

  • Heatmaps: some tools show where users are clicking and using their cursor. This can help identify areas where users pause, suggesting they are challenging or confusing.

  • A/B testing: presenting users with two different options for the shopping cart could help teams refine what elements, design features, and interfaces work better for conversion.

4. Identify participant sources

Once you’ve chosen your method or methods, determine how you’ll select participants. Don’t select them merely based on demographic factors; also focus on key behavioral patterns. This can be a challenging aspect of UX research, and it’s helpful to include it in your UX research plan to make the process more efficient.

Your current customers can be an ideal source of participants. Other ways to attract participants include reaching out to recruitment research agencies, putting a callout on social media, sending an email to customers, or using incentives. Pop-up surveys on your website and app could also prove useful.

5. Run a test

At this stage, it’s helpful to run a test of your plan methodology to check it works effectively. That could mean having a team member try out your survey or trialing a usability test within the team to spot any issues.

By running a test, and ironing out any issues that may arise, you’re more likely to have fewer challenges when conducting the actual research.

6. Analyze the data

Deciding how the data will be collected and analyzed––including how those results will be shared with the broader team, is an essential aspect of a UX research plan.

Keep in mind that the data you collect and analyze should link back to your goals and the overall challenge your team is looking to solve.

Tips for your UX research plan

To save time and make your UX plan as effective as possible, here are some best-practice tips:

  • Set clear goals: to get the best results from your research and ensure your UX research plan is comprehensive and effective, insist on clarity in your goals. Clear goals lead to cohesion among stakeholders, useful results, and addressing of business and customer challenges.

  • Understand your target market: your UX research should speak to your target market, solving their problems. Deeply understanding your market will direct you to the right type of research to keep delivering better products and services.

  • Set out an accurate timeline: to keep your project on track and ensure you have the appropriate resources to complete it, an accurate timeline is essential. The timeline should be well thought out, taking into account potential roadblocks and challenges.

  • Allow for flexibility: as you conduct the research, you may discover unexpected data or new insights. Some degree of flexibility in a UX plan, and your timeline, can be useful to allow for these potential diversions.

Examples of a good UX research plan

To help you get started with your UX research plan, we’ve created this UX research plan template for your next project.

Feel free to use this as a guide, adding or removing elements as you see fit.

This example covers a UX team wanting to boost resubscriptions for their dog-sitting app.

Challenge

50% of users are not renewing their app subscription.

Objective

To understand why some users are not renewing their app subscriptions and use this information to increase app resubscribes by 20%.

Research questions

  • What areas of the app are causing friction for users?

  • What aspects of the app provide the most value?

  • How can the app be streamlined for a boosted user experience?

  • How do user preferences and expectations align with the current offerings of the app, and are there opportunities for adjustments to better meet user needs?

  • How does the app compare to competitors in terms of subscription models, features, and overall user satisfaction?

Methodology

  • Surveys: conduct surveys with a relevant number of participants [the number you survey will depend on the population size, confidence level, and margin of error you are willing to have] who have just failed to renew their app subscription. Understand from these users what areas of the app caused the most friction and where more value could be added.

  • Usability testing: perform usability testing with a representative user sample to identify any usability issues that might be contributing to the drop in subscription renewals. Observe users interacting with the app and gather feedback on the user interface, navigation, and overall user experience.

  • Analytics: assess the analytics of customers who decide not to renew their subscriptions against those who do. Look for any differences in demographics, the way they use the app, and more.

Participants

[Choose existing or recent customers as participants so their insights are relevant to the project.]

Timeline

  • Week 1: establish participants

  • Week 2–3: perform surveys and usability tests

  • Week 4: gather key analytics

  • Week 5: perform analysis

  • Week 6: collate and share results

Stakeholders and responsibilities

[Identify key stakeholders including project managers, product owner, vice president (VP) of product, researchers, UX managers, designers, data engineers, and more.]

Risks and mitigation

Some potential risks include:

  • Low participant turnout: ensure a sufficient number of participants complete the survey so that the results are valid. The use of incentives may be necessary to boost completion rates.

  • Data challenges: there may be challenges when collating customer analytics. To ensure this is seamless, use a platform where all data can be housed in one place. And use an experienced engineer who can solve challenges if they arise.

Success metrics

  • Deeply understand what customers value in the app and what areas cause friction

  • Use the information gathered to make changes to the app to provide more value and less friction

  • Increase app resubscriptions by 20%

What's next after your user research plan?

Rather than diving straight into the research once your plan is in place, make sure your team validates your research plan. This will help you yield the results you are hoping for.

The plan should engage the relevant stakeholders to get them on board. Some research plans may also need to be approved by a funding body before further steps are taken.

Once all relevant parties are in agreement, the next step is to get started in line with the agreed timeline.

An effective UX research plan

Good pre-planning helps your UX research meet your goals and pleases your customers.

While it might be tempting to jump into UX research, having a solid plan in place will ensure you take the necessary steps at the right time, you won’t overlook key aspects of research, and all stakeholders are aligned before the research begins.

Ultimately, a good plan can help your team perform effective UX research that benefits those who matter the most––your customers.

FAQs

What are the key questions for UX research?

The questions you ask in UX research will be unique to your project goals and objectives. Some example UX research questions include:

User questions: 

  • What are our user’s demographics?

  • What problems do people seek to solve with our app?

  • What are our user’s key ?

Satisfaction:

  • How satisfied are our users with our product offering?

  • Would our users recommend us to a friend?

Efficiency:

  • Are our products providing efficiency?

  • Are our products giving a streamlined user experience?

What is a good UX research process?

A beneficial UX research process is one that ultimately improves the for users. Typically, the process includes:

  • A specific challenge: rather than researching too generally, understand the challenge or challenges the research is looking to understand better.

  • Clear goals: have clarity in your UX research goals, otherwise the data will not necessarily benefit the end user.

  • Relevant methodology: the right research method, which aligns with the goals and overall challenge, will ensure you gather relevant data.

  • Deep analysis: once you have amassed your data, analyze it to ensure insights can be found and acted upon.

What are the 5 stages of UX research?

There are five core steps in UX research:

  1. Setting goals

  2. Selecting participants

  3. Choosing a relevant research method

  4. Reporting on and sharing the results with stakeholders

How do you plan a UX research roadmap?

A UX research roadmap helps to keep a team on track when working toward the overarching goals and objectives.

When creating a UX research roadmap, it’s helpful to:

  • Establish the strategy: that’s the challenge you’re looking to solve and the goals you’ve set.

  • Choose an effective tool: a tool for tracking the entire project—not just timings, but all the key steps—can save time and act as a source of truth for all parties to reference.

Define key check-in points: to keep a team on track and working toward the key goals, it’s essential to have check-ins. This will help establish progress across different members of the team and provide a chance to change tack if needed.

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