Wikimedia Research/Design Research

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Design Research at Wikimedia Foundation seek to understand the needs, motivations, goals and challenges of people who consume and/or contribute to free knowledge. We work to understand how individuals use our products and other technologies to interact with Wikimedia projects in order to improve user experience on the Wikimedia platform. Our research directly supports the work of the Product department at the Wikimedia Foundation, specifically in product design, which in turn impacts the work of other teams and Wikimedia communities. Our goal is creating meaningful positive experiences for the millions of readers and contributors who use Wikipedia and its sister projects every day.


What we do[edit]

Design researchers work with a wide variety of individuals all around the globe. We observe how people use technology to interact with Wikimedia projects and access and contribute to free knowledge, and talk with them about their experiences.

In partnership with our research participants, we generate rich data in the form of interviews, surveys, usability studies, and field notes.

We feel it is important to keep our research public, so we publish it on wiki and in open research archives where anyone can learn from it. WMF teams use the research findings to decide what they should build, for whom, why it is needed, and how to build it.

Why we do it[edit]

We learn a lot when we observe how individuals interact with Wikimedia projects and when they share their stories with us. All of the information we collect helps people make better decisions about what improvements, or new additions to make next and how to make using Wikimedia projects a better experience for everyone.

How we do it[edit]

Design researchers at Wikimedia foundation actively collaborates with all the teams in the Audiences department (Contributors, Community Tech, Readers, Product), and many other teams in the Wikimedia Foundation (Learning and Evaluation, Programs, Communications, Research, New Readers, Talent and Culture, Structure Data on Commons, ect.) as well as Wikimedia communities across the globe in support of access to and contribution to free knowledge.

In order to do this work, we perform both evaluative and generative design research. There is not a clean cut line between these types of research, and we often do both for a project.

Generative research (for example: Contextual inquiry, unstructured interviews) provides a better understanding of needs, goals, challenges, constraints, contexts, and motivations of people who want to or do access and potentially contribute to free knowledge. are generated from this work are more likely to succeed because they are informed and created from understanding the people (and their technology) who will use them, their needs, contexts, constraints, etc. Generative research is many times done at the beginning of a product development cycle, to inform the project's direction.

Evaluative research (for example: usability testing, concept testing) is an important set of methods the team employs to evaluate concepts, prototypes and current functionality with users. Testing functionality and ideas with the users we are building them for, ensures that functionality is usable and useful for the people they are being designed and built for. Evaluative research is done within product development cycles in close collaboration with product development teams. Evaluative research generally is faster, and requires less participants than generative research.

Who benefits[edit]

Wikimedia communities and affiliates, Wikimedia Foundation teams, Wikimedia movement partners, and others who want to understand what people want and need from the technologies they use for accessing and contributing to free knowledge.

Our projects[edit]

The work and projects listed below, all have elements of design research within them. Each project has leveraged the value of design research to better understand people and know what they need to succeed in their goals, and to accomplish what they are motivated to accomplish. Design research is used to learn about the needs of people we design and build with and for, and can be used to iterate design and technological solutions to be intuitive, useful, usable, and fit within (and not break) users' workflows.

Projected in 2020-2021[edit]

  • Digital Education
  • iOS Experiments on Fighting Disinformation
  • Web Usability
  • Rethinking Pedagogy
  • Knowledge Gaps UI
  • Mainpage Experience
  • Knowledge & Influence

Projects 2019-2020[edit]

  • Android V5 Usability
  • Structured Data Across Wikipedia
  • Content Translation Survey
  • Moderation Cheatsheet v2
  • Desktop Refresh
  • Checkuser Workflow
  • Media use of Wikipedia
  • Interpersonal Communication on Wikipedia
  • Why Do People Edit?

Projects 2018-2019[edit]

Please see: overview of project, research methods and overview, research report and additional evaluative research. To better understand the needs of people seeking information on the internet in various technological, economic, and social contexts, who may not know about Wikipedia, or Wikimedia projects, a group of Wikimedia Foundation staff launched the New Readers Program. In order to better understand new and potentially new readers for Wikimedia projects, we needed to learn from people. Contextual inquiries were our method of choice for learning. Contextual inquiries in Mexico, Nigeria and India were implemented and completed in 2016. The findings from this research have and are informing the work of the New Readers program. The research for this work was led by Abbey Ripstra, Lead Design Researcher at Wikimedia Foundation, in partnership with Reboot, a design research firm with support structures, and a vast network for doing large scale contextual inquiries. Updates / links coming soon for the evaluative research implemented to support product development for the New Readers program.

Please see: overview of project, research methods, summary of findings, full report (containing more detail on methods, recruit, findings and recommendations),

To better understand the needs, challenges, motivations and goals of new editors, a group of Wikimedia Foundation staff launched the New Editor Experiences project, starting with contextual inquiries in South Korea and Czech Republic. We decided to focus on medium sized Wikipedias in order to better support knowledge equity and contribution to diverse language Wikipedias, as well as new editors in general. Another focus is to iterate and practice how product, and other teams collaborate with community toward solutions for challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed. We work closely with Korean and Czech Wikimedia communities. The research for this work was led by Abbey Ripstra, Lead Design Researcher at Wikimedia Foundation, in partnership with Reboot, a design research firm with support structures, and a vast network for doing large scale contextual inquiries.

This project is now in the stage of applying the research. Updates coming soon about the workshops we implemented to decide how to apply our research, and evaluative research that will inform this work moving forward.

Earlier Projects[edit]

Design Research Clinic[edit]

The Design Strategy team hosts regular office hours for Wikimedia Foundation staff and contractors. This is an opportunity for staff and contractors to discuss and receive guidance on how to use design research to inform your development goals.

What to expect in sessions:

  • Each session is 30 minutes long, private, and bookable on our Clinic Calendar.
  • Each session will be staffed by one researcher who is available to help WMF teams think through their research questions, scope upcoming research, review research plans, or otherwise provide advice.
  • Examples of types of conversation topics:
    • User needs and behaviors
    • Existing research plan/protocol review
    • New product idea/design strategy
    • Usability
  • While all the researchers can answer questions about research methodologies and scoping, the following depths are available with individual researchers
    • Ana: design strategy, multi stakeholder or international research, ethnography
    • Claudia: community moderation and Anti-Harassment Tools
    • Daisy: usability, surveys, Product teams
    • Eli: language, usability, contextual inquiry, prototype testing

When you book, please include a brief description of what you’d like to discuss as well as links to any relevant documents for the discussion.

Appointments are available to staff and contractors on our Clinic Calendar


Conducting design research: tools and resources[edit]

Related pages[edit]

See also[edit]