Desk research

Desk research, which is also known as secondary research, is a UX research method that consists of reviewing what others have done in similar situations.

Updated on June 6th, 2023

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This method does not involve collecting new data or talking to users. Instead, it's more focused on understanding the directions you could take your creative thinking by reviewing what has been done already.

Why is desk research valuable?

Before starting your design project, it is important to have a clear understanding of your project's domain.

Somebody else has probably tried to design something similar to what you're about to design, and because of that, desk research is the quickest and cheapest way to understand what might work and what does not.

There's more. Here's a list of other reasons why desk research is a good idea for UX designers. You can also use these reasons when trying to convince a stubborn stakeholder of the value of UX, by the way.

  • You will save time and money by not repeating the same research as others. When that research source is credible, you can use the outcome as input for other research methods.

  • Your research will be stronger and more credible in front of other stakeholders because you can show that other highly valued competitors have done similar things.

Different methods for desk research

Let's take a look at common methods and sources you can use for your next desk research phase.

Online search

Simple web searches are one of the most famous ways to collect secondary data. Two examples are Google Scholar and a simple Google Search. This data is usually free to use and easy to access and download.

You should always check the source's authenticity before using the data you find there. Here's a quick checklist.

  • Check for HTTPS.

  • Check the domain. Does it end in something trustworthy such as .edu or .gov?

  • Can you find similar claims from different independent sources?

Public libraries

It might sound a bit outdated, but public libraries are another good way of doing desk research. They have well-divided and categorized hard copies of important past research.

Going to a public library instead of just going to the office can also be a nice change of pace. You'll meet people to chat with and be extra creative in that new environment.

Publications

Newspapers, magazines, and television channels are great sources for desk research. Nowadays, accessing these sources is even easier because they're available digitally.

Newspapers and magazines that write about the industry or niche in which your product is likely to operate are examples of helpful desk research sources.

How to carry out desk research

Up next is a step-by-step approach to desk research. Let's start with finding your topics and goals.

Set your goals

The first step of every UX research method is always to understand the scope and goals of your research.

For UX designers, the goal of desk research is to start the design project right. You research similar projects to better understand what might work for you.

The question for you is to determine your scope. Answer these questions to set your desk research goals.

  • How long will you spend doing desk research?

  • Who are your competitors that you want to research?

  • What are you looking for?

Collect data

One of the best ways to collect data when desk researching is to try out your competitors' products. As a UX designer, you're able to do an expert review, and that's very useful here.

Use a note-taking app or online collaboration tool to write down your insights.

Analyze data

Once you complete your desk research, compare all your sources and combine the relevant ones.

Analyze everything to identify insights for your research questions and highlight all the open points you still have. Those will become research questions for the next research phase.

You could create an 'open questions box' in Figjam or Miro to 'park' these questions. Then, if you're working using Agile or Scrum, you could agree with the team to pick up a number of these open questions each sprint. That way, you keep the UX research going throughout your project.

Missing something? Contribute by making edit suggestions for this keyword.

Useful resources

Desk research: the what, why and how - User Focus

Desk Research: How To Conduct Secondary Research Efficiently - Aela

What is Desk Research? A Guide + Examples - Similarweb

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