3 Strategies for "Templatizing" Your User Research (Includes Example Templates)
Templates help streamline your processes, so you can approach the most important elements of your work with more creativity and rigor.
Words compiled by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Danbee Kim
Any "practice” has repeated elements. In UX, that might be a particular research design, a shareout or deliverable, even an intake form. Templates can speed up your workflow, making repeated tasks easier; they can also help democratize research by inviting others to learn within a guardrail sandbox.
People Nerds asked a few research and design professionals for when they use templates in their practice, why, and to what effect. We hope this inspires you to examine your own research workflows and surface templatization moments.
You can create a template for anything
By Silvina de Brum — UX Researcher & Co-founder, Personas Research & Design Studio
Templates are fantastic for helping you focus on the most relevant things you do—whether that's maintaining focus in a conversation to make decisions efficiently, planning a research project's essential activities, or conducting, synthesizing, and communicating research results.
At Personas, we have a continuously growing template collection from various resources. We use those templates as starting points and then modify them for specific needs. We have blank templates and finished examples. Blank templates tell you the essential things to consider, say, think, or do; samples show you how to do it (for instance, asking a question or presenting information).
We find these examples particularly useful whenever we are stuck and wonder how others might have solved similar challenges. We often modify the templates, and even when we use the same template, we produce different outputs. Having a place to start is inspirational and efficient.
Sometimes, we use various template formats for the same activity at different moments in the process. For example, in customer journeys, we often use two designs: one for thinking and making sense of participants' data, (comments and observations) and another to communicate that information. See the example below (downsized to protect client information).
We strongly believe that you can create a template for anything. We take pictures of other facilitators' sketches made during workshops that communicate concepts effectively and save them to use later. We have a template with quotes and stories to share for every method we teach, which will effectively convey that specific method's essence and make it easy to remember to use it. We use these templates as an inspiration kit that we check whenever we plan an activity.
Because most of the research we conduct at Personas is in Spanish, we thought of sharing templates that might help people interested in conducting research in this language. Feel free to make copies of these templates for interview protocols and usability testing.
I also work as a Human-Centered Design consultant instructor for the LUMA Institute in South America. I am a big fan of their templates. Here are some of my favorites:
Creative matrix:A fantastic activity for structuring brainstorming and promoting cross-pollination when solving several challenges simultaneously
Concept poster: It helps to bring an idea from a Post-it to life in 30 minutes. I love this template because it enables you to define the key elements of an idea or project. It creates a shared vision for the future.
Take a “trial and error” approach
By Sofya Bourne — UX Researcher, Onfido
Do you ever find yourself copying certain documents from one project to the next, or recycling particular document structures again and again? These copy-paste moments are likely to be the best place to start templatizing your research practice.
Documents and artefacts that allow for this kind of recycling are usually built around a solid framework to give your thoughts and ideas structure, yet flexible enough to accommodate variations across projects.
Transforming such documents into templates can help you organise your thoughts, make it easier to scope out a new project, and save time and mental effort you could otherwise spend on doing actual research rather than on setting it up - something that is particularly crucial during successive rounds of tactical research.
Here are a few examples of how we use templates at different stages of user research at Onfido:
At the start of a new study, we often use a research plan template to articulate the questions we’re trying to answer, propose a research approach or two, outline what is in and out of scope and, ultimately, align on the way forward with key stakeholder groups. When used collaboratively with others on your team, this kind of template also invites non-researchers to start thinking like a researcher, helping them articulate risks and unknowns as assumptions and research questions.
We also have a template to support planning informed consent and data management approaches for new studies: what data we’ll be gathering during the study, how we’ll be doing that, how and for how long we’ll be storing it, and who will have access to it. This allows us to go into the project keeping our research participants’ privacy in mind and ensure we gather the correct consent for the given project.
Communicating with research participants
When the pandemic started and all our research moved online, we found ourselves spending more time than ever crafting clear instructions to help participants prepare for their remote research sessions. A year later, we now have a selection of session instructions templates for the most common types of sessions we run remotely: via Zoom or Lookback, with a prototype app or a purpose-built test app, on Android or iOS. These are completed with screenshots and detailed descriptions of what participants should do in advance to help their session run smoothly -- all we have to do at the start of a new study is tweak a few details and send the instructions off to participants ahead of our call.
Templates can also help streamline and simplify communication with stakeholders. For example, for tactical research projects, we found it very effective to share a summary of the session highlights alongside a replay link after every user interview. Using a simple template for this helps us share these as Slack threads and engage both stakeholders who weren’t able to make the session and the observers in a discussion about emerging learning.
Similarly, an insights summary template helps us organise research findings in a digestible format, signposting key themes for different groups of stakeholders and communicating these clearly and promptly to the team.
Templates can add real value to any research practice, but it’s also worth noting that it’s important to use them with discernment. Different templates become more or less useful depending on the research you’re conducting. For example, the session highlights and insights summary templates we mentioned above are great for tactical studies in agile teams but would be too limiting to communicate learnings from a large-scale discovery project effectively.
If you’re looking to start creating templates to support your own work, don’t be afraid to go down the route of trial and error. Draw inspiration from others in the research community, but ultimately don’t hesitate to rip it all up and piece together something that works for you personally, as well as your teams and research participants. If a template doesn’t fit, remember that you can adapt and change it as needed. After all, the point of templates is to help your research practice, not impede it. If it doesn’t work for you - adapt it until it does
Build your templates to last
By Daniela Governatori — CX Research Manager, Rakuten Rewards
Whether you’re a sole researcher or a research team, there will never be enough hours in the day to conduct research, synthesize, consult and create research insights for your entire organization. Templates help streamline the process, so it doesn’t feel ad hoc each time for you and your partners.
Here are just a few of the many ways templatizing helps:
Streamline your process. It also makes onboarding new members to the team that much easier!
Create consistency by establishing a baseline of how research should be executed and ensuring that findings are communicated consistently every time.
Empower stakeholders to participate in research practices and rituals. This is core to making research a success.
Build empathy for your users as more team members engage with research and see firsthand what your users are experiencing.
Ready to dive right into templates? Not so fast...like all good research methods, preparation is key to success.
Lay the groundwork
Before you start building templates, make sure you understand the needs of your organization, stakeholders, and the research team. While templates should be considered living documents, this will ensure that your templates will be all-encompassing and don’t need to be edited regularly.
Step 1: Understand the product development lifecycle within your organization.
Identify where certain research methods should fall into the process... ideally.
Recognize and take note of where they are actually happening today.
Step 2: Interview stakeholders to understand the current pain points, needs and opportunities.
For you as the sole researcher or your research team?
What are the gaps and opportunities for Product and Design?
Self-service research hub that houses your templates.
Create a single source of truth for your organization (depending on what tools you use: Google Workspace, Airtable, Microsoft Forms, Box Note, Dropbox Paper, Confluence, etc.).
Ideally you want:
Make sure it’s accessible by everyone in your organization to help de-silo research and empower members in your organization to seek their own answers.
This process can take many months, so focus on the biggest opportunities for scaling research, while ensuring it’s as consistent and streamlined as possible. Look at what research methods are leveraged often, what questions you get asked the most, most frequent research requests, the biggest gaps in your organization’s understanding, and what opportunities there are for education.
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for best practices, you’re ready to build out your templates.
Create your templates
There are so many different parts of the research process that can be templatized based on your organization’s structure and needs. It can be overwhelming! I like to start with what I think are the two most critical parts of research: The research request (or intake), and the final insights.
Example: Research intake form template
Whether it’s an ask to conduct research or to consult on a research project, it’s important to streamline this process and educate your organization on the research roadmap and steps. This form will also allow you to organize your workflow, keep track of research requests, and ensure you’re collecting information consistently as early as possible.
Make the form robust enough that you feel like you have enough information to decide what next steps are and
remember: requesting research is easy, it’s conducting the research that is time-consuming! Treat this intake form like a little speed bump to decide whether to green or red light a project or maybe yellow light it for later.
Best platforms to use: Airtable, Monday.com, Google Forms, Microsoft Forms
This is particularly helpful for unmoderated user testing, which, as Nikki Anderson mentions in her post How to Optimize Unmoderated User Tests, is a really good method to help scale research.
In the short term, having a template that you can easily plug insights into means you can share insights organization-wide faster and more efficiently. This frees up your time to focus on what’s next without having to start a deck from scratch every time. This type of deck is also really helpful to share with your team and other non-research stakeholders that may conduct smaller-scale research (like unmoderated usability testing or a survey) to understand how to share insights.
When research findings are consistent across teams, researchers, and projects, it makes it a lot easier for members in your organization to know what to expect from research and historical research that’s been executed. Whether a new member has joined your organization and wants to learn more about how something came to be or a designer is moving teams and wants to brush up on the backstory of an initiative, having consistent and reliable insight readouts strengthens the entire organization and helps keep everyone on the same page. This becomes increasingly true once an organization starts to scale and researchers don’t have bandwidth to guide everyone through historical research.
Best platforms to use: Google Slides (can also be exported as PowerPoint)
Now that you have the bookends to research, go forth and create templates to help scale consistent and streamlined research within your organization!
Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.
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