User and Design Research

The Research Funnel

A few years ago I came up with a simple category system for research called the Research Funnel and wrote about it on my blog. I created it whilst working at my last job as an in-house Research Director. As I was the first researcher the company had taken on and couldn't hope to do all the research, it had became necessary to have a way of talking about the kinds of projects I could really add value to and which projects people should do under their own steam.

The Research Funnel
The Research Funnel

Research should be designed to address a problem — either to solve it or to get closer to a solution. The funnel categories describe research as something that can and should happen at every stage of a product/project lifecycle. They describe how close you are to the problem or solution. At the top of the funnel you are furthest from the problem and at the bottom you are closest to the problem.

It also describes how broad the data collection should be — how wide or deep to go. The funnel isn’t one way and research doesn’t necessarily need to move through the stages in order. For example, insights from the bottom of the funnel can be dripped back into the top or middle of the funnel to inspire creativity, inform strategy or provide direction and tactics.

What type of research does your organisation need?

Much of the day to day research done in the UX industry sits in the tactical and operational research categories and is often handled within product/production teams directly rather than centralised siloed research teams. Tactical and operational research work really well in agile and ‘everything all the time’ workflows and in ongoing product development.

Exploratory and strategic research work well in a ‘discovery phase’ in a waterfall workflow or at the start of a redesign or new project. You often can’t do strategic or exploratory research without data gathered operationally though. Whilst analytics give us a lot of detail, they need charting, tracking and interpreting to be useful. We need to think about what this builds into — how we join the dots into a bigger picture or strategy.

How can I help you?

I've been a researcher for 19 years and have plenty of experience of running research projects at all stages of the funnel. In particular, I specialise in exploratory, strategy and discovery research. I'm an advocate of designers and product managers doing research themselves and have help set up a community of practice and empowered others to do their own.

If you would like me to act as your researcher and run a research project for you or set up a research practice for your organisation, you can hire me.