Five user research rules of thumb

Over years of experience you begin to collect ways of working and talking about how you work that accrete into rules of thumb. Here are some that I reference pretty often. I’d love to hear others.

  • One hour / day of analysis for every hour / day of research. 
    (I’m pretty sure that back in the early days it used to be 2:1 ratio but that was Before Agile. These days 1:1 is considered generous, but it is entirely necessary. If you don’t intend and allow time to do the analysis, don’t bother doing the research IMHO).  There are some thoughts on doing research analysis in agile teams that I mostly agree with here.
  • The 70/30 rule
    Researchers should spend 70% of their time communicating, helping (and persuading) people to understand and act on the research and 30% of their time actually doing research. More on that here.
  • The two week rule
    Don’t design anything for more than 2 weeks before you watch people using it. More on that here.
  • More than three, less than ten
    Working out how many people to recruit can be tricky. It is much more important that you just get started doing research and keep doing it, than it is to tie yourself in knots working out sample size. That said, three people is almost always too few. For qualitative research, in the first instance, ten is very often more than you need. More on sample size here.
  • One researcher per team
    Don’t spread researchers thinly across a bunch of teams. Researchers working across multiple teams tend not to be able to do the 70/3o rule and their research is less effective and impactful as a result. If you don’t have enough researchers to do this, prioritise your projects, let researchers do a good job for at least one team rather than a mediocre job for everyone. Also, you should read this as ‘at least one’ rather than ‘only one’. Some teams require multiple researchers. Avoid discussions about ratios of researchers : designers : devs whenever possible.

I’m aware some of these are a bit contentious, but they’ve worked for me. I’d love to hear any you’ve been using that work for you.

8 thoughts on “Five user research rules of thumb

  1. iya – I’m a Lead UXR, have been researching for about 10 years and have been both the sole researcher, and one who’s time was spread over too many products/projects. Context out of the way – I wholeheartedly agree with every word of this post. Nicely put.

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