What is Desk Research? Definition & Useful Tools
Desk research typically serves as a starting point for design projects, providing designers with the knowledge to guide their approach and help them make informed design choices.
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What is Desk Research?
Desk research (secondary research or literature review) refers to gathering and analyzing existing data from various sources to inform design decisions for UX projects. It’s usually the first step in a design project as it’s cost-effective and informs where teams may need to dig deeper.
This data can come from published materials, academic papers, industry reports, online resources, and other third-party data sources. UX designers or researchers use this information to supplement data, learn about certain markets/user groups, explore industry trends, understand specific topics, or navigate design challenges.
The importance of desk research in the design process
Desk research gives designers a comprehensive understanding of the context, users, and existing solutions. It allows designers to gather valuable insights without conducting primary research which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
Desk research helps designers better understand the problem space, explore best practices and industry trends, and identify potential design opportunities without reinventing the wheel while learning from others’ mistakes.
Primary Research vs. Secondary Research
- Primary research: new and original data from first-hand sources collected by the team, such as questionnaires, interviews, field research, or experiments, specifically for a particular research project.
- Secondary research: utilizing existing data sets and information that others have collected, including books, articles, reports, and databases.
Primary and secondary research complement each other in comprehensively understanding a topic or problem. While primary research provides new first-party data specifically for a project’s goals, secondary data leverages existing knowledge and resources to gain insights.
What is the Purpose of Desk Research?
Understanding the problem or design challenge
Desk research helps designers comprehensively understand the problem or design challenge. By reviewing existing knowledge and information, designers can grasp the context, identify pain points, and define the scope of their design project.
For example, when tasked with designing a new mobile banking app, desk research can provide insights into user preferences, common challenges in the banking industry, and emerging trends in mobile banking.
Gathering background information
Desk research allows designers to gather background information related to their design project. It helps them explore the domain, industry, target audience, and relevant factors that may influence their design decisions.
For example, when designing a fitness-tracking app, desk research may involve collecting information about fitness activities, wearable technologies, and health guidelines.
Exploring existing solutions and best practices
Desk research enables designers to explore existing solutions and best practices. By studying successful designs, case studies, and industry standards, designers can learn from previous approaches and incorporate proven techniques.
For example, when creating a website’s navigation menu, desk research can involve analyzing navigation patterns used by popular websites to ensure an intuitive user experience.
Identifying trends and patterns
Desk research helps designers identify trends and patterns within the industry or user behavior. Designers examine market reports, user surveys, and industry publications to identify trends, emerging technologies, and user preferences.
For example, when designing a smart home app, desk research can involve analyzing market trends in connected devices and user expectations for seamless integration.
Informing decision-making and design choices
Desk research provides designers valuable insights that inform their decision-making and design choices. It helps designers make informed design decisions based on existing knowledge, data, and research findings.
For example, when selecting a color palette for a brand’s website, desk research can involve studying color psychology, cultural associations, and industry trends to ensure the chosen colors align with the brand’s values and resonate with the target audience.
Secondary Research Methods and Techniques
Researchers use these methods individually or in combination, depending on the specific design project and research objectives. They select and adapt these based on the nature of the problem, available resources, and desired outcomes.
- Literature review: gathers and analyzes relevant data from academic and research publications, government agencies, educational institutions, books, articles, and online resources (i.e., Google Scholar, social media, etc.). It helps designers gain a deeper understanding of existing knowledge, theories, and perspectives on the subject matter.
- Market research: studying and analyzing market reports, industry trends, consumer behavior, and demographic data. It provides valuable insights into the target market, user preferences, emerging trends, and potential opportunities for design solutions.
- Competitor analysis: examines and evaluates the products, services, and strategies of competitors in the market. By studying competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and unique selling points, designers can identify gaps, potential areas for improvement, and opportunities to differentiate their designs.
- User research analysis: User research analysis involves reviewing and analyzing data collected from various user research methods, such as surveys, interviews, and usability testing. It helps designers gain insights into user needs, preferences, pain points, and behaviors, which inform the design decisions and enhance the user-centeredness of the final product.
- Data analysis: processing and interpreting quantitative and qualitative data from various sources, such as surveys, analytics, and user feedback. It helps designers identify patterns, trends, and correlations in the data, which can guide decision-making and inform design choices.
How to Conduct Desk Research
Defining research objectives and questions
Start by defining the research objectives and formulating specific research questions. A clear goal will inform the type and method of secondary research.
For example, if you’re designing a mobile app for fitness tracking, your research objective might be to understand user preferences for workout-tracking features. Your research question could be: “What are the most commonly used workout tracking features in popular fitness apps?”
Identifying and selecting reliable sources
Identify relevant and reliable sources of information that align with your research objectives. These sources include academic journals, industry reports, reputable websites, and case studies.
For example, you might refer to academic journals and industry reports on fitness technology trends and user behavior to gather reliable insights for your research.
Collecting and analyzing relevant information
Collect information from the selected sources and carefully analyze it to extract key insights.
For example, you could collect data on user preferences for workout-tracking features by reviewing user reviews of existing fitness apps, analyzing market research reports, and studying user surveys conducted by fitness-related organizations.
Organizing and synthesizing findings
Organize the research data and synthesize the findings to identify common themes, patterns, and trends.
For example, you might categorize the collected data based on different workout tracking features, identify the most frequently mentioned features, and analyze user feedback to understand the reasons behind their preferences.
Limitations and Considerations of Secondary Research
Considering these desk research limitations and considerations allows designers to approach it with a critical mindset, apply appropriate methodologies to address potential biases, and supplement it with other research methods when necessary.
- Potential bias in sources: Desk research heavily relies on existing information, which may come from biased or unreliable sources. It is essential to critically evaluate the credibility and objectivity of the sources used to minimize the risk of incorporating biased information into the research findings.
- Limited access to certain information: Desk research may have limitations in accessing certain types of information, such as proprietary data or sensitive industry insights. This limited access can restrict the depth of the research and may require designers to rely on alternative sources or approaches to fill the gaps.
- Lack of real-time data: Desk research uses existing data and information, which may not always reflect the most up-to-date or current trends. It is essential to consider the data’s publication date and recognize that certain aspects of the research may require complementary methods, such as user research or market surveys, to capture real-time insights.
- Necessary cross-referencing and triangulation: Given the potential limitations and biases in individual sources, it is crucial to cross-reference information from multiple sources and employ triangulation techniques. This due diligence helps validate the findings and ensures a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the subject matter.
Test Research Findings With UXPin’s Interactive Prototypes
Secondary research is the first step. Design teams must test and validate ideas with end-users using prototypes. With UXPin’s built-in design libraries, designers can build fully functioning prototypes using patterns and components from leading design systems, including Material Design, iOS, Bootstrap, and Foundation.
UXPin’s prototypes allow usability participants and stakeholders to interact with user interfaces and features like they would the final product, giving design teams high-quality insights to iterate and improve efficiency with better results.
These four key features set UXPin apart from traditional image-based design tools:
- States: create multiple states for a single UI element and design complex interactive components like dropdown menus, tab menus, navigational drawers, and more.
- Variables: create personalized, dynamic prototype experiences by capturing data from user inputs and using it throughout the prototype–like a personalized welcome message or email confirmation.
- Conditional Interactions: create if-then and if-else conditions based on user interactions to create dynamic prototypes with multiple outcomes to replicate the final product experience accurately.
Gain valuable insights with fully functioning prototypes to validate UX research hypotheses and make better design decisions. Sign up for a free trial to build your first interactive prototype with UXPin.