Research first, then start making design decisions.

Research first, design later

Research first, then draw the line. Memorize this phrase. Research first, then make that critical design decision. Research first, then form the process. It will change the way you design. First of all, this blog article, as you guessed, is about training you to research first. Additionally, it’s a reminder to understand the nature of research and that unless you investigate with the whole sum of the target user audience, you’ll only be close.

What does “Research First” mean to me?

So often we just make decisions. In fact, have you heard that saying that reads “The older I get, it seems like the dumber I feel”? Some psychologists believe that our brains are pattern recognition machines. In my Psych 101 book, Psychology (so cleché right?), written by Sandra Hockenbury, Don Hockenbury and Susan Nolan describes the term recognition as “identifying the correct information from several possible choices”. The idea is that if the information is in your long term, then you should be able to pull it out. I think the possible choices part is the key part is really the point I’m getting at. The older I get, the more possible choices for correct come to be. The more exposure to different possibilities in design and user expectations, the more I realize the lack of one truth and one right way to do it.

Research for me is all about digging deep on a topic in order to learn where the the majority of expectations might be. In other words, this all in an effort to extinguish the possible mis-information around a topic. What’s the best way to do this user interface? This form? This visual design? This pantry for my wife? This garden shed?… etc. etc. It’s about extinguishing the wild and unruly notions that flare up like hemorrhoid that scares users away. Getting rid of my assumptions. Destroying the falsities that block the true.

Just get close for goodness sake!

But, I’m still human so it’s important to understand that it’s more about getting close to my target than it is about getting the exact answer. Think about a barn out in a field. You have a bow and arrow–or a 12 gauge shotgun and a plastic elk. You need to hit that target. In UX land, when it comes to research, you are trying to identify where the bulk of the users will be, where their expectations are, and how best you can to design in order to minimize usability problems. Aim, with your research, to get close to their expectations. Do that and you’ll do much better than most of the bosses who are shooting from their hip as they assume everyone is like them.

The more research I do, the more I learn that others are not like me and that we all are different and do things differently. It’s all different, strange, foreign. In some ways, I am in the mainline, but in other ways, I’m in the minority. I know this because I’ve interviewed, surveyed, observed interface usage, dug into web forums, and had my work peer reviewed. I’m not super and I’m not the most seasoned UX designer. I’m still learning.

But, the most prominent foundational comprehension that has paved a path for me is the idea that I don’t know. As a Christian, I fear and respect God’s creation and the complexity that surrounds me. It’s an elusive ever-changing world we live in, with expectations that move and shift with a whim and a shadow. Cling to what is good as the the old saying goes, and reject what is evil. Some UI designs are more evil than others. Sometimes our own design is the problem. Believe it! Empathize with your users. Grow!


I hope this pep talk was helpful for you. Here’s a spreadsheet where I’ve listed some of the Research Methods to consider as you dig in towards understanding your particular situation. Remember that it’s all about empathizing with the user, comprehending the shift in the trends of the industry, and really just hitting the barn. Happy researching!

Research Methods

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