User Research Scoping Canvas

France Wang
May 25, 2023

At Tandemz, we've seen firsthand the negative impact of inadequate preparation and lack of structure on UX research projects. These factors can lead to wasted time, resources, and effort, and result in research that fails to yield actionable insights.

That’s why we’ve created the UX Research Scoping Canvas, a tool that helps companies frame their research questions and plan their research studies, ensuring they're asking the right questions in the right way.

In this article, I'll explain how and when to use the canvas, and walk you through each step of the process. By the end, you'll have a solid foundation for conducting user research that's focused, effective, and actionable (at least, that’s what we hope!). So, whether you're a seasoned UX researcher or new to the field, read on to learn how the UX Research Scoping Canvas can help you achieve your research goals.

When to use this canvas

The UX research scoping canvas is ideal for any UX research project, whether you're working on a new product or service, or seeking to improve an existing one.

It is designed to be used in the A3 format, (similar to the popular Lean Canvas format), as it is a great way to visually represent complex information and ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page. It also encourages concise and focused thinking, since you only have limited space to fill in each section.

If you are new to research, it can be used like a checklist of things to consider before jumping into your research.

If you are a seasoned research practitioner, use this canvas to train newcomers, to advocate for research in your company, or to align expectations during a workshop**.**

Use it alone or in teams, with or without stakeholders, synchronously or asynchronously, online or printed out, as a draft for your thoughts or as a deliverable… The beauty of the tool is that it can be used however you want!

Structure of the canvas

The UX research scoping canvas has two sections : FRAME and PLAN. Each section contains 5 blocks, each one dedicated to answering one specific question :

5 blocks to FRAME the UX research :

  • Business question: What do we want to learn about the product / business ?
  • Involved stakeholders: Who / what teams care about or will be impacted by this research and how?
  • Research questions: What do we want to learn about people / the users?
  • Existing knowledge and insights: What do we already know about the research questions?
  • Hypotheses: What are our current intuitions and assumptions?

The goal of the FRAME section is to establish a strong foundation for the research project, by providing a high level view on what you’re trying to learn. The five blocks in this section are designed to align everyone's expectations regarding the research goals and shed light on existing knowledge and hypotheses.

5 blocks to PLAN the UX research :

  • Target audience: Who can help us answer our research questions?
  • Methodology: How will we learn from the people we question?
  • Field guide: What will the content of the research be?
  • Participant source: How will we find the right people for this research?
  • Timeline and constraints: Any deadlines? Budget or ressource limits?

The purpose of the "PLAN" section is to ensure that you don't rush into the research without considering the essential questions beforehand - such as the optimal methods and the best participant profiles - to obtain the most valuable insights.

How to fill the canvas

Take the canvas step by step, from block to block, from 1 to 10.

1. Business question

Write down what business or product question you (and most likely, your stakeholders) ultimately would like to answer through your research. This should act as the WHY of your project.

examples :

  • How can we increase the conversion rate of premium features?
  • Why is the drop rate on page X so high?
  • What features should we prioritise next?

Identifying the business question is usually straightforward, as it normally is what sparked the need for the research in the first place. However, users cannot directly answer business questions as they are more often than not, not aware of and/or not invested in your metrics and concerns.

This block aims to acknowledge and clarify the business question because the research questions (refer to block 3) will stem from it. It also serves to differentiate between the two, to align expectations and avoid frustration (such as the dreaded ”Why didn’t we just ask them what they wanted?” comment).

2. Involved stakeholders

No research project exists in a vacuum. You are sure to have stakeholders who are waiting for the results, or whose work will be impacted by your findings. Make sure you know who they are, so you can involve them in the research process as early as possible, and plan your communication in the most relevant fashion. This in turn will foster collaboration and maximise the impact of your findings.

examples :

  • Sales team will need to update their offers
  • Product team requires input to update roadmap
  • Support team’s help might be required to access relevant data

3. Research questions

This is the fundamental question of your research : what is it that you want to learn about your users?

To define the research question, consider the previously defined business question. What aspects of your users’ behaviours, experiences and perceptions would help you address it?

examples :

  • What is the process of users who choose add ons?
  • What are the current frustration or challenges our current users face?
  • How do non users solve issue X?

The research questions are not to be confused with interview questions! These are not the questions that you will directly ask the users, but they are questions you have about them.

Also, be careful not to disguise a business question into a research question! A valid research question aims to understand the process, journey, and thoughts of people, whereas a business question will be focused on how to improve your product or service. The two are of course linked, but as mentioned earlier, the latter can not be answered directly by your research. Rather, the light that your findings shed on the users should help your team and stakeholders find the answers to the business question.

Side note: other frameworks like to focus on business objectives or a problem statement, from which to build research questions. However, in my experience, some teams simply reframe the business objective as a question and call it a day. For instance, if the business objective is “Increase conversion on page X”, they’ll say that the research question is “How should we increase conversion on page X?” (or in the best case scenario “What would make a user convert on page X”), therefore never going through the steps of actually considering what they need to learn about the users’ behaviours and journeys. In order to avoid this pitfall, this canvas requires you to frame your business needs directly as a question in step 1.

4. Existing knowledge and insights

Before jumping into your research, it’s important to consider what you already know about the matter at hand. This will help you build your hypotheses, and avoid duplicating work. Existing knowledge can come from:

  • External sources
  • Data analytics
  • Feedback gathered by other teams (customer success, sales etc)
  • Online comments
  • Prior research

If possible, add a link to your source of knowledge. Sharing is caring!

5. Hypotheses

Every research project has underlying hypotheses that it needs to validate or disprove. Sometimes they are the whole reason why you’re having your research project, sometimes they’re assumptions that your stakeholder have and that you need to navigate. This block helps you surface them. This is an important step because it will both shape your research methodology, and help you detect and fight potential bias (such as confirmation bias).

examples :

  • The way we present add-ons is too aggressive and makes customers uneasy.
  • Prospects are confused by the amount of information on step 3 of the funnel.
  • Users prefer a reliable way of achieving X, even if it’s more expensive

6. Target audience

To ensure getting relevant insights, it is crucial to pinpoint the audience for your research project. These are the people with the relevant experience and behaviour to properly help you answer your research questions.

First, write down a broad description of your ideal participant, for instance :

  • Parent who wants to limit their children’s screen time
  • Non tech-savvy users of feature X

Then, create a set of criteria that will allow you to determine if a person fits into the target audience or not. The canvas helps you get a clearer view of the type of people you’re looking for by distinguishing 3 types of criteria.

Behavioural criteria

The meat and potatoes of your targeting, as most of the time behaviours are exactly what you’re trying to understand! You want to know why people behave a certain way, in what context, at what moment, how they get there etc…

example for the audience “Parent who wants to limit their children’s screen time”:

  • Parent who doesn’t have a clear screen time limit policy (has either tried and failed to implement one, or hasn’t tried)
  • Parent who doesn’t know what a parental control app is, or knows but doesn’t use any
  • Has children who spend more than 2h per day on their devices
  • Devices can be : phone, tablet, computer, TV, video game console

example for the audience “Non tech savvy users of feature X”:

  • Premium or freemium user
  • Has used the app’s feature X at least once in the past month
  • Has used it more than 4-5 times in the last 6 months
  • Has been a user of the app in general for more than a year

Emotional criteria

These complement your behavioural criteria by adding an emotional component such as opinions, beliefs, preferences, satisfaction, likes and dislikes… Whereas behaviours can usually be tracked and measured, emotions are usually self-reported by users. This means that in order to know, you’ll  ned to ask them - through pre-selection questions or directly when you meet them. Also, their experience needs to be recent enough so that they can really remember what they went through emotionally.

example for the audience “Parent who wants to limit their children’s screen time”:

  • Parent is generally unhappy about the amount of time their child spends in front of screens
  • Parent is concerned about the impact of screens on at least one of the following aspect of their children’s development: mental health, eyesight, sleep quality, studies

example for the audience “Non tech-savvy users of feature X”:

  • Has an overall good opinion of the app
  • Has had some trouble using the app in the past

Demographic criteria

Usually the first set of criteria that we think of. They can be very important for quantitative studies such as surveys, in order to ensure a good representativeness of the target audience. Their importance is lessened in qualitative studies, where they mainly help with targeting the audience with the most chance to fit the study’s needs - but they can never be the sole guarantee that someone will have the relevant experience or not!

Demographic criteria include :

  • age
  • gender
  • country / city of residence
  • family situation
  • professional situation
  • level of education
  • types of devices owned

example for the audience “Parent who wants to limit their children’s screen time”:

  • Parent of children between 8 and 18 yo - men and women between 30 and 50 yo are more likely to have children of that age

example for the audience “Non tech-savvy users of feature X”:

  • People who do not work in tech (exclude developers, designers, product managers…)
  • Other demographics linked to the characteristics of the product’s user base (such as country where the app is available, most commonly used devices…)

7. Methodology

Choosing the right methodology to get the answers you need is crucial!

To help you choose your method, there are broadly three point that you need to consider:

  • Are you doing generative or evaluative research?
  • Are your looking for quantitative or qualitative data?
  • Will your research be behavioural or attitudinal?

Generative vs evaluative

Generative research focuses on gaining a deeper understanding of your target audience in order to identify opportunities and inspire innovation. This type of research is usually conducted in the early stage of a project, to lay the groundwork for the design decisions that will come later.

Evaluative research is aimed at assessing the user experience and / or the design of a product or service, in order to validate a design or uncover issues. This type of research is usually conducted at later stages of a project, when some design decisions have already been made.

Quantitative vs qualitative

Quantitative data wants to understand WHAT and HOW MUCH. In order to do so, quantitative data will have larger sample sizes and might focus on statistics.****Qualitative data helps you understand the WHY and the HOW, usually through studies that document a person’s experience with as many details as possible.

Behavioural vs attitudinal

Behavioural research methods basically asks: What do people do? They focus on the observation and / or tracking of how people behave.

Attitudinal research methods wonder What do people say? They focus on the feelings, thoughts and motivations, which are usually self-reported.

If needed, place your own research needs on the last two axes to help you find the methodology that suits your current needs the most:

a landscape of user research methods

Once you’ve chosen your method, choose the right sample size for your research. To choose the right number, consider :

  • if your sample needs to be statistically significant
  • what effort and time you’ll be able to invest when analysing all of the data

8. Field guide

Your field guide is the outline of your research, the data collection protocol detailing procedures, instructions, tasks and questions that will be given to participants.

Rather than asking you to create the full guide on the spot, or to rewrite it in a tiny block, the canvas only asks for a link to the final document - if you use the canvas digitally. For a paper copy of the canvas, you can staple a printed out version, give instructions as to where to find the guide, or paste a QR code that links directly to it.

9. Participant source

You’re almost done! You know why you’re doing the research and what you’re ultimately trying to learn, who would be the perfect person to take part, and how exactly you’d like them to collect that data from them.

All that’s left to define is where you’ll be able to find the right participants!

Depending on your target audience and chosen methodology, you can consider:

  • inviting an extract of your database (through email or through in app messages / notifications)
  • asking people who solicit your support
  • using your company’s social media profiles
  • manually reaching out to people on social media
  • posting requests in online communities / forums
  • investing in online ads
  • contracting a recruiter
  • using an online recruiting tool (such as Tandemz 😉)

At Tandemz, we are experts of recruiting participants for your user research!

10. Timeline and constraints

Any research project could take up infinite time if we wanted - but of course, no one has infinite time and money. However, with limited resources, we should also expect realistic results.

Use this block to align everyone involved on :

  • how much budget you have
  • what deadlines there are
  • and how these constraints might impact your research - be it in terms of sample sizing, quality of deliverables or confidence over results.

And… that’s it! You’ve completed the canvas and should now be properly armed when jumping into your research!

Share it, frame it, document it, iterate on it - in short, do what you want with it!

Download the PDF Canvas

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