Choosing Methodology

The goal of user research is to either generate ideas or validate concepts. Some methods are also better suited for quantitative (large scale/close ended) research while most are great for qualitative (small scale/open ended) research.

A simple but meaningful way of thinking about these different types of research inputs is…


Generative Research

Conducted to inspire and stimulate the design/innovation team, generative research enables the team to more effectively define requirements. It helps us understand how the environment that consumers work in and the things they use affect your organization's offerings and opportunities. It helps the team understand not only what people say, but what they do. The goal is to find challenges and opportunities for the new product or service.

Evaluative research

Conducted to determine what aspects of new designs resonate with potential new innovations.

Why Quantitative?

The goal of quantitative research is to give us enough data points to make informed decisions. Quantitative research is usually used to evaluate a new product or service idea, but can also be used to help understand the context of a new innovation.

Number of Participants
The number of participants that you need is based on the number of people in your total user population. Usually you will want to talk to at least 100 people per segment.

Limitation of Quantitative
Close-ended questions can help us gauge if an idea will be successful, but they usually do not help us determine why.

How this Research is Leveraged
Product line management
Business unit management

Why Qualitative?

Understanding the consumers' environment and having deep conversations with them is invaluable for achieving a fuller understanding of their needs, the root causes behind the challenges they face, and opportunities for innovation and growth. Sometimes the answer is not known, or cannot be articulated by the subjects, and we must infer from close observation of their behavior and their environment.
Qualitative research helps designers to understand an issue and to determine the best and most innovative way to solve product challenges. It also identifies well posed questions that can be checked quantitatively.

Number of Participants
Roughly 7-10 per segment

Limitation of Qualitative
Cannot be used to infer proportions of the population.  A mention of an issue once, by one respondent, has equal weight with an issue consistently mentioned by all respondents.

How this Research is Leveraged




Stakeholder interviews are done early in the project. The goal is to gain project buy-in and to find possible political “watch out for’s.” Our clients usually have a base of knowledge about their customers which help us create the learning plan.



In home interviews are popular for B2C research. In home observation gives the team the chance to see the problem in context. I have done in home observation of almost every room in the typical house. The goal is to understand the context and work flows, and the problems that each create.



Most in context research is structured around interviewing the respondent. During the interview we are trying to understand the respondent’s needs, values, and challenges.




Good for Retail and CPG projects. We will go shopping with the respondent and ask them to think aloud as they shop. This helps us understand the real world trade offs that respondents make, and can inspire retail environments. 

See a detailed how-to here



Shadowing means spending multiple hours or days observing respondents live their lives and do their jobs. This helps uncover issues that may not be top of mind during an interview. 




Co-design means designing services or experiences with customers/users. Can be used to make physical mock-ups of products, create curriculums, and inspire digital services




Online surveys are a good way to quickly gather quantitative data or feedback. We use online surveys to understand initial needs, and to validate design directions. Online surveys can be distributed through a url, or you can hire an online specific recruiter. 



Online panels let the moderator guide asynchronous remote conversations. Online Panels work kind of like a private social networking platform. Respondents create profiles and have conversations with each other and the moderator. Online panels can be a great way to help the team get into context and learn jargon but the data can be difficult to analyze.

A focus group is a guided discussion between a moderator and 5-12 respondents. Focus Groups tend to get a bad reputation among the research community, but defiantly have a time and a place. The dynamics of talking to 12 strangers at the same time can be tricky, even for a seasoned moderator. Occasionally there are wonky social issues between respondents, the most popular example is when a dominate respondent “takes over” the group. However, a focus group is a cost effective way to gather a lot of feedback quickly. We find that focus groups work very well for children and mom’s they don’t work as well for more professional topics where everyone wants to be the expert.


Consumer validation takes place near the end of the project and helps us makes sure that we understand the user and their needs/values. Concept validation is usually used to test a number of design directions as well as embodiments for each direction. The goal of concept validation is to determine if a concept is desirable and believable.




Trend Hunting means finding ways to determine what future trends might be. Successful trend hunting efforts are longitudinal (happen over a number of years) and are divergent- aimed at a number of industries/product experience situations.



A camera study is usually a homework assignment, but can sometimes be the only research a project can afford. This is an almost free way to gain access to contextual clues when you can’t be in the field. It also creates a really cool deliverable when used as homework. Camera studies should always be followed by in person or phone interviews.


takeholder interviews are done early in the project. The goal is to gain project buy-in and to find possible political “watch out for’s.” Our clients usually have a base of knowledge about their customers which help us create the learning plan.