Write a great research brief

in Managing usability agencies

A good research brief underpins the success of your usability project. It sets the scene for your relationship with your agency and gives them the best possible start for delivering a great piece of work.

Your research brief should be short enough to be digestable, but detailed enough to make the project objectives, deliverables, and management unambiguous.

You could follow this structure:

Objectives
State what the project seeks to achieve: what the benefits will be. Be explicit.

Research questions
This is perhaps the most important section. A vague statement like “Identify usability problems with the online catalogue” doesn’t pin down what you want from the research. Your agency will find a list of concrete questions much more helpful, e.g:

  • Do users understand the scope of the products we sell?
  • How easy do they find it browse our range of products?
  • Do they have any problems in finding particular products?
  • What do they think about the product descriptions and photographs?
  • How satisfied are they with the usability of catalogue – using standard usability metrics?

User groups
You should describe the key demographics, attitudes, and behaviours of the user groups to be recruited. State whether your company will do the recruitment, or whether the agency should do it.

Reporting
Give the agency a report structure (table of contents) and state whether the report can be a presentation or whether it needs to be a standalone report that can be understood by anyone reading it alone. I can’t over-emphasise this enough – it’s one of the single most common sources of confusion.

Quality
State what quality reviews will be done and at what stages of the project. I’ll give more guidance on this in a later article.

Project management
Explain how you will manage the project and what management activities is expected of them

Budget and timelines
While you might be reluctant to let your agency know your budget, from their point of view, knowing how much money you have is a great help in scoping the breadth and depth of the research, the amount of time they can spend analyzing the data and report writing. Being open and honest with your agency underpins success.

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