Desk Research: squeeze some research into your day 🍊

publishedover 1 year ago
2 min read

Dear Reader,

Q: How do I make time for research?

A: Try to squeeze a bit of desk research in here and there. 🍊

Desk research, also known as secondary research, is an excellent way to build continuous learning into your design practice.

It's called desk research because it's research you can do by yourself at the desk.

Primary research is custom-created for each project, but who has time for that?

Secondary research has already been conducted, and only needs to be discovered or revisited by busy designers.

Desk research is a perfect discovery method because it allows you to do a quick check of what's out there.

Checking the front page of Google or doing a quick search on your internal wiki tool is an excellent example of this.

If you want to get fancy, you could even try looking at scientific papers or other non-obvious sources.

There are three primary sources of desk research where you should be looking: Internal Knowledge, External Research, and Existing Products

1. Internal Knowledge

You can find internal knowledge in local places:

  • Company wiki - Confluence, Notion, etc.
  • Product documentation - Google Docs, Jira, etc.
  • Cloud storage - Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.
  • Data analytics - Google analytics, Dovetail
  • Messaging platforms - Gmail, Slack, etc.

For example: Internal knowledge could be a comment on a user flow in a Google doc

I recommend searching past interviews transcripts, NPS reviews, and research presentations to find internal knowledge.

Rule of thumb for desk research: if it has a search bar, it's probably a good source

2. External Research

External Research is secondary research that was once conducted by someone outside of your company as primary research. Sources for external research are academic papers, research reports, and scientific studies.

Here are some places to start your external secondary research:

3. Existing Products

With all of the software out there in the world, someone has already solved your problem. Don't reinvent the wheel!

For example: If you're adding a messaging functionality to your product, take inspiration from existing messaging products.

Avoid hypothetical products that you might find on Dribbble or Behance. If it isn't live, it's likely that the approach still has lots of usability kinks to be worked out.

Here are some excellent places to find existing products that are live:

Desk research is pretty simple, but once you do it for a bit, you'll start to find your own special sources.

Until next week, squeeze a few sessions of desk research into your day!

Jeff Humble
Designer & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

P.S. It's finnnnnnnally done...😅

I've been working on this mini course on UX research for weeks, and it's packed with so many nuggets to help you level up in UX research.

Get the free 7-day UX Research Short Course

I hope you like it 🥹

The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute is an independent online school that teaches advanced UX & product skills.

Read more from The Fountain Institute