User Research Knowledge Funnel

I first read about Emma Boulton’s design research funnel in 2018 and thought it was a brilliant way to illustrate the power of design research and how the design research process works toward identifying the problem. Daniel Lev Coleman also has a great article about how he uses a design research funnel to stay problem-focused.

I would like to take the design research funnel concept a step further and apply it to user research. User research within an Agile team, as I outlined in a previous article, is the first phase of the Agile process and ensures we understand the user’s problems and we are solving the right problem. The iterative aspect of user research ensures we are building the solution to meet the user’s needs.

 This funnel is based on my expertise in an enterprise Agile environment. It can be tweaked for strategic research for user researchers lucky enough to have time to do longitudinal studies about their users.

UX Research Knowledge Funnel

Starting at the top of the funnel, where we have limited knowledge about our users, we should use generative research methods to start pouring knowledge into the funnel. This is also the place where we need to check our biases. We will be conducting stakeholder and user interviews, so every assumption needs to be validated or contradicted.

 Generative Research Methods

  • Stakeholder Interviews

    • Purpose of these interviews is to get buy-in to the user research process, show them the value, get them engaged in creating questions for the users, invite them to the user interviews
    • What do they think the user’s motivations, goals, and pain points are?
    • What do they think should be improved (KPI, customer satisfaction score, etc)?

  • User Interviews

    • Validate or contradict assumptions
    • Identify user’s process
    • What are their pain points?
    • What are their goals and motivations?
    • What do they spend more time doing than they should?

  • Field Studies

    • Call this a contextual inquiry, but please don’t call it an ethnographic study. Anthropologists need to understand the ethnography of the population they are studying and this can take years to complete. Years!
    • User researchers need to understand the context in which the users work. Depending on the context (see what I did there!), this could take 2 weeks to 2 months to complete, or longer.

Taking time to synthesize and analyze the findings from the interviews and field studies should yield actionable user insights, personas and journey maps to provide context, and images to evoke empathy for the users. This user knowledge swirls down the funnel to our next stage – evaluative research methods – where we will take what we’ve learned and create a beautiful prototype that delights the users and gather additional insights along the way. We’re going to mix our methods and add a survey to benchmark the user’s legacy system, if they have one. 

Evaluative Research Methods

  • User Feedback Sessions

    • This can be completed with paper prototypes, low fidelity wireframes, and clickable prototypes.
    • When the user expresses a need during these feedback sessions, it is important to ask why and find out what value the information provides to them.
    • You can use the same users you interviewed for the feedback sessions.

  • Benchmarking Survey – Legacy System

    • If the user’s problems are with a legacy system that is either being replaced or updated, it is important to benchmark the current performance.
    • I like using the System Usability Scale plus an adjective rating scale question.
    • You need a lot of users to complete this survey. Keep it short. Stakeholder buy-in helps with user response rate.

  • Usability testing

    • Have at least one workflow completed in the prototype
    • The click path needs to be accurate
    • The user needs to complete a task and metrics need to be collected against it

We have so much knowledge in our funnel now about our users. Its time to pull it all together for the big finish with summative research methods.

Summative Research Methods

  • End to End usability test

    • This is the real deal UAT environment usability evaluation of the new system.
    • This is not a user acceptance test.

  • Benchmarking Survey – New System

    • I like using the System Usability Scale plus an adjective rating scale question.
    • Keep the survey short and deploy it after users have been using the new system for about a month

At the end of our research funnel, we should have a deep understanding about our user’s process, needs, and pain points. We should understand their goals and motivations. We should know what information they need to do their job.


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