Carol Rossi | Getting Started with UX Research | @crossiUX


As user experience professionals, we all realize the importance of getting real insights from real users and not just making decisions based on a hunch. So what can you do if you’re a designer who doesn’t have trained researchers on your team and you want to go beyond throwing your prototype in front of a few friends?

Well, here’s some help to get you started! This month and next we’ll lay out some steps so you can learn basic research skills and start to collect your own insights. This month, we’ll focus on preparing to run a study. In January, we’ll cover things to think about when you’re actually doing the research and need to roll up what you’ve learned into insights.

First thing to consider: Preparation is crucial

Step 1 of 4: Focus on usability testing
A well-designed, practical, usability study can tell you how users respond to your design and give you plenty of input on how to improve it, whether your design is a low fidelity prototype or a fully functioning product. Focus on usability testing and leave the interviews, surveys, and other techniques to the pro researchers for now.


Step 2 of 4: Create a test plan
I firmly believe anybody can learn to run a usability study, but unfortunately without preparation the study isn’t likely to provide the answers you need. Prep doesn’t have to be a formal process – you can keep this really simple and the whole study can be done in few days. First, think through three key questions:

  • What are you hoping to learn from the test (the objectives)? Your objective might be to see what issues participants encounter with your site when trying to find recipes they can cook for their family, or what keeps them from finding a car they may want to lease.
  • Who is your target audience and how will you find people like them? Are you more interested in professional chefs or stay-at-home moms? People who work full-time and need to make a quick weeknight dinner? And how will you find those people? Can you recruit them from your site with a tool like Ethnio, find them through a local cooking Meetup, or at a mommy and me yoga class? Recruiting the target audience may take some time and effort, so if finding those people is impossible then run the study with anyone who approximates them. It’s best to NOT use direct friends and family – people 1 or 2 levels removed from you is fine.
  • What will you ask the participants to do (what tasks will you give them) to address your objectives? It’s important that you GIVE PARTICIPANTS SOMETHING TO DO with your site and NOT ASK THEM HOW THEY FEEL or whether they like it. A great task would be “Find a recipe you can cook for dinner tonight” or “Find a price for a car that has the features you want.” People are lousy at predicting what they would do so don’t bother asking them, just see whether or not they can complete the task you’re giving them.


Step 3 of 4: Don’t go it alone
Before you go too far, it’s ESSENTIAL that you involve the rest of the team, which depending on your company might mean a developer, a product manager, someone from marketing, other designers, etc. Include these key stakeholders throughout the process as a way to get everyone to agree on how you’ll run the test so they’ll be more likely to accept the results.


Step 4 of 4: Confirm alignment with stakeholders
Write a short test plan to communicate the details of the test. This step is crucial to get all stakeholders aligned. Don’t worry about making it fancy – the plan could be literally a single page. Include in the plan all the things you’ve just worked out with the team: the objectives, the target audience and how will you find participants, and the tasks you give them to do.

Once you take these steps you’ll be ready to run your study! In January I’ll give you tips for running the test and turning what you learn into actionable insights. 

Continue reading | part 2

About Carol Rossi


With 20+ years of experience, Carol has led projects around vision and strategy setting, brand retention and building, as well as tactical UX research. Learn more at and on LinkedIn.