How to plan and conduct desk research and why is it important?
- Benefits of conducting desk research
- Practical applications (case studies)
- Strategies & tactics
- Practical tips
- How to structure your report?
Generally, we can divide research into two types:
Primary – where you’re conducting research e.g.: interviews, usability tests or observations.
Secondary – it’s desk research where you’re using existing research findings and gaining a broad understanding of a specific field.
Benefits of conducting desk research
Some may want to skip desk research, but we definitely wouldn’t recommend it. For example, when creating a new product or service, one should have an overview of similar solutions on the market, in order to understand the competitive landscape or get inspired. It’s important to fully understand the market before going on to do primary research. Also, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so we could use existing sources. Although we may not find the exact answers to our questions or problems, some findings can be really helpful in defining primary research and later strategic work. After desk research, we are more prepared for the next stages. Desk research is also the quickest and cheapest way to know a specific field better and the best investment in terms of value to effort relation.
With most of our clients, we’re going through the Discovery and Strategy phase, where we conduct desk research – and it’s actually one of the first things we do.
In the case of a project we’re conducting for a leading private healthcare company, it was crucial to find out more about medical apps and their functionalities, because our goal was to broaden the functionalities of our client's existing app and make the app a competitive advantage. So, we looked for medical apps from different countries and tested them. During strategic workshops with our client’s stakeholders, we presented our findings to inspire the team with new ideas. Once we had generated a long list of ideas, we assessed which are relevant for our case and evaluated them in terms of business potential and feasibility. It helped us to categorize ideas: must-haves, that we want to implement for the launch of the new app, and nice-to-haves, that we will work on later. After that, our UX and UI designers could move on to designing the architecture of information and interfaces.
As part of another ongoing project for a polish software company, we were also responsible for redesigning their brand and website. To help us redefine their branding both visually and in terms of positioning, we first looked at brands of their competitors and found some inspirations from around the globe. This helped us envisage the possibilities for visual directions and positioning, which we presented to our client so that we could discuss their potential look and feel and positioning and narrow down our options.
In the case of our collaboration with NN TFI to redesign their transactional platform, it was necessary to achieve three things:
- understand the competitive landscape and existing offerings on the Polish market;
- and get inspired by similar and other digital solutions in the financial industry.
Based on this research, we had a good overview of potential opportunities for NN TFI to differentiate themselves on the Polish market, as well as trends shaping the industry globally and tons of inspirations for features and functionalities from similar fields. This helped us define a vision for NN TFI’s new transactional platform, and we had plenty of features and functionality concepts that we then tested during primary research with users.
Strategies & tactics
Firstly, try to specify what you already know and have (reports and previous research) and then move on to define issues to be found. It will direct your path of research and simplify finding relevant sources of information. Are you looking for trends in the chosen industry or behavioral tendencies among potential users? Do you need to verify some assumptions or get inspired? Without specifying the goal it would be hard to focus on the most important matters in the case. Depending on what you need, you can use reports made by government agencies or industry experts or in the case of specific groups of people (e.g. the blind) you can look for some information on NGOs reports. If you’re looking for new solutions and startups to get inspired, you can check out what is going on in different fields on CB Insights, TechCrunch or Wired.
Although desk research doesn’t seem difficult to conduct, it’s important to follow some rules.
1. Set the goal for your desk research
It’s quite easy to sink in the ocean of information without a specified aim of the research. Also, after setting the objective, it’s simpler to look for relevant resources of information and it already gives you an outline of how your report should be structured.
2. Set the deadline
We can spend a day, a week or a month on desk research and still have some resources to look through – again, the Internet is an infinite source of information and it’s very easy to get lost in research. Specify the deadline and try to achieve your goal during this time.
3. Categorize your findings
During desk research you will find tons of information at different levels of importance – start categorizing them at the very beginning in order to gather only those relevant to the topic.
4. Always keep your audience in mind
Who will see your report? A small team of executives? Then keep it short and to the point. The whole project team on the client’s side? Then you might want to give a bit more depth and inspire them, especially if it’s a workshop. Will you be presenting it or sending it? Remember to be mindful about the amount of text you have on your slides if you’re going to be presenting them. Keeping your audience in mind in order to show them the appropriate amount of information in the right way is what will guide you when building your final report.
How to structure your report?
The most important issue when creating your report is to clearly present your findings – form follows function (not the other way around). So start with creating a structure. Depending on the goal of desk research the structure will differ, but some points will remain constant – outlining the goals, key insights and the summary. Another thing to remember is that all references should always be included.
We conduct desk research in our everyday life e.g. when choosing household appliances. We compare different brands – prices and functions – to get a better knowledge of the topic to make the best decision. So how could we skip it in the process of creating a new product or service? Spending at least one day for desk research can give us answers and new ideas for our upcoming solutions.
Last but not least, desk research should be combined with other research methods in order to have bullet-proof data and insights before starting the design phase, such as data analytics and qualitative research.
At Flying Bisons, we always recommend combining it with an analysis of any existing digital analytics data, an expert UX audit, user session analyses and in-depth interviews with target users. This approach gives a full picture of the current problems and barriers your users might be facing, their needs, and opportunities and inspirations from the market to improve and grow your product.