Co.Design

Google Ventures On 8 Shortcuts For Better, Faster Design Research

Google Ventures's Michael Margolis is more productive than ever. His secret? Shortcuts.

I’ve been doing design and UX research for almost 24 years. In that time, I’ve learned a lot, and I hope I’ve gotten better at it over the years.

One thing is certain: I’m more productive now than when I first started. I’m not any smarter (just ask my co-workers). I’m not working more hours. So what’s my secret? Shortcuts. In the interest of helping you do more faster (and to compel you to share your own tricks), here are my favorite ways to cut corners, save time, and be more efficient when doing research.

1. Start at the end: What questions do you want to answer?
Before you do any work on a research study, clarify what you want to get out of it. For example, would it be most useful to figure out:

  • Can new customers understand and figure out how to use the product?
  • What are customers’ existing workflow and pain points?
  • What are pros/cons of competitive products?
  • What are customers’ attitudes?
  • How satisfied are existing customers with the product?
  • How does new customers’ usage change over time?
  • Which design performs better?


When you know which answers you’re after, it’s quicker to choose the most efficient way to find them--by picking an appropriate research method (survey, A/B test, literature review, usability interviews, site visits, etc.), and the right segment of customers to study.

2. Get feedback from customers early and often
Even if your product’s trajectory is off by a little, you could miss your target by a lot. It’s always easier to correct course earlier before you’ve strayed too far. Try a design sprint. Or just try these tips to learn more from your conversations with your users.


3. Check whether someone else has already done your research for you
Whether you’re curious about how teens use mobile video, or trying to decide whether to rely on keyboard shortcuts, use these tips for lean market research to dig up the results from someone else’s hard work and expertise.

4. Don’t read the (whole) book
For many business books, you can get the main points without reading the whole book. Search the web for a summary, review, or talk by the author (on YouTube or TED). Try Googling “summary of [book title].” Plenty of free and paid sites offer summaries of business books, including getabstract.com, summaries.com, and squeezedbooks.com.

5. Make re-usable templates
To reduce time it takes to recruit research participants, use templates for recruiting questionnaires and various confirmation emails. (Check out the worksheets and templates that accompany the video of the research workshop I’ve taught to GV portfolio companies.)

6. Create (and use!) good checklists
See this summary of The Checklist Manifesto or watch this five-minute video summary of Gawande’s book. Effective checklists have specific tasks with time estimates. Here’s my checklist for planning a scrappy round of usability interviews.

7. Assemble your kit (and keep your bag packed)
Gather everything you need to conduct customer interviews so you won’t waste time tracking things down before every study. I keep a small tote and camera bag ready to go with:

  • Audio recorder (and/or Livescribe pen)
  • Extra batteries
  • Notepad and pens
  • Webcam
  • USB hub
  • Mouse
  • Keyboard
  • Ziggi USB document camera
  • Adapter for plugging my laptop into a larger monitor
  • Video camera
  • Watch or small digital clock
  • Breath mints

I don’t use all of these things for every interview (except the mints!), but organizing it beforehand saves me a lot of time and frustration.

8. Compress interviews into one day
Try to schedule interviews and field visits as close together as possible. (For example, I regularly conduct five 60-minute interviews in one day.) This may not sound like a shortcut, but it actually helps avoid hours of reviewing notes and videos to figure out and communicate research findings--after several interviews in a row, the patterns and findings are usually pretty obvious. And because teams are more likely to watch interviews batched in a single day, you won’t need to spend time explaining (or arguing about) the results. You can always create a written summary or more detailed analysis if necessary.

I hope these shortcuts help you get better research results with less effort. What shortcuts do you take? Tweet me at @GVDesignTeam or @mmargolis.

[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

Add New Comment

4 Comments

  • Mal Jago

    Thanks Michael, very helpful tips. I liked to be reminded about getting into "Research Persona".

  • cheryl_marks

    Pretty good advice EXCEPT for #8. Compressing 5 interviews into one day is a short cut that is detrimental to research. First, active listening is difficult and requires a great amount of energy. Even if you're partnering with someone to interview/take notes, you need time to debrief following each interview. 3 max is my recommendation.

  • I am happy to see an article on design research, but I can't say that I agree that there should be shortcuts to design research without expecting half baked self fulfilling results. Starting with #1. "clarify what you want to get out of it" the data should lead the outcome or you are doing a disservice to the process and should just do what you want in the first place and not try to validate outcomes. Design researchers are building their credibility with corporate America, let's not short the system just yet.