Using Mind Maps for UX Design: Part 2 – Research Maps

Using Mind Maps for UX Design: Part 2 – Research Maps

In part 1 of the “Using Mind Maps for UX Design” series, I discussed how to use mind maps to create “sketch maps” that organize ideas in a tree-based structure where sketches are used as the way to illustrate those concepts. Mind maps have many other applications for UX designers. This article will focus on how to use mind maps for user research.

Research Map Example
Research Map Example
Download the full-sized map (PDF)

What are research maps?

Research maps are mind maps that can help you manage all aspects of user research, from planning, to conducting studies, through analysis and recommendations. Using mind maps to arrange elements of user research allows you to visually structure information in a way that helps you to make connections between research elements. For example, a research map could help you connect research goals with themes from your findings, identify connections across interviews or test sessions, or to match findings with recommendations. Instead of looking at different phases of user research in isolation (e.g. creating separate documents for your research plan, observations, and recommendations), a research map can help you see the big picture across all phases.

How to create a research map

  1. Place the topic of your research in the center of the map. 
  2. When creating a holistic research map, create first-level topics branching out from the center of the map for each phase of your research effort. A research map could also focus on one or a sub-set of research phases depending on your particular needs.
  3. Create sub-topics that branch out from each research phase with the key elements relating to that phase. Example elements you can include in your maps are listed below.
  4. As you plan, conduct, and analyze your research, document elements that relate to each of your primary topics. Don’t worry too much about structuring your ideas and findings initially, just get them onto the map. Once you start identifying ways to group elements on the map, group them into parent topics with a label that identifies their meaning or similarities.
  5. Connect related ideas using lines or arrows to help you visualize related themes or elements that have a cause-and-effect relationship.

Elements of a research map 

Research maps can contain a wide variety of phases and topics. Choose the elements that make the most sense for your particular research needs and that will help you make connections between elements once the map is created. Example elements your map may include are:

  • Planning – Map your research plan to connect goals to the tasks and questions you will ask your participants.

    • Goals – What do you aim to accomplish with your research study? What’s important to your team and client to find out from the study?
    • Participant characteristics – Who will participate in your study? What criteria is important for recruitment?
    • Tasks – What will you ask your participants to do? Will tasks be structured or un-structured?
    • Questions – What questions will you ask your participants? What topics will be critical to probe on in order to meet your research goals?
    • Setup – How will you setup your study? Where will it be located? How will you take notes, record and share your sessions with others?
  • Observing – Document key findings among your participants and make connections between participants to identify trends.
    • Participant Notes – What are the highlights of your observations of individual research participants? How do they approach each task?
    • Observed trends – What trends do you notice during the course of your research? What do you want to investigate further in analysis?
  • Analysis – Connect your observations to generate overall findings and recommendations.
    • Themes – What were the primary issues your participants ran into? What worked well?
    • Quotes – What are the key quotes you want to leverage to support your findings?
    • Video clips – What video clips will be useful to present to your team and clients? What are the points in individual recordings that you will want to export?
    • Recommendations – What changes will you suggest based on the themes you identified?

As you can see, even though you initially create your mind map by focusing on individual elements of your research, many of these elements are connected to each other. The visual nature of the mind map can help you identify these connections more quickly than more standard methods of research documentation.


Catriona Shedd

I am a User Experience Designer with a passion for making people’s lives better through design. I have helped over a dozen organizations obtain a competitive advantage by delivering great user experiences across desktop, mobile, tablet and other channels.

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