Research & Problem Definition

Research and
Problem Definition


RedOwl employs many user-centric research techniques, also known as UX (user experience) research methods. These techniques aid our designers with gathering information, research and early ideation. The various methods are described below.

Research techniques

Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research is a method of information gathering where end-users are observed in their natural or “native” environments, that is, where they live, work, sleep and play. This kind of methodology provides an in-depth insight into the user’s response to a given situation. Data from ethnographic observation can be recorded by written field-notes, photographs, or video and audio recordings. Detailed behavioral mapping, (tracking positions and movements of people,) and network mapping (recording the social relationships within groups,) are important sub-sets of ethnographic research.

Empathic Observation

Empathic observation is a form of ethnographic research where the observer attempts to gain a very deep understanding of the user’s feelings, aspirations, fears and inner thoughts. In short, it is an attempt to understand and experience the feelings of others. Empathic observation implies more than listening; careful observation of facial expressions, body language and non-verbal expressions is critical. It is useful to employ video in gathering this kind of information, as user actions can be re-examined in real time, in slow-motion or stills.


Informance is a technique where researchers “role play” the part of an end user or users. They essentially act-out the part of the end user. This technique can give great insight into what the user is experiencing.

Empathy tools can be used with this technique to emulate users with reduced physical abilities. (For example, by wearing heavily padded gloves, ear plugs or fogged glasses.) The use of early prototypes can also be extremely useful when using this research technique.

Anthropometric Analysis

Anthropometric measurements are a collection of the critical dimensions of the human body, (for example, height, weight, leg and arm lengths, etc.) Anthropometric analysis is the process of using this collective data to ensure designed products “fit” the target user group.

Human Factors and Ergonomics (HF/E)

The terms “Human Factors” and “Ergonomics” are closely linked. Both involve the study of human attributes, so that products and equipment can be designed to fit the human body and its cognitive abilities.

It encompasses the consideration of physical dimensions, strength, flexibility, age, gender and health. The consideration of these factors in design is also known as Human Factors Engineering.

Cognitive Task Analysis

Cognitive task analysis is another form of research aimed at understanding tasks that require a great deal of cognitive activity, such as decision-making, problem-solving and judgment, (for example flying an airplane.) It involves listing, mapping and summarizing a user’s sensory inputs and critical decision points when completing a task. It is often used to examine the mental workload associated with complex controls and displays.

Extreme User Analysis

Extreme User analysis is a form of ethnographic research where individuals who are extreme experts are studied performing an activity or task. (For example, extreme skiers or snowboarders.) Analysis of these non-typical users can lead to insights that cannot be gained from the observation of typical users.

This technique can also be used to study novices or total non-users who are not familiar with the activity at all.

Behavioral and Network Mapping

Involves tracking and mapping the movements of people or persons in a given environment. These movements are recorded, and typically displayed in a variety of diagram formats. Social interactions between various people or groups can be tracked and displayed in a similar fashion.


Questionnaires and surveys can be used to ask specific questions of targeted users to determine their opinions, likes and dislikes, or immediate reaction to a new product or process. Responses are typically statistically compiled and analyzed. The use of internet or web-based questionnaires can gather a large amount of data very quickly and inexpensively.

Competitive Product Survey

Compiling a list of products or services available from competitors can provide valuable technical information and can help to establish a state-of-the-art benchmark. It is a necessary step before reviewing intellectual property in a given market.

Intellectual Property Study

An intellectual property study involves an in-depth examination of utility patents, design patents and trademarks related to a given field of invention. An in depth search of patents is necessary to ensure that new products or processes do not infringe on the intellectual property of others. It is also required if patent protection is being considered for a new invention. Intellectual property analysis can also aid in revealing prior art in a given field. Understanding patent claims and patentability is a core competency of Redowl design.

Focus Groups

Typically a gathering of end users, who are asked various open-ended questions to elicit their perceptions of a product or service. Often participants are asked for their opinions after being given a new product or prototype to try.

Focus groups have the disadvantage of allowing certain members of the group to dominate the discussion, and a group bias can quickly form. Even the facilitator can affect a bias if the questions are not carefully crafted. Another disadvantage of focus groups is that participants often expect to be compensated.

Individual Interviews

Generally more precise than a focus group, but more time consuming. Individual interviews can precisely gauge a user’s reaction to the price and quality of a product. Asking consecutive “why” questions are a useful tool when interviewing a single participant.

Perceptual Mapping

Is a form of product benchmarking. A perceptual map is used by researchers to plot user’s perception of several products attributes, and readily compare them to each other. Typically, perceptual maps are used to collect and plot user’s opinions about competitive products, to determine where those products relate to one another.

Perceptual maps are two dimensional maps, with two different product attributes being plotted along the X and Y axis. For example, users might be asked to locate several different running shoes, locating them according to their perception of comfort and quality.

Although simple to use, perceptual maps have the disadvantage of only comparing two variables on the map, and the information can be inaccurate if other product attributes have great importance with the end user. (For example, the design appearance of a running shoe may be confused with quality.)

Sustainability Mapping

A sustainability map is a tool conceived and designed by Lynne Elvins and Rupert Bassett of A420, a UK based design firm. It is a 2 dimensional chart with a tilted X, Y axis that considers the Financial, Social, Personal and Environmental implications of any given design. It is a useful visual tool when considering the sustainability of a product or service.

Mood Boards

A Mood Board, (or Inspiration Board,) is generally a collection or collage of images, material samples, objects and text that is used to form a composition. The composition of the board is designed to convey a mood or the inspiration for an idea or design. There are typically several of them shown to potential end-users, to elicit their response or feedback, and to select the preferred version.They are typically used where the image of the product, packaging or brand are considered critical.

Demographic Analysis

Demographic analysis is the study of a given population by segmenting it into characteristics such as sex, age, race or marital status. It may also include an analysis of how the segments may have changed over time, as they are affected by birth and death rates or population migrations. Demographic analysis is typically used in product development to identify target markets or groups of end-users.


Similar to demographics, psychographics is a method of segmenting populations based on psychological attributes; for example, people may be categorized according to their opinions and values, lifestyles, aspirations or personalities. Psychographic analysis can be extremely useful in targeting certain user types. Psychographics variables are sometimes abbreviated to “AIO variables” because the research focuses on activities, interest and opinions.

Card Sorting

Card Sorting analysis is performed by listing possible product or service features, functions, or design attributes on separate index cards. These cards are shuffled. Potential users are then asked to organize the cards spatially in ways that make sense to them. This provides information to the designers on how to best organize those features. This research method is common in website and information site development.

Persona Creation

This method involves researchers analyzing data collected from many users and then creating single fabricated archetypes from that data. This helps to simplify and clarify a consistent version of the user. This technique can make sifting through a lot of user data more manageable and understandable.

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