What exactly is a User Research Repository?

Join us for a deep-dive into what a user research repository is, how it helps solve common research problems and how to get started.

Research encompasses data from many sources, which can be difficult to manage across multiple tools and data points. Maintaining this amount of data over any length of time often results in missing information, lost links, and wasted efforts.

One of the best ways to avoid these pitfalls is to maintain a research repository: a collection of all data points, creating an accumulation of insights that paint a full picture. It’s also a space to analyze this information and provide training material for future researchers, or to share with teams across the business - accelerating your democratization efforts.  

Here, we will explore further what a user research repository is, how it helps solve common research problems and share some useful tips on how to get started. 

Defining a User Research Repository

A repository can be many things to many people, so let's start with some clear definitions:

A collection of data points

When thinking about researchers, many people would assume that the entire discipline consists of interviewing users and conducting usability tests.

While these are incredibly important pieces of the puzzle, research is now a broader umbrella than ever before - we need a place for other disciplines to contribute their types of data, like marketing research or analytics. 

A user research repository is a central source of truth of data relating to users.

Here, research is stored, organized, and analyzed to bring out insights across multiple data sources and showcase the full story of users. It’s a space that opens up collaboration across disciplines to share their own research, analysis, and expertise to contribute to the big picture of research questions. 

A single source of truth

Before we go any further, it’s worth remembering that tools alone cannot solve all your issues.

Repository tools like our own EnjoyHQ are great places to store and analyze data but the real power of a repository lies in how you use those tools. Links should be added to places where data cannot be directly input into the repository.

Collaboration tools like Miro or Figjam may initially be more suitable when encouraging people to interact with research data, take notes and collaborate on drawing out insights.

So, data collected in workshops is still valuable, but may not follow your typical research data format which can be tagged or analyzed. However, a record of these efforts still needs to be recorded and organized for future reference (and also to help you keep a close eye on where user data has been used for legal reasons). 

A space for analysis

Analysis can be a long process, and can often be a tedious one too, pouring through hours of transcripts and pulling out insights across multiple people.

Tools designed as repositories are designed to support us in our day-to-day analysis as well. Some features allow us to go through videos and transcripts, highlighting what’s important, and then show you an accumulation of those highlights to let you build out overall themes quickly.

This will save a lot of time and reduce bias,  showing you what was actually mentioned the most -  rather than relying on what we think was mentioned the most. 

An accumulation of insights

In addition to revealing themes during analysis, a repository will let you build a bigger picture, accumulating those themes over time.

This allows research to live longer. Each round of research can contribute to previous reports, further validating or disproving hypotheses. Under the same tag or theme, we see all mentions from our very first participant to the very last.

A shared resource

The more your repository opens up as a single source of truth, the more it becomes the space to come to for research and answers.

For example, a product owner can come here to find answers in market research, analytics, user interviews and usability testing results. Developers can come to see which technical issues are being mentioned in tagged product feedback or in interviews. Anyone doing presentations to stakeholders (or even knowledge-sharing sessions) can find their own data to demonstrate the user-centricity behind decisions made and work prioritized.

When should you consider a research repository?

The more you demonstrate the value of research, the more it becomes valued and considered by the company.

People will naturally start to see you, the researchers, as the source of research. This means they’re asking you for quotes, data, reports, etc.

It’s an amazing feeling when people come to you because they are valuing research, but this adds to your workload and takes you away from your day-to-day. A repository not only allows you to quickly retrieve what you need but allows others to learn where to find research for themselves. 

Research repositories also shine in businesses with more than one research team. Often companies have multiple products where design teams are somewhat siloed, each focusing on the company goals and their product goals. A repository reduces duplicated efforts by offering a space where teams can share company-wide insights.

The key advantages of a research repository

1: Extend the lifespan of your research

A research repository brings your research to life and extends its expiration date (regulations permitting of course). Highlights are born from each and every data source. Suddenly, insight is born from multiple sources and paints a truer picture of your users and business. All the research is in the same place so it’s difficult for it to be forgotten. These insights live for a lot longer because you continuously add and takeaway insights as necessary with each round of research. 

Let’s say, for example, you are exploring a broad question like “why do people take photographs?”.

For a photography company, this question underpins almost every decision. So, a one-time round of explorative research with a final report doesn’t make sense. But a repository provides features where this insight grows with each round of research by continuously adding to the stories. It’s easy to see which insights have been modified and whether points raised in previous months or years are still being raised.

2: Provide consistent visualization of research

Another benefit of a repository is the ability to build a visual mental model of our data which is both structured and organized. When we have that picture of where things are, we are more efficient in actions like retrieving time-sensitive insights.

We can pull out answers to questions, often within minutes, whether it’s a report, a collection of reports, or a summary of a theme automatically collated under a tag.

Long gone is the assumption that asking for research will result in waiting for months before seeing any answers. 

3: Allows faster, more accessible to analytics

Not only will you see research but also the metadata of your repository; how many people have been interviewed, notes created, text snippets highlighted, and so on.

This is an amazing way for us as researchers to discuss the impact we’re having on the business as a team and individually in meetings like appraisals or end-of-year showcases. We can demonstrate the work undertaken and show the trail of user-centricity that has led to or influenced key business decisions.

Discover our powerful research repository and insights platform

Centralize, share and collaborate on insights with EnjoyHQ

The limitations and disadvantages  of a research repository

1: Research requires maintenance

No one tool can solve all of our problems. Humans are inherently inconsistent, even within ourselves. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve created tags with slightly different labels for the same theme because they were created months apart or I couldn’t remember the original label.

Add a team of people, each not being consistent and your repository becomes less effective without warning. 

Just like maintaining components in a Design System, we also have to maintain research.

Knowing what exists in the repository is key to using it effectively, but no one can remember every single tag, insight, or report.

Research evolves, and grows and our needs adapt along with the business. Tags and insights become redundant when addressed or reports may expire depending on your privacy policy. Duplicated tags, ambiguous labels, and transcripts tagged incorrectly all mean maintenance becomes a new item on the to-do list.

Team members without a research background may need more thorough training, over a longer time, to successfully utilize your repository.

2: Non-designers may struggle to navigate research

The creation of a shared resource leads to a space rich in data. While this is great in theory, mature repositories can be unfriendly to those who are unfamiliar with navigating the space.

You have to know what is in there or how to find what is in there. Being able to use a repository relies on knowing what users said, what tags exist and the insights turned into reports. Training is an essential component if you want to scale and democratize your research through a repository.

3: Data sharing restrictions

Sharing research can only go so far and not just for those dealing with EU citizen data. The GDPR is not only law regarding EU citizen data but now other non-EU countries have followed suit, such as Brazil (LGPD), Israel (Data Protection Regulation), South Africa (Protection of Personal Information Act 2020), and Japan (Act on the Protection of Personal Information).

A business needs a reason to collect data and for someone to have access to said data. 

Because of this, one issue a repository faces is the very fact that it’s a shared resource. 

Sensitive data should be kept to a minimum under these laws but information such as facial expressions and country/state could be sufficient to identify users. It’s vital to share resources but not in a way that could be considered unlawful and increases data risks. 

Tips for creating and maintaining a research repository

Store research materials alongside data

Materials used to conduct research are often valuable alongside the data that it was used to collect.

Documents such as discussion guides and survey question plans help keep a record of projects conducted, topics covered and questions asked. These can help to create a template of questions to be asked in other interviews like high-level business topics. 

Not only does this serve as a way of keeping track of what was planned in a project as well as outcomes, but they serve well as training documents.

Junior researchers, product owners running mini usability projects and researchers being onboarded to the company can start to build an understanding of how your team works. 

Agree on a mindset, not only the process

You can run all the interviews, workshops, and surveys in the world, but agreeing on how to analyze data and where tags live will help maintain the repository as you go.

An agreed-upon taxonomy that matches how your repository is structured helps set expectations of where to find types of insights. Of course, before this, you need to agree on what insights should live where, which will help researchers during the analysis phase.

Insights tied to a prototype or a topic on a product are often the lowest in the hierarchy. Whereas ongoing highlights like usability issues or requested features are likely to accumulate and provide insights later at times like sprint planning.

These highlights need to be placed where other designers and product owners can contribute without seeing highlights related to smaller topics. 

Finally, highlights related to the company and not product-specific should live across the entire repository at the most global/accessible level. The more generic the highlight, the more products to which it’s relevant.

Card sorting helps maintain consistency

As mentioned, any repository with multiple collaborators will see duplication and inconsistencies.

There will be tags with issues that have been addressed but not removed. Not only does this clutter the space but it is a wasted effort repeating work. Using card sorting workshops periodically among your team allows you to go through the tags you have and reorganize if necessary. 

  • Firstly, laying out all the outcomes in one place takes each one out of context and tests our understanding of tag labels, etc.
  • Secondly, get those editing the repository to go through tags to see if they understand them and group them based on a logical structure. You can also see what feedback is being collected on one project but not necessarily on the others.
  • Thirdly, take notes of labels that don’t make sense, categories to be added or removed and taxonomy restructures that will help keep a repository consistent and efficient. 

Kep consistent themes across projects

Remember; categories of insights are just as important as the insights themselves.

Categories like usability issues, positive comments, and requested features are examples of common feedback across projects/products, etc.

Each category provides insights within itself, for example by highlighting the most referred-to complaints, positive remarks, and requested features.

Organized in such a way, you can see the most mentioned feature or most raised technical issue. Then by going through what highlights were created within, say a sprint, you can pull out themes of that time period. This sprint we saw more technical issues raised, the sprint before we saw more positive remarks being made about a newly released feature.

Design your repository to solve your problems

Yes, the primary design of a repository is best suited to be a database of data points but how you design it should be molded to your teams’ needs.

Discuss with those involved what the success of your repository looks like and review as your team, business, data, and needs evolve. 

In addition to discussions about tags, taxonomies, and mindsets, explore principles that you may want to heed when interacting with the repository.

  • How accessible does your repository need to be?
  • Who is asking for research?
  • How quickly do you find yourselves pulling out certain insights?
  • What data are you storing which should influence how secure your repository needs to be?

There are countless characteristics a repository could follow. So, narrowing down the options and prioritizing these are valuable to creating a successful repository from the beginning or evolving your repository further down the line.

Explore what others have done

The very reason a user research repository exists is that, like others, you and your teams face the same problems. So when it comes to solving these problems, it’s interesting and eye-opening to see how others have tackled those issues and the reasons which lead to those decisions.

Keep an eye out for blog posts, podcasts, and seminars of teams discussing their approaches to their repositories and empower your team with lessons learned from others. 

In Summary

The key point to creating any user research repository is to build a collection of as much research as possible, both qualitative and quantitative. The space is designed to help us analyze and create living reports. It’s accessed by those who need to make key decisions and craft solutions for users. 

While there are concerns to ponder and cons along the way, these are outnumbered and outweighed by the advantages and benefits. A repository is a tool aimed at solving the common problems we have as researchers.

Discuss with your teams, explore your company’s needs and design the space as you see fit. 

Want to know more? Discover more about discovering, sharing and collaborating on insights to make customer-centric business decisions at scale.

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