06 Homework before Research

Learning with Lee Anne

Lee Anne Mercado
3 min readDec 21, 2020

I graduated with an HCI degree and a minor in design in 2018. I (naively) believed that I was fully equipped to understand UX in business, outside of school, but it turns out — I wasn’t! (Surprise!) Luckily, we never stop learning due to our peers, mentors, and random articles on the internet like this one. Since this is a time where my vulnerabilities and struggles are leading me to better understand research, I thought I’d document my learning process of how UX Research works in my everyday world of business!

As a part of this learning UXR series, I’ve been elaborating on the steps that I highlighted in my UX Research process article (LINK). For this post, we’ll be talking more about the things researchers should be doing at the beginning projects, including understanding previous research, conducting secondary research, and understanding stimuli.

I think this is actually one of the most important steps in research, especially if your work structure is similar to mine and you work on research for a multitude of different types of products/ software. Because my role is similar to a consultant role (despite being an in-house researcher), I treat it like so by making sure I do all I can to understand the background of the subject matter before moving forward.

Previous Research

Sometimes the stakeholders have this information ready for us and other times we have to do a little bit of digging ourselves. It’s essential to look back to see if there has been research done in relation to the project at hand. This can uncover one of two things:

  1. We might discover that there is already research on this topic and therefore doing another research project is actually unnecessary
  2. We might find out what has already been done, which allows us to strategically move the research forward in a way that builds on the previous findings

Sometimes there is no previous research that has been done, which is also fine. Still, there’s likely an opportunity to understand the topic of the project more in other ways, like secondary research.

Conducting Secondary Research

Oftentimes, it doesn’t hurt to do secondary research (if there’s time). Secondary research means a wide variety of things depending on the project of course, but here are a few examples:

  1. Competitive Analysis — It’s always great to understand what other people are doing in comparison to what our team has come up with. This just helps with context of experience for the interviews/ analysis as well. For example, if our team was designing an experience regarding notifications, it’s nice to know how other apps design notifications. This added knowledge then leads us to asking participants about their experience with other apps and allows us to compare and contrast the experiences in analysis. Understanding how other things work in comparison to our work can be a valuable insight.
  2. Scientific Research Journals — This is more for specific industries, but because I do work in a health tech field, looking into these kinds of journals is actually beneficial for some of the initial questions we have before even going into the research. Again, it’s about taking a look at what’s been done and understanding how to build our research project off of previous knowledge.
  3. Google — Clearly, secondary research is about understanding what’s been done in relation to the topic of our project. Google is something we all learned how to utilize in school, and it’s something we still utilize in the business world.

Understanding Stimuli

And of course, understanding the stimuli that you’re testing is essential. Especially if it’s a moderated study, I like to understand the content/ prototype forwards and backwards in order to be able to answer any questions or confusion participants may have. This idea might be a given, but it’s an important (seemingly small) thing to do. It helps the research for a number of reasons:

  1. It helps with creating a higher quality interview guide
  2. It helps participants give more thorough answers when you help them understand the stimuli
  3. It sets you, as a researcher, up for success when analyzing insights

None of what I mentioned in this article is required, nor should every single step that’s listed here be done every single time. However, knowing when to take extra steps like these really helps set the building stones for a successful research project.