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12.05.23 • By Madi Shultz

The UX Research Methods Map

*This article was previously posted  on the Oscar tech blog

A tool for finding the right method for your research question! 

This story begins thousands of years ago in a hunting and gathering society. You are a hunter hoping to get lunch for the day, and you have built a tool to help. There are three “usability” outcomes we can expect.

  • You got lunch.
  • You didn’t get lunch.
  • Lunch got you.

(Caveman Lunch metaphor from the mind of Design Thought Leader, Rick Starbuck)

We know and expect these outcomes because the inventor, maker, and user of this tool were all the same person.

Fast forward thousands of years later, that’s no longer true. We (the people who build products and services in any context) have put distance between the inventor, maker, and user.

Put simply, distance = risk. Risk that people don’t want, like, use, trust, or derive value from the product. When we make product decisions, we can’t always intuit that they’re the perfect decision for our end user (like our prehistoric ancestors could).

This is the classic catchphrase of all human-centered design practitioners*: we’re often not the end user of the products and services we create. To reduce that risk, those same HCD practitioners (and any good UX researcher) will tell you to get as close as possible to your end users.

But here’s the rub — even when we get close to our end user, we won’t eliminate all the risk. We can’t perfectly predict how all users will behave all the time. Moreover, we don’t have endless time or money to spend on testing, and our users have limited time to spend with us. So, we have to get really good at reducing as much risk as possible in as little time as possible — and be comfortable with any amount of risk that remains for the product and experience decisions we make.

This is not a conundrum specific to Oscar. I’ve worked at a few health tech companies and feel confident in saying that we’re all dealing with risk and doing our best to steward research effort and time thoughtfully. I’ve also worked for companies where research teams are small, so we have to be scrappy and educate more people (product managers, designers, etc.) to think like researchers.

Our research team here is also small (though mighty!). But our questions are big, and our time is limited. It’s critical to identify the right question and the best (most efficient) way to explore it.

In research, we explore our questions with research methods. We might use qualitative methods, like in-depth interviews, or quantitative methods, like surveys. Preferably, we will use a few methods and layer the insights from them together, but it is very important to pick the right research method for the questions you’re exploring. Cue the UX Research Methods Map.

We created the Methods Map as a “first line of defense” to guide our teams as they explored new questions, assumptions, and hypotheses. At its core, the map is a decision tree that helps us consider the decisions we are trying to make, the types of questions we’re asking, and the amount of time we have to ask them. We see the Methods Map as a tool to democratize research within the Product organization. Think of it as a shortcut to making good choices about how to learn.

Like any good research project, it starts by constructing a research question. User research questions should guide every aspect of your study — who you recruit, the method you use, the analysis you perform, and even the results you share with stakeholders. By keeping the foundation of our study centered upon questions (instead of hypotheses), we open ourselves up to any answer and result we might find.

Layer by layer, the Methods Map helps guide you to the best method to explore your research question. The final result provides a description of the ideal method and the best way to get started.

Let’s pressure test it, shall we? Suppose, we’re considering moving into suburban markets, but we’ve built our digital tools primarily with urban users in mind. Specifically, we want to know the factors that are important to suburban members when searching for new providers. Our research question might look something like this — “What factors are important to members in suburban areas when searching for new providers?”

This is by no means perfect. There are always exceptions to every best practice. But we think this is a good start, and, importantly, the research team didn’t draft this from our own brains and ship it to other team members. We took a page out of our own book — beginning with discovery sessions to determine what we needed to build and performing quasi-usability studies to ensure we were building the right thing the right way.

In our work, we regularly make decisions that shape our members’ health and well-being, sometimes even their livelihood. We need to ask the right questions and diligently explore them with our end users, so we can give our members the healthcare they deserve. The Methods Map is one of the latest steps we’ve taken as a team to honor this commitment.

*Human-centered design (HCD) is a methodology that places the user at the heart of the design process. It seeks to deeply understand users’ needs, behaviors and experiences to create effective solutions catering to their unique challenges and desires. (Interaction Design Foundation)

Madi Shultz is a User Experience Researcher at Oscar, using empathy, rigor, and applied research methods to honor the needs of our end users and de-risk product decisions across member and provider experiences.

©2022 Oscar Health


©2022 Oscar Health