UX researchers in every organization have likely experienced a situation when a stakeholder came by their desk and asked: “Have we done any research about the search feature?” or “What do we already know about the painpoints of our small business customers?”
When a colleague poses a question about existing research findings, suddenly the search for relevant data starts. The researcher sifts through spreadsheets and presentations in shared folders, ask colleagues whether they know anything, and might even check their own drive for pertinent information.
Answering what seems to be a simple question can take hours if the research data is spread across different locations or is in the heads of the people who conducted the prior studies. Even worse, the responsible person might have left the company, taking all the relevant findings with them.
Conducting user research is expensive, and the resulting insights could be relevant beyond the scope of the initial study. But only when organizations store UX research data properly can they they find them again quickly.
In such situations, UX researchers usually start to think of ways to better organize existing research data. Creating a UX research repository aims to solve this problem by storing all research data in a centrally located digital archive and providing easy access to all researchers and their colleagues and stakeholders.
The Purpose of a UX Research Repository
The term UX research repository has no strict definition and could apply to any software that supports the storage of research data. While some researchers prefer using a dedicated software tool for user research, others use spreadsheets as data repositories.
Originally, the sole purpose of a research repository was to store raw data and findings for better retrieval. But, today, research teams use them for much more—often extending their use beyond simply archiving data to supporting multiple steps of a research project.
From the initial planning phase through data synthesis and sharing findings with your stakeholders, a research repository can deliver value throughout the research process. Some tools even support building a participant database to facilitate recruiting, while others automatically transcribe session recordings.
Depending on the tool, a repository could do the following:
Support multiple stages of a research project—as shown in Figure 1.
Handle a variety of different data types such as text, images, audio, and video.
Support various research methods, including interviews, prototype studies, or usability tests.
Why Research Repositories Are So Popular
The popularity of research repositories has grown immensely in recent years because they offer a range of benefits that enable researchers to advance their profession. Repositories help researchers keep up with the pace of fast-moving organizations by reducing the time they spend on manual, repetitive tasks and letting them focus on more meaningful work. In some cases, they help researchers to transition from just conducting studies to becoming managers of insights and having more impact on their organization. Repositories help primarily in three concrete ways:
Centralizing customer insights
Speeding up research
Making UX research a team sport
Research Repositories Centralize All Customer Insights
A key advantage of repositories is that they provide one single place for all research data. From raw data to research findings, you can store any type of information that researchers have captured in the context of their research sessions, in any file type. When there is only one place to look for existing research data, it saves you time.
You can structure the data in a research repository along certain dimensions—for example, by product area, user group, or research method, as shown in Figure 2. Having good structure is helpful when you need to answer specific questions quickly. Plus, structure increases the chances that you’ll find what you’re looking for—reducing the likelihood that you’ll redo studies that others have already conducted.
Storing all research data in one place also makes it easier to connect evidence from multiple studies. This can open up new perspectives that lead to insights and help you identify overarching themes that weren’t discernible within the scope of a single research project. Combining all existing data on a central platform enhances the overall value of your organization’s research, without your having to conduct additional studies.
The UX researchers who are managing the repository become the first people everyone contacts whenever user-related questions arise. This strengthens their position within the organization.
Lastly, some research teams offer their colleagues access to the repository without the assistance of a researcher. Once your research repository has become the single, go-to point for UX insights, your goal should be to scale the use of customer-insights data and promote customer-centric decisions within your organization.
Research Repositories Speed Up Research
Repository tools that also support earlier stages of a project—for example, data analysis—can streamline the research process and save time. The key here is for researchers to reduce the number of tools they use during their research and analysis process and, thus, the number of context switches between tools. A beneficial side effect of having everything from raw data to findings in one tool is that it becomes easier to trace insights back to their source.
More features of the tools—such as tagging, affinity diagramming, automatic transcripts, and the ability to create video clips using the same tool—offer additional time savings. Doing data analysis with the same tool also reduces the effort of maintaining the repository. During the analysis stage, you can categorize and structure the data to identify patterns. This same structure makes the data in the repository searchable. Built-in analysis capabilities eliminate the effort of importing data into the repository and converting it to a useful format.
Research Repositories Make UX Research a Team Sport
Some research repositories facilitate the involvement of your stakeholders and provide opportunities for them to actively participate in the UX research process. For instance, coworkers or clients could take notes during research sessions or contribute their insights during synthesis and analysis. Especially when in-person teamwork isn’t possible, research repositories offer opportunities for remote collaboration.
The retention and application of research findings tend to be higher when stakeholders play an active part in research instead of just receiving the findings in a presentation. Plus, they have a greater sense of ownership for the research results and advocate their implementation.
Using Research Repositories: 3 Case Studies
Now, let’s look at some case studies that show how organizations have benefited from creating a UX research repository.
Case Study 1: Avoiding Duplicate Studies and Giving Stakeholders Direct Access to Customer Insights
Mara is one of five user researchers in a large financial institution and is aware of the amount of research data that accumulates in a short period of time. She recalls, “We used to produce a lot of relevant insights that were only used once and then forgotten about.”
Today, when a research request comes in from a UX designer or product manager, Mara first searches the research repository together with the person requesting the research. In many cases, they find relevant data from a past study that answers the research question. She says, “Often the scope of the proposed project can be significantly reduced as we already have part of the answer. Sometimes no additional research is necessary after looking in the repository.”
Now, many colleagues in Mara’s company are using the repository themselves, without going through a UX researcher. The research team encourages self-service because it minimizes friction in accessing existing findings.
While setting up the research repository took a few weeks, it was worth the effort. Mara says, “It took a while to get a critical mass of data into the repository and make it useful.” The User Research team imported a selection of relevant, past studies and has added every new study since they introduced the repository.
Working with a repository has changed the way the User Research team operates. Mara observed that they spend less time conducting research to answer very similar research questions, so they can focus on strategic work that wasn’t possible before. Also, the way the company perceives research has changed. Stakeholders now contact researchers or use the repository on their own because they know they can get helpful answers quickly. Mara is happy with the new role that the User Research team is playing: “In the past, it felt like we researchers tended to slow things down. Now, we are up to date—sometimes even a few steps ahead.”
Case Study 2: Saving Time During Research Projects
Thomas is a UX researcher at a company that helps new ventures find product-market fit with the help of UX research. Their typical workflow for conducting user interviews—the method they use most frequently—was as follows:
The researcher took notes during the sessions, using a text editor such as Google Docs and storing the notes from each interview in a separate document.
Since analysis across documents in Google Docs is difficult, the researcher moved the data to a spreadsheet.
The researcher copied representative quotations and observations to a presentation that he shared with the product team.
“Using three different tools costs a lot of time as I had to move data from one tool to the next manually and was hopping back and forth a lot,” Thomas explained. Plus, he lost the references and couldn’t track them back to show how the findings in the presentation related to the raw data in the notes, as Figure 3 shows.
In search of a solution to this problem, Thomas started using a research repository with data-analysis capabilities. He and his team capture their notes directly into the repository and apply tags to provide structure. Then they compare notes across participants, cluster related evidence, identify patterns, and describe their findings. Finally, the team adds context to the findings and shares them with stakeholders. They accomplish all of this using just one tool, as depicted in Figure 4. “We now use the output of each phase directly as an input for the next and don’t duplicate data in several tools.”
This new workflow streamlined the entire research process—from data collection to sharing findings. It saves time and connects data rather than isolating it in different tools.
Case Study 3: Facilitating Collaboration with Multidisciplinary Colleagues
Kayla is a user researcher for one of the most popular fitness apps worldwide. She frequently works with colleagues from Product Management, Marketing, or the Content team. She says, “Since coworkers from other functions usually aren’t trained in user-research methods, I’m teaching them on the go.”
The first step is asking colleagues to observe research sessions and take notes, while Kayla leads the sessions. After each few sessions, the team reviews what they’ve heard and discusses potential patterns. Once they’ve completed the last session, they gather together in a room, as shown in Figure 5, or meet virtually to tag the data and analyze it in a structured manner.
The research repository thus helps in two ways. First, team members capture notes into the same document and collaborate in real time, with everyone using the latest version. They can see what others are doing and learn from Kayla as she works—for example, how to select evidence and name tags.
Second, the structure of the tool itself can guide colleagues who have little research experience, helping them to understand the project’s current status and what comes next. This reduces project-management overhead for Kayla because she spends less time coordinating the team. Plus, everyone can focus on the research.
“We truly believe in collaboration and see positive effects as it increases trust in the findings. Working together in the repository makes collaboration a lot easier and more effective,” says Kayla. Once Kayla’s colleagues have gained sufficient experience by learning from her, they start doing their own research projects, and Kayla can check their work and provide direction whenever they need help.
At Condens, developer of a software tool that lets teams analyze user-research data and create a user-research repository, Alex has interviewed more than 160 user researchers from around the world. His purpose was to identify researchers’ painpoints and discover opportunities for improving UX research processes. Alex is passionate about ResearchOps and creating effective product teams. Before founding Condens, he was a product manager at a high-tech startup in the indoor maps and navigation space, where he and his co-founders realized the need for teams to more easily synthesize research data and create a structured database of their research findings. Alex holds degrees in technology management and business administration from the Universities of Mannheim and Munich. He has spoken at UX research events and organizes the UX Research Meetup in Munich, Germany. Read More