Free Template: Handsome’s Domestic and International Design Research Protocol Template

In order to give your team the space to explore and immerse themselves in someone else’s world, you need to have an agreed-upon map of where you’re going so your team and your client can align. This is where a research protocol comes into the picture.

What is a research protocol?

In short, research protocols exist as a single source of truth for the research initiative. The research protocol is the container for focus statements, discussion guides, storyboards, worksheets, reference docs, recruitment information, etc. By storing everything in one place, you create an easily repeatable message of purpose as it relates to the research process — keeping your team and clients on track.

What are the key elements of a research protocol?

  • Research objective: What is the objective? What’s the ask? What’s the summary of who and what we’re trying to learn about? What will the findings be used for (drive strategy, roadmap, product design, etc.)?
  • Reference documents: Include links to any additional supporting documentation that may be helpful for your project during the research sessions. Examples include: an hour-by-hour agenda (seriously, account for every hour before you hit the road so you’re not wasting time in the field), consent form, discussion guides, activities/storyboards, prototype, relevant client artifacts.
  • Focus statements: Focus statements are the goals, objectives, and key sets of hypotheses that are used within design research. These focus statements will then be used to build out the full detailed discussion guides, worksheets, outlines, and shot lists.
  • Who you’re going to talk to: Who are you primarily focused on? (Don’t say anyone alive and breathing, that’s too broad.) Key decision makers? Day-to-day users? Influencers? What are you seeking to understand from those user types?
  • User participant variables: More tactically, how old are they? Gender? Salary? W2 worker? Married? Single, etc.?
  • Recruiting goals and locations: Where are you going? Why? How many different locations, and how many participants per city? (Hint: A good rule of thumb is 3–5 participants per city. Ideally, you’re spending hours with these individuals soaking in the nuance of their day-to-day lives. Aim for quality, not quantity.)

Ready to get started?

Download Handsome’s Field Research Protocol Template and Design Research Book Recommendations


I’m Annette, Director of Experience Design at Handsome, in Austin, TX. We’re a holistic experience design agency. In partnership with our clients, we create deeply connected brands, services, and products that enable powerful relationships between businesses and people. From research and strategy to design and implementation, clients like FedEx, Audi, Nickelodeon, AMC, Facebook, and Keller Williams trust us with the ongoing transformation of their brands and businesses. Hit me up if you want to learn more.