Remember having a piggy bank when you were a child? If you were lucky, your grandma would give you some extra money every Sunday when she came over. This way your piggy bank did not only contain what you’ve earned by yourself but also some regular bonuses.
In her talk “The What and Why of Continuous Discovery”, product discovery coach Teresa Torres refers to continuous UX research as “putting money in a bank” with the potential to compound over time. This is a well-fitting metaphor: Having a deposit is always helpful, not only in monetary terms. Regarding UX Research, a UX repository (like consider.ly) serves as a piggy bank. Content put in the repository is easy to find: With each project, study, or testing session you conduct, you get insights about your users.
But what about everything you learn on the fly? Who takes over grandma’s role and regularly puts something in the bank? To clarify those questions, let’s take a look at the concept of continuous UX research.
What continuous UX research is
According to Tomer Sharon “continuous user research is fast-rhythm research that is open-ended in nature. It’s not dedicated to any specific topic and it’s not research that anyone asks for.”
In other words, continuous UX research means pro-actively researching and regularly gaining insights into your users’ behaviors, needs, and desires. Furthermore, its main purpose is not only to adapt quickly to upcoming challenges but also to act foresightedly and to be one step ahead of tomorrow’s research demands.
How continuous UX research is different from common research
Looking at the example from the beginning, there are two ways of putting money in your piggy bank: Your normal income and what you get on top of that. You might not need the extra money from your grandma by the time she gives it to you, but some day you most probably will.
Let’s make this clear by demonstrating four differences between the process of continuous research and common research.
Initiation by the team building the product
Often, the starting signal for UX research is given by the management. You can imagine that as them saying “We have a certain project. Research that project’s topic”.
In continuous research, the employees (e.g. the designer or developer) start the research process. They directly turn to the UX researcher by saying “Hey, I need information about this, find something for me”. When the team building the product initiates research, it is less likely that they will question your results.
Structure of the workflow
Once the budget and resources of your company allow your UX team to do research in a non-project-based approach, you can get started. Since continuous UX research is not project-related, it doesn’t require permission for each research cycle.
On the one hand, that means that you don’t have a long lead time. On the other hand, you need a UX researcher who disposes of the required time contingent.
Shorter lead time
Continuous research is not about waiting until you are prompted to test something. You conduct the research processes in parallel with product development. This causes shorter lead times than usually. Lead time reduction is a significant advantage in agile product development: People need research input while they are working on something. When a researcher collects information continuously, he or she just needs to react to new research requests from fellow workers instead of setting them as a starting point. You will see results way quicker.
Last but not least, let’s talk about reporting. In contrast to common research processes, results from continuous UX research don’t need to be explicitly prepared for a special audience. You don’t need to put your findings in well-designed PDFs or PowerPoint presentations. Continuous UX research isn’t about creating extra work for you.
Rather than that, you simply save the results in a searchable format. The saving effort consists of preparing the data in a way that allows anothers to continue working with them. And then one day, when a certain piece of information is needed, it’s time to shine!
But that’s easier said than done. In practice, finding a proper data format proves to be quite challenging. Keep on reading, and find out how UX repositories can help you with that.
What continuous UX research helps you with
We assume that if you’ve made it this far, you’ve gained an understanding of what continuous UX research is. Following up on this, let’s have a look at some practical examples.
In your childhood, you may have invested your savings in that fancy new bike. Of course, saving money is more fun when your money has a purpose. Therefore, we give you a brief overview of what kind of results continuous UX research can have.
Deepen user insights
With frequently delivered insights, you obtain a clearer understanding of your user base. Compared to only conducting experiments from time to time, continuous UX research gives you a holistic picture of your users. The goal should be to answer questions from your users’ perspective.
This is not to be confused with an expert review. In that case, the experts put themselves into the users’ shoes. On the contrary, continuous UX research answers questions based on an excessive amount of knowledge.
After a while, you’ve created a data collection that allows you to rely on it to find an answer. This perfectly matches the concept of agile project management. Because with that amount of data up to your sleeve, you can recognize changes and react to them.
Observing long-term user behavior
User requirements may change over time. This is a natural process every UXer knows about. So conducting research multiple times during a product’s usage life cycle is very effective in order to gain long-term insights.
Another benefit that comes with long-term observation of your users is the possibility of detecting patterns. If your research process fulfills the condition of having a knowledge repository, this is a lot easier to achieve. By connecting old and new information, you may discover correlations between certain ways of behavior. Those discoveries can lead you to interesting insights.
Supporting decision making
Product decisions are made every day. There are bigger, important decisions like “Which requirements does the product need to fulfill?” and smaller ones like “Which color should the button have?”.
Continuous UX research supports your product-based decisions in two ways: First, when you’re permanently talking to users, you get information on current issues quickly. And second, if you’ve collected a body of knowledge, you can make your decisions based on prior experiments. And by continuing your research, your decisions are never based on outdated user data.
Unveiling hidden potential
As Tomer Sharon states, regular studies “will only and always answer the questions they are designed to answer. They will almost never answer questions you didn’t know you should ask […]”. This is another advantage of continuous UX research that comes into effect. It helps you to reveal opportunities you would have never found by only doing project-specific research.
How to integrate continuous UX research into your daily work routine
As a child, integrating saving money for your piggy bank into your daily life was hard. It included asking other family members to “donate”, setting up a savings plan, and saying no to your friends’ weekend plans.
Luckily, integrating continuous UX research into your work routine doesn’t require to disappoint your friends.
Clarify the budget
Analogous to requesting cash from patronizing relatives for your new bike, you should talk with your management about your continuous research budget.
The challenge about continuously UX researching lies in the lack of cost predictability. Costs are easier to estimate in project-specific research. Continuous UX research, as its name suggests, causes continuous costs, which are not directly relatable to a specific project. Also, there is no defined end to the research process. For these reasons, calculating the ROI requires a new way of thinking. Look at continuous research as an investment in your company’s future.
You may not immediately encounter its advantages but if your researchers are doing a good job and sustainably handle their findings, we promise you will be successful soon. Also, once you and your team have seen that continuous research works, it is easier to put trust in it in the future.
For those of you who find this still too vague: Summed up, we recommend you to include a financial buffer for continuous UX research in your project’s cost estimation.
Plan research intervals
Teresa Torres recommends engaging with customers at least every week. She suggests collecting a week’s question and then discussing it together with (potential) users. This way, you get input continuously and turn your product development into a co-creation process. Marc-Oliver Gern, Senior UX Design Manager at Appnovation, adds to have a research calendar that is shared company-wide.
If short testing intervals scare you, we recommend taking a look at the concept of lean UX, a possibility of working with little resources.
Integrate it into your team
Continuous UX research should be conducted by the team building the product. And by “the team”, we mean the team and not a single UX researcher. Design strategist and consultant Erika Hall comments on that by saying “The most common mistake that well-meaning product companies make is to hire or cultivate a great research specialist and put them in a corner alone”.
Why she is right, is easy to understand: If many join the research process, there is more input – two heads are better than one. Also, if the whole team has access to the storage of research findings, they must not communicate with the UX researcher first. Instead, they can add their input themselves. This has the positive side effect of information not getting lost.
Set rules for knowledge storage
When people collaborate, they need rules. Otherwise, everything turns into chaos. Applying that to continuous research means the knowledge storing process needs regulation.
How you organize knowledge management depends on your company. However, keep your knowledge actionable and store it in a way that allows you to index it later. One practical way of organizing your research is with the concept of Atomic UX research, which aims at dividing findings into searchable atomic units.
By the way – if you need an example of how continuous research processes could look like or how they can be organized, see the Opportunity Solution Tree framework by Teresa Torres.
How a research repository helps you to make UX research a habit
Now that we’ve talked about how to give your piggy bank of UX insights input, let’s focus on the piggy bank itself. As already mentioned, a UX research system can serve as your bank.
Central data storage
Continuously conducting research is worth nothing when all your precious findings are never to be found again. You wouldn’t have your money lying all around the house either, would you? If you hide your money at different places around the house, chances are you lose some coins or don’t remember all your hiding spots. The same goes for UX insights – if you store findings at a central location they are way easier to work with.
Powerful knowledge base
Once your data is stored safely, you can always refer to it. And by referring we mean connecting what you already know with what you’ve learned recently. This way you keep your old research actionable and create a reliable knowledge base over time that will prospectively help you to answer upcoming questions.
Knowledge synthesizing as a motivator
Synthesizing your findings eventually appears to you like putting together a puzzle. And like every game a puzzle is more fun when doing it in a team. Seeing how your puzzle part connects with others to create a new insight can increase your team’s motivation.
Having a place where your UX knowledge is centrally stored makes it easier to communicate your findings with others. It simplifies the onboarding of colleagues to the knowledge collecting process and keeps other departments up to date. Starting from the UX repository, the knowledge is able to leave the UX department and be utilized, e.g. for marketing campaigns.
Why continuous UX research is worth it
We’re glad that we could make you familiar with continuous UX research. If you are contemplating if it’s worth integrating into your company, here are our final thoughts about why it definitely is.
Continuous UX research affects the past, the present, and the future. For the past, it can retrospectively uncover unnoticed behavior that explains former incidents. For the present, you may find something during your research that is just needed in your current project. And for the future, you gain findings that might be relevant later on. So all in all, returning to Teresa Torres, if you’re ready to “put money in the bank”, it will pay off and have positive effects on your work in the long term.
You’re interested or already conducting continuous UX research? And you’re looking for a way to store your results efficiently? Try out consider.ly, our UX repository designed for keeping your findings central, safe, and actionable.