Atomic Research: A New Approach to UX Research Data Management

Atomic research is a new and powerful way to organize, analyze user research data. Learn how to conduct successful UX research by breaking down research data into smaller parts and using pinpointed insights.

Author

Kham Chakhap

Date

July 28, 2023

UX research is a complex field of study and one that is capable of unearthing insights that can have a significant impact on companies. However, completed research, after a certain time, ends up in a silo or becomes obsolete since it might be limited to a particular study. To make matters worse, 70% of researchers think that less than half of the stakeholders know how to access research findings. This means managing UX research data and having a repository which is easy to access is a major challenge.    

Even assuming the repository is accessible, there is a small possibility that a brand conducting research would try and link it back to a study that has already been completed and sits in the research repository. More often than not, YET another research is conducted burning through more costs and resources.  

This is where atomic UX research comes in.  

What is Atomic Research?  

Atomic UX research - as developed by UX researchers Tomer Sharon and Daniel Pidcock, is inspired by atomic design. In this case, it’s about breaking down a study into various small entities – each of these units being a ‘nugget’. Each nugget is a small, individual piece of information backed up by tagged research data. Having this in research repositories is essential since data becomes more discoverable and easier to reconsider.  

Atomic research runs on the premise that all the different steps of the process are interconnected to create evidence-backed data. A repository created with the help of atomic research helps in synthesizing data with cross-functional teams and provides actionable recommendations for the relevant stakeholders involved.  

The Relevance of Atomic UX Research  

Managing user research can be unorganized and expensive, but it can be made easy with the help of UX research repositories. With various industries slowly but surely adopting repositories, there are various kinds of research data being added in the form of reports, documents, notes, and more.  

Atomic UX research is just a way of managing data better – it’s not a replacement for different forms of research data. It transforms from being a linear process to a process which is no longer stagnant. In fact, it becomes a nuanced tool users can use to find information and bridge knowledge gaps.   

What are Nuggets in Atomic UX Research?

A nugget is a small, individual information piece backed up by tagged research data.

Like any other research content, nuggets are usually stored in a repository along with other research data. To help with data management, nuggets primarily consist of three different components:  

  • Observations: This is the knowledge collected during a user research study.  
  • Evidence: Any supporting material like videos, images, text, etc. that make up the evidence.  
  • Tags: Tags help in making a nugget more searchable and indexable as you connect the nugget to relevant information, such as an experience, product, service, etc. based on specific requirements.  

This digitized piece of information can be called upon and linked by different researchers to different studies, making processes more efficient in the long run.    

Atomic Research Methods  

This forms the backbone through which data is stored in an atomic format. Here, Pidcock breaks down UX studies into four constituent components which can be interlinked to each other to create distinct information groups:  

  • Experiments: This step involves conducting qualitative and quantitative research to gather the required information from the user. For example – Testing out a new user prototype design for a travel app.  
  • Facts: What comes out of the experiments are observations and statistics which can be linked to certain information. Each of these pieces of information is called a fact. It is based solely on the results of the study conducted and not on any personal opinion of an individual. Only then they can be constituted as a fact. For example – Respondents spent around 15 seconds on average on the 3rd page leading to a 44% drop off while they were navigating from the start page to the goal page.  
  • Insights: Now keeping your research goal in mind, you can look at one or many ‘facts’ together. Some of these facts can align, leading you to form your own conclusions. This creates a clearly defined and relevant insight. For example – The 3rd page of the intended user journey is too cluttered and the heat gaze results show users finding it difficult to find the icon to move to the next page.  
  • Recommendations: The last component in atomic research helps you fill any knowledge gap by giving an actionable result to your facts and insights. This actionable result can be presented as recommendations to improve the user experience. For example – Changes should be made to the 3rd page to make the icon easier to find and the journey more seamless for the user.  

Overall, these four steps form the basis for knowledge creation and should be made accessible accordingly so that the relevant stakeholders can make informed decisions.  

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Advantages of Atomic UX Research  

Democratization of research: Research data is generally limited in terms of usage for researchers and the functions running individual studies. Sometimes they become obsolete due to ever-evolving user behavior and technologies. But it’s important to remember that every research done can impart knowledge of how to or how NOT to run a UX research study. With atomic research integrated into a repository, information can be catalogued and more searchable. This promotes research fluency and encourages collaboration among cross-functional teams so that information is easily accessible to all stakeholders.  

Single source of truth: Usually in research, there is a lot of tribal knowledge or unwritten information which is inaccessible to the masses and gets lost or skewed. Having a single source of truth helps in managing and structuring information better through tags and nuggets. It can form a common thread which can tie a lot of insights together.  

Better research ROI: Let’s revisit the point about researchers linking back consumer behavior to studies which have been completed. Atomic research can bridge that gap to correlate new studies with older and relevant data. In addition, breaking down research data into nuggets allows researchers to identify specific areas for improvement rather than studying a general area, for focused and efficient UX improvement. This leads to a reduction in time and cost involved in the research process due to past insights and overall leads to a more productive study.  

Mitigation of bias: Interlinking new studies with old ones brings its fair share of challenges. UX research is usually limited to a couple of teams – those conducting the study and those who use the data derived from it. An old study might have personal biases that could have occurred at any stage of research. With atomic research, those parts can be highlighted and updated so that these biases are removed.  

Prevents ambiguity in research: Tribal knowledge in UX research data is present in most companies. However, this kind of knowledge is dependent on a particular group of people. As a result, there is a high chance of it being lost once the people involved in that research leave the company. Even with recommendations in the form of reports, certain aspects of the research may be lost. Atomic research can nullify such circumstances by cataloguing the information in the form of nuggets, tags or insights which makes them easy to access and understand.  

Tools used in atomic UX research   

From the simplest of data management items (like sticky notes) to integrated end-to-end specialized market research platforms, there are many ways to manage and store atomic research data.  

Spreadsheets are one of the most obvious tools used for atomic UX research management, to aid in data analysis and visualization. Most businesses rely on and are familiar with spreadsheets and have been doing so for years. However, there are some platforms that focus on providing both research and a repository as a core offering. These platforms can help you bring together all your research data in one platform and help in providing qualitative and quantitative research.     

Conclusion  

Atomic research, inspired by atomic design, offers a new approach to managing and leveraging UX research data. Nuggets formed by breaking down studies into smaller entities help create the basis for creating a repository. This creates information that is more accessible across cross-functional teams, creates a single source of truth, and prevents duplication of studies. This method helps researchers find connections to older studies and form new insights and recommendations.  

While UX research is an age-old topic, atomic UX research is a new way and powerful way to organize and analyze user research data. It provides a more structured view of research data so that it can be looked at in a new light and used more efficiently. New studies can be more optimized and can bring down efforts and costs in the long run.  

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Author Bio

As an intrepid explorer of both physical and intellectual realms, Kham seeks to unravel the intricacies of the human experience and merge them with the transformative power of AI. On odd days, she can be found wandering around trying to find that elusive scenic and quiet café where she can sip on matchas and get lost in the written word.

Kham Chakhap

Product Marketing Specialist

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