Skip to content

Study Design: The Bad News Experience

Researching how to design a UX that deliver bad news...better.

Words by Kyli Herzberg

Many of dscout's qualitative research studies draw in over 500 applications. Behind each is a scout readily answering our screening questions, offering up their time and insights.

Most of those studies, however, require just 50 or so participants. It's not great odds for the applicants.

We got to wondering: How do we manage the “bad news” experience? How does that affect the way users view dscout?

Turns out that some clients, like our pals at Fitbit, were wondering the same thing. So we put our collective research superpowers to work with a study that explored the nature of "bad news" in the digital realm.

A few questions we aimed to answer:

  • What constitutes bad news for people?
  • How do they receive it, and how are they taking it?
  • Does the way we deliver bad news matter at all?

In under 2 weeks, we recruited and fielded a study that delivered 900 entries from 55 scouts, each sharing the near-daily bad news they received, and how their experiences could have been better. We learned how different products and services deliver bad news, and what people wish those companies did instead.

In September 2016, we presented our findings at Toronto’s Fluxible conference for UX designers. Below, we share our qualitative research methodology with our research readership at large: the screener and mission instructions and scripts, sample scout entries, and a few video excerpts we captured with the dscout platform.

In Mission 1, scouts shared in-the-moment bad news they received digitally. In Mission 2, scouts presented the best and worst ways that bad news had been delivered to them. In Mission 3, scouts ideated around “rules” or guidelines that companies should follow when giving bad news.


By the numbers:
Screeners: 1
Applicants: 880
Missions: 3
Participants: 55
Entries: 900
Incentive: $50
In field: 11 days

SCREENER: Good News, Bad News


Recruit participants who try at a variety of activities (dating, fitness, social media, jobs, etc.) and make themselves vulnerable to failure. Chosen scouts should be articulate, thoughtful, and willing to openly share their negative moments.


3 days

Teaser and Screener questionnaire to potential participants

MISSION 1: Bad News Moments


  • Gauge the temperature of “bad news” in the digital context. What counts as bad news?
  • Who sends the bad news, and how?
  • Do people react differently to different types of bad news sent in different ways? How?

Timing / Entries

5 days to collect 6 entries per scout

Sample Scout Entry

MISSION 2: Dos and Don’ts


  • Understand what really great “bad news” delivery and what really awful delivery look like.
  • What services and companies do it best, and why?
  • Is any one style, timing, or method of delivery always received better than the rest?
  • What major mistakes should companies avoid at all costs?

Timing / Entries

2 days to collect 4 entries per scout

Sample Scout Entry

Watch a sample scout video entry from Mission #2

Mission 3: Bad News Rules


Understand how scouts believe bad news should be delivered digitally. If they were in charge of delivering bad news, what guidelines would they employ, and why? What types of bad news would each rule work well for? What company in particular should adopt this rule ASAP?

Timing / Entries

2 days to collect 4 entries per scout

Sample Scout Entry

Watch a sample scout video entry from Mission #3

Interested in running your own project with dscout? Let us know your goals here and we'll be in touch!

Subscribe To People Nerds

A weekly roundup of interviews, pro tips and original research designed for people who are interested in people

The Latest