Ensuring your hard-earned research insights turn into compelling design solutions.
After exerting all the effort of observing real human behavior, don’t let your valuable insights go to waste. If you have interviewed, tested, and mapped your way around a problem, what do you do next? How can you ensure you realize the outcomes of your research?
If your research insights never actually make it into your designs then your research was simply performative and has no impact on the people you design for. Our goal is to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Let’s explore how we can turn research insights into concrete, useful designs.
Your research should always have a goal: answer a specific question, prove a hypothesis, discover a problem.
If your study began with the need to make a change in the product, you should end up with designs in hand. Your research can start with the goal of creating designs if the source of the problem is the product itself.
Some studies and hypotheses will bring you closer to design than others. For example, user testing a concept strengthens your confidence in it and often results in immediate design decisions.
Other research studies are equally valid. Market studies, customer profiles, mental models, or other studies simply have a longer arc before they turn into tangible product solutions. Be sure you don’t ignore these studies in the endless pursuit of UI designs.
By starting any research effort with a hypothesis you should be able to confirm or disprove it. In this situation, your next steps are obvious: move forward with the hypothesis or move on to the next one.
Synthesize and summarize
A big part of your success in translating research to design is your ability to understand it and share it with others. Synthesizing research is all about identifying and articulating the broad themes that emerge from a study.
This translation process should focus on turning raw artifacts into human language. It should be easy for others (stakeholders or team members) to follow along. The format depends on the story your need to tell. Storyboards, sketches, graphs, or simple bullet points can covey themes quickly.
Design opportunities don’t always look and sound obvious in the middle of research. Most participants can’t express if “your IA is confusing” or “you need to onboard me better.” You’ll need to read between the lines to interpret behaviors and context.
A specific template for synthesis doesn’t exist. It’s more about feeling your way through the insights to uncover the themes that connect them. If you’re researching with the intent to create design solutions these themes should lead you to those solutions.
Share and align with your team
Research can lead to many different solutions of various shapes and sizes. Exploratory research won’t always give direct answers. Managing stakeholder expectations in these situations is important. Everyone involved in the project has a different idea in their head of what the right solution is. It’s your job to articulate how a particular solution answers the research.
As you begin generating ideas, prioritize the best ideas with your team. Most research projects will yield several insights and problems to tackle. What do you do first? How do you balance big, daunting problems with tiny fixes?
There’s no right answer for how to prioritize work. Some teams mistakenly prioritize based on one dimension, such as complexity or urgency. Doing this can leave you blind to other variables like scope, cost, or pervasiveness.
If your team doesn’t already have one, consider finding a prioritization framework. It should fit your team’s working style and your business model. If you need ideas, check out our list of prioritization exercises.
Research insights don’t need to stay within your team. By sharing them broadly you might find someone in your organization who tried this in the past (or something similar) and learned from it. You may also find allies in other teams who are solving similar problems. Forming up with others will help you close the gap in your design and increase your chance of success.
Explore and test
Start generating ideas. These ideas should come from the research. My former team used to call this “design glue”—showcasing how your UI, product, or solution connects to a research insight. If you find yourself unable to articulate how you arrived at your solution, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Some ideas for identifying design opportunities to explore:
Group your insights by location in the app or site. Which parts stand out? Focus there.
Cluster ideas by their stage in a user journey. Where are the insights clustered? See if any opportunities emerge.
Divide the research by user type. Do you notice a specific user profile, such as new or existing ones?
An easy way to gauge if your ideas have roots in research is to hold a critique with someone unfamiliar with the study. As they ask questions, see if you’re able to rationalize your decisions with research. If you’re falling back on your ideas or preferences, you may be straying from the actual research insights.
Some design solutions will be obvious from the research. If every participant misunderstood the text on a button, then explore new button copy.
Other design solutions are much more ambiguous. Consider a problem like “participants expressed fear for their physical safety when considering a ride-sharing app.” There is no one right answer to this problem. It likely sparks a much broader design effort to create several touchpoints and mechanisms for users to feel and be safer.
As you generate ideas, consider how confident you are in those solutions. Should you test them in a low-cost environment (like a prototype) before trying them in the real product? Consider if your recent efforts gave you enough confidence to move forward already.
Testing, when done properly, is all about translating insights into designs. You’re testing an idea (hopefully backed by research) expressed as a design.
User testing is just another round of research. It will yield new insights and warrant a new synthesis process. Rinse and repeat.
In most cases, design solutions are the desired outcome of a successful UX research project. As long as we don’t get lost in the middle, we can turn anything we learn into a concept that benefits people and customers. Balancing and prioritizing those learnings into thoughtful roadmaps and design projects is the hallmark of any great product team.
If this was helpful, consider giving the Twitter thread some love:
I've seen too many designs completely disconnected from the research that started them (in portfolios and real projects).
How can we make sure research translates into compelling design?
Some ideas: sharing it, prioritizing it, and testing it.🧵