What is “Atomic Research” And Why Does It Matter?

Mario Kazumichi Sakata
6 min readDec 27, 2023

After joining the Gaudiy, a web3 startup based in tokyo, I immediately encountered a significant challenge. The issue was that the data from the past user research were scattered and not in a referenceable state.

Additionally, the outputs of user research were only decipherable by those who conducted the research, making them very individualized.

To better understand and address the issue, I took time to have 1on1s with team members to uncover more specific causes:

Due to the lack of shared knowledge, there are things that are understood from previous projects, and things that weren’t understood.

When planning user research, people involved in past researches needed to be consulted to confirm if similar research had been conducted in the past or not.

Upon reviewing research content, it was discovered that the same questions had been asked in the past.

Many may face similar challenges.

In this article, I’d like to share how I tried to establish a mechanism for centrally managing user research data within the company and, furthermore, to make these assets usable.

Exploring Solutions

What caught my attention was Atomic Research. Atomic Research is a methodology devised by Tomer Sharon, a former user researcher at Google and the author of “It’s Our Research.” It aims to organize and classify data collected from insights obtained from user research in small units (Nuggets).

He breaks down Atomic Research into three components, advocating for the management of insights from user research. The Atomic Research I’ve implemented essentially inherits his philosophy.

The three components of Atomic Research are:

  1. Observations: A component indicating the type of research.
  2. Evidence: A component for storing supporting files.
  3. Tags: A component for identifying information.

What are the benefits of implementing Atomic Research?

Upon investigation, there are several cost-effective advantages anticipated by the introduction of Atomic Research. Among them are some directly linked to solving the challenges I mentioned.

#1: Reduction of Research Costs

Atomic Research allows the avoidance of duplicate user research. Moreover, as all user research workflows will be completed in one place, work efficiency is enhanced.

#2: Improved Productivity

Easy access to user insights enables an increase in productivity by being able to retrieve necessary information as needed.

#3: Achievement of Cross-Organizational Collaboration

While user research is often conducted by a single team, valuable insights may reside in other teams. The aggregation of user research results promotes active collaboration and knowledge sharing across the organization.

However, Atomic Research is primarily a methodology for managing user insights efficiently. To make it highly practical for everyday work, it’s also necessary to refine the process.

Organizing and Implementing Atomic Research

At Gaudiy, we use Notion extensively in our daily work. Notion’s databases are particularly user-friendly, and Atomic Research is structured around three databases as shown below.

Structure of Atomic Research at Gaudiy

Most of us learned that just collecting data does not provide any value to the product. Where to store the data is important, but if the process is not well organized, it will be difficult to find the right data for further use.

Process Model of Atomic Research

Step 1: Plan User Research

Before conducting user research, UX Researchers and UX Designers will create a Notion page for research within the Project Database. They will fill in necessary details based on the templates:

  • Who conducted the user research?
    This will provide detailed information for those interested and to designate a point of contact.
  • When was it conducted?
    This will help the team to understand how up-to-date the information is.
  • Why was it conducted?
    This will help the team to determine if the upcoming research is genuinely necessary.

Once Notion pages are created, they are listed in the Project Database, providing a clear overview of who conducted what research and when.

Notion Property: Project Name, Product, Term, PIC

Step 2: Conduct User Research

In Atomic Research, basic information of user research candidate is stored in User Database.

In our case, managing multiple products necessitates the recording of persona types, contact information, interviewers, and user IDs. For external participants, procedures such as signing NDAs and sending incentives are conducted. Status management is diligently maintained for legal and accounting teams to stay informed.

Notion Property: UserID, Persona Type, Interview log, Count of Interviews, Status Management

If user interviews need to be repeated with the same participant, the User ID is cross-referenced, automatically counting the interview instances. This helps avoid asking the same questions repeatedly and facilitates context sharing among team members.

Step 3: Summarizing Results

What tools do you typically use to summarize the results of your user research?

At Gaudiy, we often uses Miro to record and summarize the user research. When I conduct user research, the user’s statements are written on different-colored sticky notes, and insights or user issues are patterned collaboratively using the KJ-Technique, an idea generating and prioritizing technique named after its inventor Jiro Kawakita.

The bulk mode of Miro simplifies the process of logging speech, and the tags prove to be useful as well.

Step 4: Reflecting on Atomic Research

Patterned insights from Step 3 will be created as new pages in the Insight Database.

Notion Property: Insight, Link to Project Database, Created Date, Product, Persona Type

Notion’s Relation feature is employed to reference the original user research associated with an insight from the Project Database. Additionally, attaching Miro’s output or interview video URLs associated with the insight provides credibility to those not involved in user research. In other words, it’s a form of evidence.

This approach enables tracking patterns in different research instances, making analysis easier for third parties.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

It has been over half a year since the I spread this Atomic Research within the company, and upon interviewing members who regularly use it, it seems that the expected cost-effectiveness of Atomic Research is gradually showing.

Having a place to summarize results of user research has increased awareness within the team to store the data constantly.

The formatted structure makes it easier to create, saving effort from starting from scratch.

I always check Atomic Research before conducting user research and decide not to if necessary,

When conducting in-depth interviews, it was easier to refer to results conducted in other projects.

Atomic Research is an excellent system that not only turns results of user research into assets but also encourages the utilization of insights.

Looking back, there are four values of Atomic Research that led to this point:

  1. Searchable
    Data is categorized in databases and pages, making it easy to find the desired information.
  2. Accessible
    Everything is aggregated on a single page, making it easy to access.
  3. Shareable
    Shareable links allow everyone to refer from anywhere.
  4. Traceable
    People can trace the path from research to insight to evidence and vice versa.

So What’s Next?

The quality of user research should not be determined solely by whether the expected answers were obtained from the user. Instead, it should be assessed by contribution to the product growth.

Atomic Research is just a means to that end. While efforts were focused on accumulating the results of user research, my future plan is to continue accumulating both outputs and outcomes as organizational assets in the future.

This article originally appeared in my personal blogpost — written in Japanese.

Any comments or feedback?
👨‍💻 Feel free to drop me a line on X — @mariosakata

Thanks for reading 🙂

--

--

Mario Kazumichi Sakata

Staff UX Designer based in Tokyo. Born in Brazil, raised in US. Father of two.