Introducing our user research principles


Our user research community of practice has been thinking about how we should approach our work. We decided to produce a set of principles that we believe underpin our purpose and our ways of working.

‘Principles’ are general to the practice of user research, yet specific to those creating them. We want them to work for us in our context, here at the Co-op. They’re specific to us: part of an organisation going through digital transformation, one with stakeholders; business needs; many digital products and services as well as a range of colleague, member and customer users. The principles may not be as applicable where you work if you have an established culture of agile and product thinking.

We want to hear what you think

Various versions have been stuck up on the wall for a while now and colleagues have given us their feedback. We’re now keen to get feedback from the wider community, too.

That includes you.

Leave a comment below, @CoopDigital on Twitter or email Head of User Research James Boardwell to let us know if you think:

  • we’ve missed anything out, or, included something that shouldn’t be there
  • something could be clearer
  • some of these principles aren’t strictly principles

We’d also like to know how valuable working with principles has been for you. Do share any examples you use.

We’re particularly interested in hearing from people who work with disadvantaged or vulnerable users, and / or with data and ethics.

Here’s the latest version.

Focus on what users do, not what they say they’d do

Observing users’ behaviour is the best indicator of what they will do in the future, and the gateway to understanding needs and motivations.

Do a little, often

Frequent research helps teams iterate on a product and validate product decisions more often, which helps promote a user-centred culture.

Give teams the evidence to make better decisions

We research and test the team’s assumptions so that decisions are based on evidence, not guess work.

Involve everyone in research

It promotes empathy and helps teams and stakeholders understand users needs.

Promote accessibility for all

We champion building products and services that are usable across all accessibility needs.

Represent users faithfully

We speak truth to power and if users’ needs are not being met, we say so. This keeps the product teams and the organisation honest.

Undertake the best research we can in any given situation

Sometimes we can’t do user research as we would like. In this instance doing some is better than not doing any.

Respect the privacy and integrity of the user

Our ability to perform our role depends on the trust we have with participants.


You can download our user research principles. But keep in mind they may change after feedback.

We hope our principles become ingrained our delivery teams as well as act as gentle reminders for user researchers.

User research community 
Co-op Digital

7 thoughts on “Introducing our user research principles

  1. Christopher 'Bibby' Howett May 2, 2018 / 8:11 pm

    These feel very strong, useful with no fluff. They have a real human tone, I like that and I’m sure others will warm to them for that quality.

    Fantastic that you’re sharing your thinking ‘by doing’ very powerful stuff.


  2. barbara holligan May 2, 2018 / 9:53 pm

    thanks for sharing and giving a wider audience chance to feedback ! I like what I have read.
    I think it might be good to add something about feeding back to users what you have learned/what works/what does not work – and then getting their opinion on your findings. (sort of co-operative working really lol!)
    I am sure you are going to tell me this already happens and is implied in your principles- as an outsider it is not crystal clear to me in your script though- so I thought I would flag it up. Might be a question of not changing what you do, but changing what you say you do?


    • James Boardwell (@jamesb) May 3, 2018 / 10:20 am

      Hi Barbara, if you mean feeding back to research participants then no, we don’t tend to do that unless we’re having an ongoing relationship with them in the form of a diary study. More often our participant relationships are ‘transactional’ (facilitated by a recruitment agency) and we anonymise the work so that we can share it internally with the teams.


  3. Marcio May 3, 2018 / 6:37 am

    Great kickoff. Nice initiative guys!
    I would improve one, add two and point some considerations for the follow-up actions.

    “Do a little, often”
    Frequent research helps teams iterate on a product and validate product decisions more often, which helps promote a user-centred culture.”

    Not just frequency, but variety. Making small studies, using different approaches, will help the research team to better validate their findings, especially when the sample and time are short.

    Be humble.
    Do not fear to say “I don’t know”. Actually, embrace it.
    UX Research can only progress and evolve in one’s enterprise if we understand that research is more then the findings it provides. More importantly, it’s about the doubts it generates for us, researchers. Freeing oneself from the fear of saying “I don’t know”, will open endless possibilities for progress. (Particularly valid for the accessibility cause).

    Be honest and serious.
    Research is not the land of the “more or less” mindset.
    We don’t evaluate half interviews and guess the other half. Having a serious honest approach will allow us to be the rulers of our own work while keeping us sharp researchers.

    Now guys, after this, the biggest chunk of work still needs to be made. Those principles will serve no praxis if they are just printed and shared I believe. What strategies do you have in place to nourish those principles among your team? How will they be happening?

    Again, nice kick-off. Thanks for sharing.


    • James Boardwell (@jamesb) May 3, 2018 / 10:39 am

      Thanks for taking time to feedback Marcio.

      Variety: making sure we use the most appropriate method for what the team needs to know feels really key to us, however making sure we don’t fall back on methods because they’re familiar is important. It might help to show the different methods and ways of working we use, so you can see the variety?

      Being Humble: yes, we just facilitate learning, we’re not the experts. Good shout. 🙂

      Be honest and serious: is this instead of “represent users faithfully” or in addition to? Being rigorous is definitely part of what we’re about. Sometimes we’re not serious though; we know how to have fun and enjoy our work 😮

      Your last point is one we’re learning about as we go. What we do know from the Architecture Principles ( and Design Principles ( is that by being open about our beliefs and ways of working it creates a debate on how we work which is healthy, and also helps guide us in our work with teams and align stakeholders when you can come under pressure to compromise. And you’re right to call out that posters alone don’t do that: we have to live and breathe these principles as a community of user researchers in our work at Coop.


Comments are closed.