Is It Time for Your UX Research to Get Scrappy?

Thorough research is always great to have. But when a product design team is just looking for quick guidance and general direction, scrappy UX research is a great alternative.

Written by Aayush Gupta
Published on Oct. 20, 2021
Is It Time for Your UX Research to Get Scrappy?
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More often than not, it feels like UX research is underappreciated and under-resourced in tech companies. Despite being a valuable activity, there is an overarching feeling that research can also be very time-consuming and expensive to conduct. Hence, product owners, whether at an established tech giant or an early-stage startup, may shy away from engaging in multi-month qualitative studies costing tens of thousands of dollars and instead jump straight to product building. Prioritizing design and testing is bound to accelerate learning speed, however, skipping the research phase entirely ought not to be something we tolerate as product designers.

Yes, there are situations in which the traditional UX research process just won’t cut it. In these cases, you’re still better off doing research — but in a scrappy way. You should find ways to tweak and play with the UX process to fit your project needs. Scrappy UXR is a growing niche within the broader field dedicated to employing quick-and-dirty, affordable research methods to deliver quality consumer insights.


When Is the Right Time to Get Scrappy?

Engaging in scrappy UX research sounds simple, but its application must be well-thought-out like any method. It’s essential to know when scrappy techniques are helpful and when they’re doing a disservice to your team.

Overall, the purpose of UX research is to support decision-making throughout the product development cycle. That said, depending on where in the development process you are, the type of insight you’re seeking to gain from the research will vary. For example, suppose you’re looking to uncover the attitudinal preferences of a particular user segment with a high level of conviction. In that case, scrappy will not do you justice because, by definition, scrappy favors rapid development over statistical significance.

The purpose of UX research is to support decision-making throughout the product development cycle...Scrappy UXR favors rapid development over statistical significance.

Instead, scrappy UXR works well at points along your development cycle at which you’re searching for a sense of signal from noise to provide a potential product direction. For instance, quick-and-dirty research can be effective in helping you answer the high-level question of “is there a there there?” Being aware of the broader context of your research needs early on will help instill greater confidence in the results of your scrappy research for you and your team down the line.    

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Scrappy UX Research, Step by Step

Scrappy UX research is about cutting time and resources in all the right places but still ensuring baseline rigor and quality. Let’s go through the four phases of user research — planning, recruiting, interviewing, and recommendation — and check how you can apply scrappiness in each.

The 4 Stages of User Experience Research (UXR)

  1. Research planning
  2. Recruiting customers
  3. Conducting interviews
  4. Making recommendations


1. UXR Planning 

The planning stage is perhaps the most essential stage in the UXR process. During this phase, you will define the key questions you are trying to answer and identify how you can answer them. Even though this phase is the least active part of the UXR process, and yields no new information or insight, it’s still crucial to include because it helps determine why you are researching in the first place.

The main way to drive scrappiness in research planning is to push for radical simplicity. A typical research plan may have a series of different learning objectives and questions that build on each other. But in a scrappy research sprint, you want to streamline your efforts and strive to focus on a single, clearly articulated learning objective as much as possible. The main hurdle in achieving this is often misalignment amongst the product team on the prioritization of key research questions. As the research owner, one way to resolve this would be to draft a research plan that documents your proposed primary objective as well potential deprioritized alternatives. Next, run through this document synchronously with your colleagues in a meeting and ensure there’s both agreement and excitement around the key research question before leaving the room; if not, adjust as necessary until the plan is in a good place.

In a scrappy research sprint, you want to streamline your efforts and strive to focus on a single, clearly articulated learning objective as much as possible.

Investing this time up-front in driving clarity and consensus will ensure efficiency down the line by reducing the likelihood of late-stage research adjustments or needing follow-up research sprints.         


2. Recruiting Test Customers 

The next step of the process, recruiting test customers for your research, can be the most time-consuming. There are dedicated research agencies with access to consumer panels that can help accelerate searching for your target users, but these can get very expensive. There are several ways to recruit customers that can save your study time and money, such as:

Scrappy Ways to Recruit Test Customers

  • Sourcing users from within your team
  • Recruiting via family and friends
  • Finding names and profiles mentioned in articles online (they’re easier to discover, and since they’ve already agreed to an interview for a public piece, they are more likely to speak with you)
  • Networking via LinkedIn and using any alumni connections where possible
  • Using social media outreach, such as finding individuals on Reddit or Instagram who are either active in particular groups or have posted content relevant to your subject area of interest
  • Offering small incentives if conversions are taking long (e.g., $20 Amazon gift cards)

Above all, while embracing scrappy recruiting methods, it’s essential to be more flexible with research screeners — the profile types you get may not be entirely on point with the personas you’re looking for, but should be close enough to get you the insight you need.

In traditional research, there are four or five different people you want to interview within a customer segment. For example, in the gaming world, there is always the hardcore user, the soft user, the mobile user, the socializer, and the influencer. Now, traditionally, you talk to two of each group to get a representative mix of impressions. But suppose we are working under strict consideration of budget and time. In that case, it is okay to have three respondents from one persona (e.g. hardcore users) and one from the other (e.g. socializers), as long as having a representative sample is not that important to you.


3. Interviewing 

The interview process can feel like a drag, but it’s the only way to secure detailed insights into your users’ viewpoints. That’s why you need to maximize the time you have for each candidate — usually around 30 minutes. There are a number of ways to drive scrappiness in your customer interviews:

4 Techniques to Use in Scrappy-Style UXR Interviews

  • Basic background checks
  • Pre-interview surveys
  • Interview guides
  • Walk-through galleries


Do Some Basic Background Checking

Conducting your “digital diligence” and researching as much as possible about your interview candidates will help you remove baseline fact-checking during the interview and save that time for a richer conversation.

Check available online information, e.g., review their social media accounts and the content they post, including their interactions.


Run a Pre-Interview Survey

Ask your respondents to complete a short questionnaire to fill in the fundamental facts about themselves before the interview. With this initial knowledge, you can use the short interview time to dive deeper into their feedback and ask better questions. 


Develop an Interview Guide

Based on the research questions you created with your team in the first phase, you can now make an interview guide and a list of corresponding questions. With such an interview guide, you minimize the risk of drifting into non-essential topics during the interview and discussing issues that do not address your central research objectives.


Alternatively, Use Walk-Through Galleries

A walk-through gallery is a mini-activity in which you present your interviewees with a collection of visual or written stimuli so that they can respond and share their feedback. This can be a very effective way to gauge relative interest in different potential directions quickly. For instance, if you have a list of ten proposed user pain points that you’re trying to prioritize, rather than waiting for the conversation to get to touch on each naturally, it can be a lot more efficient to run a walk-through:

The Basics of Walk-Through Galleries

  1. Lay out a piece of paper detailing each pain point at a high level,
  2. Give your interviewee a moment to take in and digest the collection, and then
  3. Ask them to share their reactions – focus the conversation on what stood out and why


Some more Quick Tips for Scrappy Interviewing

  • Take verbatim notes whenever possible. To make this more feasible, conduct your interviews with another team member to elevate and expedite insights.

With two interviewers, it will be easier to synthesize the relevant information later. One can fully concentrate on taking notes, while the second person can ask questions and actively listen. After the interview, you can discuss the findings together, achieving a synergistic effect on your conclusion.

There are times when you can work with a focus group of interviewees instead of conducting each interview individually. However, it is important to take full advantage of each short, scrappy interview, working at a high level to collect as much information as possible.

  • Synthesize on the go by taking five to ten minutes after every user interview to debrief and evaluate your findings.

Each post-interview analysis session helps to clarify how this interview has advanced your understanding of the subject and allows the interview team to make any adjustments necessary to your discussion guide and learning plan.

  • Ask for introductions to other potential test customers.

If it’s appropriate and relevant, ask each interview for potential introductions to any of their friends, family, or colleagues to gather additional interview candidates on the go.


4. Making Recommendations — Cautiously

Once your research sprint is made, it’s time to draw on your insights about your consumer, the product, or the process. The most important thing to note here is to be careful in drawing premature conclusions. With neither statistical significance nor a representative number of interviewees, you only have an indication and not complete conviction around your insights. Still, this is more than enough to move to the next stage of building the product, which is often quick-and-dirty concept testing, i.e.:

  • Designing stimulus ads, mockups, and landing pages to test what the process looks like

  • Testing stimulus with friends and internal team

  • Revisiting interviews and walk-through solution designs

  • Collecting additional verbatim feedback

Whether as a solo entrepreneur or a dedicated UX research team, it’s worth being creative with the research process to achieve more in less time. With this methodology, you can energize the progress, gain momentum, and run through many ideas — and not just in product development — much quicker.

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