Often when we think about product development, we think about designing the best solution or product. Early-stage user research is also about figuring out exactly which problem needs to be solved.

When you’re starting the product development process, consider the problem space and the scope of the problem you’re trying to address. For example, for our travel product, the goal of “transforming the travel industry” would be too broad of a scope for a single project. “Helping young adults plan a trip” would be a more reasonable scope and help you form tangible research questions to find problems you can help solve.

When selecting a topic for user research, consider the following:

  • What are you trying to learn?
  • What is your focused research goal?
  • What are some research question(s) to help achieve your goal?
  • Which research method(s) will help answer your research question(s)? (More on this later.)
  • Who do you want to study or include in your research? (More on this later.)

Thinking about our travel example, you might ask, “How are young adults planning travel today?” and explore the motivations behind how they are putting together an itinerary and which parts of the process feel most difficult. The results of your research can help you identify a real problem, develop a solution that is actually useful, and deliver it to the right audience.

You might discover through user research that the problem you suspected is not actually the core issue. For example, the users you speak to may have no trouble planning a solo travel itinerary, but struggle to coordinate or share with friends and family. Or you might discover that users visiting urban destinations do not seem to have a particular problem, but users visiting more rural destinations do.

In planning your research, consider what stage you are at in the design process through a methodology like the double diamond diagram. During the convergent strategy phase of this methodology, broader generative research is analyzed and the team moves forward toward problem definition.

As we walk through more research methods in this lesson, consider how we might eventually move from divergent thinking to convergent thinking about the problem to be solved, and which methods would best help define the problem for a given research project.


Think about answers to the following questions to check your understanding of defining the problem space.

You’ve decided to design a new product related to music. Think of a well-scoped research question that you could begin to look into.

Check Answer

Some well-scoped examples of research questions could be:

  • How do people listen to music at work?
  • How do people find concerts to attend while traveling?
  • How do millennials find music related to music they already like?
  • How can we design a product to help teenagers learn music theory?

It’s important to keep your research question focused and specific. Examples of overly broad or vague research questions on this topic could be:

  • How do people relate to music?
  • How can we design a product to transform the music space?

Now that you have an overarching research question, think about who you’d want to start speaking to and what research method you’d want to use. Don’t worry about diving too deep into this right now; we’ll cover more specifics on these topics later.

Check Answer

For the “How can we design a product to help teenagers learn music theory?” question above, you might consider speaking to teenagers, or to people like teachers and parents of teenagers who are aware of their habits or may make purchasing decisions on their behalf.

Interviews or surveys could be a good way to start getting a sense of their self-reported behaviors and motivations, or a diary study could help give you a better sense for patterns over time.

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