UX IRL Ep. 2: Scrappy Research

UX in Real Life
Oct 21 · 4 min read
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Episode 2: Scrappy research

Hello! Here are our show notes for episode 2 of UX IRL: Scrappy Research. We hit the highlights in this article, but get the full context by listening to the episode:

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In this episode we talk about what user research can really be like — scrappy! We’d love to hear how you’ve accomplished your research goals while being scrappy. Comment below or reply on Twitter @uxinreallife or on Instagram @ux.inreallife.

Why scrappy research?

We wanted to talk about scrappy research given that many of us don’t have the luxuries of unlimited resources, budget, and so on, for research initiatives. By scrappy, we mean getting creative (and sometimes, really creative!) with our approaches for user research based on the constraints we have. Depending on what challenges you may face, we hope some of our approaches inspire you to come up with creative solutions.

Realistically, it’s rare you’re going to have a constraint-free scenario.

Budget constraints

Budget is probably a big constraint — affording materials, tools, research services, and incentives. You can get creative with materials. For example, if you don’t have index cards for card sorting, you can cut pieces of paper up. Or you can switch methods. Michelle likes to use the Modified-Delphi approach to card sorting, which eliminates the need for a card sorting tool and several participants.

You can also leverage free trials with tools for your studies. It’s a great way to try new tools and get buy-in with managers and stakeholders without having to commit to anything immediately.

UX IRL Takeaway: Get creative with physical and digital tools, free trials, and different methods.

Participant constraints

Recruiting participants can be challenging — just having the time or being able to find enough. Depending on the study and users we need, we’ve done internal testing or guerrilla testing with people outside the office. If you’re at a big company, consider finding people who use the product and can stand in as customers, or consider finding new employees to stand in as new customers.

UX IRL Takeaway: It’s always helpful to get feedback from some people rather than no one. When you run scrappy, still make an effort to recruit people who fit your users as closely as possible. And make sure you have NDAs (or other necessary paperwork) taken care of!

Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

Time constraints

As much as we’d love to have more time for our research, we won’t always have that luxury. Consider reframing your thinking. Ask yourself, “What is the quickest way to get the information you need?” (e.g., fewer participants, recruiting differently, breaking up testing into multiple phases) Consider ways to reduce effort without impacting the intent (e.g., wireframe prototypes instead of high-fidelity ones). Sometimes you don’t need mockups or prototypes for some research activities (e.g., card sorting, 5-second tests)

UX IRL Takeaway: Consider making tweaks where you can — fidelity of the prototype, method, participant recruitment.

Attitude (lol) constraints

Sometimes people won’t understand the value behind the research or don’t feel like there is a budget or time for research. When encountering this, we’re usually putting together a brief that includes the value of the study as well as how we can facilitate it in an affordable way. This can help mitigate any concerns.

Adding research into your practice could be a change to your team’s process — and change can be hard. We’ve often acted as ambassadors — championing for it even if it means we can’t jump into designs right away. Sometimes, we try pilots as a way to demonstrate the value.

UX IRL Takeaway: Try to be an ambassador for research with empathy for others who might be concerned. A brief outlining the value and approach can assuage concerns. Demonstrating the value through pilots or the study can win the hearts of skeptics!

Scrappy research recommendations

If you’re curious to learn more about being a little more scrappy, some of these books inspired us:

We’d love to hear from you!

If you have questions about this episode or our first episode, please reach out to us! If you have topics you’d like to hear us cover let us know.


Toward the end, we go on a little tangent about the modified-Delphi card sorting method. We’ll cover it in a future episode — let us know if you want to hear about this sooner than later. As Michelle mentioned, “It’s the world’s greatest card sorting method that nobody talks about.”

UX In Real Life

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UX In Real Life

UX In Real Life — a podcast where we examine user experience design at work and the world around us. Hosted by two friends Mary Fran Thompson and Michelle Chin

UX in Real Life

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A podcast where we examine user experience design at work and the world around us. Brought to you by @soysaucechin + @maryfran874

UX In Real Life

UX In Real Life — a podcast where we examine user experience design at work and the world around us. Hosted by two friends Mary Fran Thompson and Michelle Chin