In the field talking to study participants

Conducting your first UX study? Here are 5 useful tips

About three weeks ago I embarked on a four-day UX field study for an organization working in the health sector. The organization works with private clinics and hospitals to help them improve hospital/clinic quality standards. Why? By improving the quality of service offered at the facility, hospitals/clinics can attract more patients. They can also create more and better opportunities for funding. These two are the key drivers for growth.

Why did we conduct the study? The organization in question had built a digital tool to help with the program. They rolled it out, but it wasn’t gaining the traction they hoped for. The original idea was to run the two-day ideation workshop to think through modifications that could be done to make the digital tool work. What we ended up doing was a UX field study first and the ideation workshop after the field study. A workshop without prior research is a waste of money. The workshop is not the best place to think about what challenges your users face. It is a place to consolidate ideas from different stakeholders based on a clear understanding of the needs, constraints, aspirations and the environment your users exist.

The Innovation Journey

So what role does a UX study play in the innovation journey?

The Double Diamond Innovation Process

There are many frameworks used to explain the innovation journey. My personal preference is the Double Diamond. It has a discover, define, develop, and deliver phase.

UX studies help you during the discovery phase of the journey. By conducting a UX study you will develop better insights into the problem you are looking at solving. It is a qualitative and not a quantity study. With qualitative studies, we are looking to understand individual motivations, behaviors, and attitudes of the users, influencers, and decision making approaches in a particular context.

In this post, I will talk about how we planned and executed the field study. It can act as a reference point when you conduct your next field study.

Step 1: Set clear objectives

A field study is a research exercise. Therefore, the first step is setting clear objectives and expectations. Typically, you have one overarching objective and a couple to guide you as you conduct the interviews.
For our study, the overarching objective was to understand how hospitals and clinics view and implement quality standards and identify some of the challenges and successes they have had in their quality improvement journey. To achieve this, we had sub-objectives (if there is a such a word) which contributed to the overarching one. For example, we sought to understand how the study participants decided on which quality standards to implement. We also asked about technology uptake in the hospitals/clinics and the challenges faced with systems in place. Seeing that the participants already had an interaction with the organization that commissioned the study we also sought to understand the experience the participants had with the organization’s program.

When identifying the study objectives, it is important that they help you answer the direct question the client had. In our case, the client wanted to understand why the digital tool wasn’t received well. One of the study objectives was to gauge the appetite for a digital tool and the potential challenges with the tool.

Step 2: Recruit right

Your objectives are what you use to identify the participants to recruit. A question you will get a lot is how the sample size is determined. The answer depends a lot on the type of study you are conducting. For a usability test, you only need five participants from a homogenous group. For a field study, the magic number is 12–15 from a homogenous group. The point of saturation is 12 but I usually recruit a few more just in case some of the participants don’t fit the profile you created.

For our study, we recruited 16 participants. Each participant worked in a private medical facility (clinic or hospital) as an administrator or a role with similar responsibilities. In addition, all the participants were familiar with the program run by the organization that commissioned the study

Step 3: How well you handle logistics will make or break your study

For the study, we ran, our plan was to visit 16 hospitals/clinics in four days. That was quite a tall order! To pull this off, we relied a lot on the client to communicate the importance of the study to the participants so that we would have very few delayed interviews. Standard practice dictates that you don’t provide monetary incentives to study participants as it heavily skews what they will say and how they will act. As a result, you need to convince your participants to set aside time in their busy schedules to meet with you. Typically, each interview took 1 hour to 1.45 hours. Luckily, the client was able to get buy-in from the participants.

The other logistical item that might be a nightmare is getting to your meetings on time. For our study, we had to do an average of four meetings a day to meet our target. The study involved clinics and hospitals in Nairobi and its environs. Knowing the traffic situation in the city, this was going to be a tough one. We lumped together all the hospitals/clinics in one geographical area as a way to reduce the commute time. Additionally, we had a driver who knew his way around Nairobi. This enabled us to visit 13 facilities. We didn’t do three because of time.

Step 4: Conducting the study

If your preparations were done well, this part should be relatively easy. However, for your first study, it definitely won’t be. A few tips that can help you at this stage are:

  • Don’t do it alone. You need an associate to help with the notes, photos, and observing the environment. It is difficult to do all that while conducting the interview
  • Ask for permission to take notes and photos. Because it is a qualitative study indicate that no quote will be attributed to the participant
  • Get the buy-in from the participant by stating your qualifications and explaining how the design thinking approach works. If you can, use an example they can relate with
  • Start with softball questions. Don’t dive into your objectives right away. I usually ask participants how they ended up where they are (careerwise). Most people love talking about themselves so take advantage of that
  • Don’t go through your objectives like it is a questionnaire. Have a conversation. Build upon what the participant says to get answers to your questions. Most people will feel like they are being interrogated if you ask the questions as you have written down
  • Keep time. The participants are volunteering precious time. Be there on time and end the interview on time

Step 5: Field study synthesis

The synthesis exercise

In an ideal situation, you should do a quick synthesis session at the end of each. This works best because everything is still fresh in your mind. In some cases, you can only do the synthesis at the end of the study. How do you do synthesis?

  • Each researcher notes the observations they made for each of the participants on a sticky note. Use a coding system to identify your participants
  • Once you have all your observations on the board, cluster them based on themes/categories. This will help you identify recurring issues.
  • Try to establish the relationship between the different issues identified. What causes what? What is caused by what? As an example, in our study, a good number of participants indicated that they faced financial challenges. During the study, we dug further into this and identified proper bookkeeping as an issue. This can cause financial challenges

That is it for this post. While it is not an exhaustive breakdown of how to conduct a UX study it should go a long way in helping you get started.




Ex-child, Reluctant adult, Experience Designer, UX Researcher, Design Facilitator, Senior Product Manager, Co-founder Made by People, Product at Microsoft

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Kipkorir Kirui

Kipkorir Kirui

Ex-child, Reluctant adult, Experience Designer, UX Researcher, Design Facilitator, Senior Product Manager, Co-founder Made by People, Product at Microsoft

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