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Formative research

What is formative research?

Formative research is a type of research conducted in the early stages of a project or design process to gather insights, understand user needs, and inform decision-making. It focuses on understanding the problem space, user behaviors, preferences, and context to guide the development of solutions.

Synonyms: formative studies

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When to use formative research?

  • When you want to gather insights about your target users. Formative research methods such as interviews, observations, and surveys help you understand user perspectives and motivations.
  • When you have initial design ideas or concepts and need to validate them with users. Formative research allows you to gather product feedback and iterate on your concepts to ensure they align with user expectations.
  • When you have prototypes or early versions of your product and want to identify usability issues and gather user feedback for improvements. Formative research helps you uncover usability problems and gather insights to enhance the user experience.

Benefits of formative research

  • User-Centered Design: Formative research places users at the center of the design process, ensuring that their perspectives are considered. By understanding users early on, you can create more relevant and effective solutions.
  • Early Problem Identification: By conducting formative research, you can identify potential pain points, and design challenges early in the process. This enables you to address these issues proactively, saving time and resources that would otherwise be spent on redesigning or fixing problems later on.
  • Iterative Improvement: Formative research supports an iterative design approach, where solutions are continually refined based on user feedback. By iteratively testing and gathering feedback, you can make incremental improvements to your design, resulting in a more polished and user-friendly end product.
  • Design Decisions: Formative research provides data and evidence to support design decisions. Instead of relying on assumptions, you can make informed decisions backed by user insights. This increases confidence in the design choices and reduces the risk of subjective biases influencing the outcome.

How to conduct formative research?

  1. Define Goals: Identify what you want to learn, the specific research questions you need to answer, and the outcomes you hope to achieve.
  2. Target Users: Determine the target audience or user group for your research. Understand their demographics, characteristics, and context of use. This will help you select the right participants and tailor your research methods accordingly.
  3. Research Methods: Select the appropriate research methods that align with your research goals and target users. Common formative research methods include interviews, surveys, observations, focus groups, and usability testing.
  4. Recruit Participants: Recruit participants who represent your target user group. Ensure that you have a diverse range of participants to capture different perspectives and insights.
  5. Conduct Data: Carry out the data collection process using the selected research methods. Ensure that you capture relevant data and document observations thoroughly.
  6. Analyze Data: Use qualitative or quantitative analysis techniques depending on the nature of the data. Look for common themes, emerging patterns, or significant findings that can inform your design decisions.

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What is the difference between formative and summative research?

Formative research focuses on understanding user needs, shaping the design process, and generating insights, while summative research evaluates the final product’s effectiveness, impact, and user satisfaction.

What are formative research, proximal goals and long-term goals?
  1. Formative Research: Early-stage research to understand user needs and inform solution development.
  2. Proximal Goals: Short-term objectives serving as steps towards larger aims.
  3. Long-Term Goals: Extended objectives guiding direction and purpose over time.

By conducting formative research and focusing on the proximal goals of understanding user needs and informing the design process, you can work towards achieving the long-term goals of creating a user-centered product, enhancing user satisfaction, and achieving business success. 

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