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UX Project User Research

UX Project Start to Finish: User Research (part 1)

My “How To” articles are the articles I would have loved to have read 4 years ago. This was a time when I was wading through articles, book and courses to really understand what UX was really about. The problem for me was that there was just too much impractical noise. Advice like “design for emotion” or “the best interface is no interface” were all well and good, but didn’t tell me anything about working in real-life UX projects.

I don’t want you to have to wade through the same bullshit, especially on my site.

This is part 1 of a 10-part series. It’s essentially a blueprint for what a general UX project looks like. Of course every project and client have their own twists on the formula, but the elements general stay the same. I should also mention that this is a simplified version of a full, in-depth UX project. Some processes have been left out for the sake of giving you the ‘big-picture’. 

For the sake of this post, i’m going to use made-up example of an app. I really hope this helps you!

I've put together a quick 1-page PDF of the entire overview of the UX Project
 which you can download here. 


Gav, an entrepreneur with a strangely shaped head, wants me to design an app for him. He only has a very loose idea of what he wants and his budget only allows for about 5 days of UX work.

He emails me the following brief:

User Research UX

Ok so i’ve gotten my vague-ass brief. This one’s going to require a bit of concept work, but no worries, because I’ve got a system!




So we know we need to make an app to help entrepreneurs keep up with their educational material, we also kind of know the demographic our client Gav wants to target – so this first step is all about getting to know these people as well as possible.



The first thing I would do in this case is post a simple request on a Facebook Startup group which looks something like this:

User Research UX

Of course you can also make a physical notice and put it in a co-working space or use craigslist, but I find Facebook groups quite a good way to find relevant people. Also, €100 is only a guide based on the target customer here. A lot less may be required for a more consumer oriented product.



Ok, so we’ve found 3 perfect matches from the Facebook ad. The next thing I would do in this case is schedule a face to face meeting with each of them.

Before they arrive though, I’ll send them a small task: they will receive a diary which I have made specially for this project. I will ask them to fill it in every day up until the face to face (approx 5 days). So what’s in this diary? Simple things I want to know about like:

-What time did you wake up today?
-What time did you leave the house?
-How did you get to work?
-Did you read/listen to anything on the way?

Here’s an actual print out of one of the diary’s my agency AJ&Smart sends:

User Research Pre Interview UX


Of course you don’t have to print it out, you can also just make a quick Google doc for them to fill out, or even use something like Survey Monkey. The point is to gather some quantitative data for later.

(The assignments handbook we send out also has more creative tasks like drawing mind-maps and answering more abstract questions. This is something I won’t go into right now)



Next, have them come to meet you (or even better, go to them in their natural environment) and ask some questions. The point here is not to talk about your product, the point is to understand the motivations behind their behaviour and really get to know who you’re making this product for.

User Research UX
A scene from one of our recent “workshop style” interview sessions

So sit down, get them comfortable and start asking some simple questions. It’s important to note that I do not tell them what I am making. Not even that it’s an app. I don’t want them to give me answers that might be skewed toward what I want.  Because we’re trying to create an app to help them learn more – I would ask questions along these lines (including answers):

Me: How often do you buy educational books?
Participant: Oh, about 3 a month. I see something on a site, or hear about it in a podcast and just buy them.

Me: How many of them do you actually finish
Participant:  Mmmm… most of them are unfinished to be honest, I never get the time to sit down and read. Usually I only get that chance on vacation.

Me: When you don’t finish books, how do you feel?
Participant: Guilty! I hate having unread books piling up around me. It’s overwhelming.

Me: In your diary you mentioned you listen to educational podcasts while making breakfast and cycling to work?
Participant: Yes, it’s just so easy, I can walk around and do stuff while learning a bit. Podcasts are a great way to keep up with the tech industry


You get the point. Armed with the diary I sent the participant earlier in the week, i’m able to ask questions related to his current lifestyle and gain some real insights into this persons motivations and needs.

I repeat the process for however many participants I need (or can afford). I would recommend 3-5 people for a normal project.

I would like to mention that there is another step you can take to learn more about your participants which is more like a workshop, however for the sake of simplicity, I won’t discuss it here.

Next Steps

Now that I’ve interviewed my participants, took notes and have their diary’s – it’s time to gather all this data together and start to make sense of it. In Part 2 of this series, i’ll show you how to group all of the findings in a way that reveals patterns in behaviour and motivations. From there we’ll be able to create personas and a first set of solutions.

Go to Part 2: Cluster Your Findings


Further Reading

Got Questions?

I’m putting together a Q&A video for every part of this series. If you have a question, just ask me in the comments below or  on twitter: @jicecream

Part 2 is coming very soon, if you want to be notified when it’s ready just add yourself to the mailing list below if you haven’t already.

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