Overhead view of a library

Literature Review

A Literature Review is the mindful attempt by user experience designers to understand the current thinking of the business, its future plans, and the state of the marketplace. This is done by requesting pertinent internal business documents, reviewing industry publications, and searching the web for third party opinions, news, observations and analysis. The request for internal documents should be made at the Stakeholder Kickoff meeting. Because obtaining these documents — product roadmaps, marketing plans, market research, customer surveys, technology diagrams — is so important to understanding the business context, gaining agreement to provide internal documents should be an agenda item. You want these documents as early as possible in your research because they are key to preparing for Stakeholder Interviews. During the Stakeholder Interviews, follow-up document requests can be made, and additional materials can be identified and requested, but you want to ask substantive questions, and the best way to do that is know what information is being used by the business for decision making.

Even if you are unable to obtain all of the pertinent internal documents, the web and industry publications are accessible and can outline the broad issues confronting similar companies, introduce you to the industry’s special vocabulary, and surface a variety of third-party opinions. News stories, social media, and blogs are particularly rich sources for understanding the competitive landscape.


Schedule Time & Gather Materials

Clock Icon

Schedule Time:

  • Time Needed: 3 Weeks
    Done in parallel with other research
Gather Materials

Gather Materials:

  • Browser
  • Spreadsheet
  • Word processing software

Carry Out This Method

  1. Ask for internal documents as soon as the ink is dry on the contract.
  2. Begin the Literature Review at the internal project kickoff (project team only). Agree to a spreadsheet format for reporting findings. Include sources, links, key findings. Include a vocabulary format for industry-specific terms and acronyms.
  3. Repeat the request for internal documents at the kickoff meeting (with due dates).
  4. During stakeholder interviews, ask stakeholders for their best information sources.
  5. Regularly review your spreadsheet for missing or contradictory information. Follow-up with stakeholders for clarity.
  6. If unresolved contradictions emerge — such as disagreements over requirements, outcomes, or the nature of users — schedule another stakeholder meeting to review your findings.
  7. When you can answer two questions affirmatively, you are ready to proceed to your user interviews (Ethnography): “Have I stopped reading new stuff?” and “Do I know enough about this business to understand its opportunities and constraints?”

Try These Tips

  • Don’t be put off by internal groups refusing to share documents because, “You don’t need to know,” or “This is proprietary information.” If you believe they are important to your understanding, ask your project sponsor to obtain the documents for you.
  • Ask stakeholders what they read to stay current on the marketplace.
  • News stories can supply names of industry experts publications for further research.
  • Your Competitive Analysis may also reveal insights into the competitive environment.
  • You may read that market research is not the same as UX research. That’s true. But a willful ignorance of the business context will quickly change your perceived role from user experience designer to user interface designer.

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