Published February 21, 2024

Iterative Research: Atomic Research Drives Continuous Improvement

13 min read

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information you need to sift through in your research? I know I have. But what if I told you there’s a way to cut through the noise and get straight to the good stuff? Welcome to Iterative Research aka Atomic Research, a way to organize and conduct your research.

Atomic Research helps you create transformative research in small, iterative components.

I stumbled upon this gem through Daniel Pidcock’s insights and Vitaly Friedman’s brilliant overview. Imagine taking complex knowledge and splitting it into its basic elements – just like a chemist breaks down compounds. That’s Atomic Research for you. It’s all about transforming data into decisions.

But wait, what’s wrong with the old-school ways, you ask? Traditional research can be a bit like a closet crammed with too many clothes. You know there’s a perfect outfit somewhere, but good luck finding it! Iterative research is like having a neatly organized wardrobe where everything has its place, making it a breeze to pick out what you need.

Here’s how it works

Atomic Research rests on four pillars – Experiments, Facts, Insights, and Recommendations. It starts with targeted data collection (Experiments), moves to unbiased documentation (Facts), then moves on to deriving meaningful conclusions (Insights), and ends with action (Recommendations). It’s a structured, straightforward journey from “Hmm, I wonder…” to “Aha, that’s it!

Atomic Research drives continuous discovery.

Let’s break this iterative research method down a bit more. Say you’re doing some A/B testing on your website. The outcome? Facts, plain and simple, like “40% more clicks when we add those icons to the buttons.” From there, you gather Insights – maybe users find text confusing, and icons clear things up. And finally, Recommendations – like adding more helpful icons to guide your users.

This approach isn’t just about making research easier; it’s about making it work for you. Iterative Research highlights continuous learning, where every piece of knowledge is a step towards something bigger and better. And it’s not just a solo act – it’s about sharing those findings to spur collective aha moments.

We realized we can break an item of knowledge into 3 or 4 parts. This idea of ‘lots of small signals leading to larger discoveries’ made me think of Atomic Design.

Avatar of the person that wrote the post

Daniel Pidcock


Let’s dive deeper into each pillar and how you can harness the power of Atomic Research.

The Four Pillars of Atomic Research

Let’s navigate through the structured process that Atomic Research proposes, which breaks down research into digestible, actionable segments. This isn’t just about collecting data; it’s about creating a knowledge cycle that continuously propels forward, improving, and innovating at every turn.

Experiments: The Building Blocks of Knowledge

Think of experiments as the hands-on phase where you roll up your sleeves and get to work. It’s about conducting specific actions to gather data that you’re curious about. Whether it’s A/B testing a new feature on your app or conducting user interviews to understand customer pain points, experiments are where you collect the puzzle pieces.

Facts: The Unbiased Truth

Here’s where you become a detective, laying out all the evidence. Documenting outcomes without bias is crucial because the facts are the bedrock of your research. It’s not about what you think or hope the data will tell you; it’s about what the data says. This stage involves observing patterns, noting anomalies, and setting the stage for deeper analysis.

Insights: Connecting the Dots

With a solid foundation of facts, you now analyze them to derive meaningful conclusions. This is the ‘eureka’ part of the process, where you connect the dots and uncover the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ Insights are your interpretation of the facts, shaped by context, expertise, and sometimes even intuition. It’s where you begin to see the implications of the data and how it can influence your next moves.

Recommendations: Informed Actions

And finally, the endgame – Recommendations. After all that gathering, documenting, and analyzing, you propose actions based on your insights. This is where research transforms into strategy, and data turns into decisions. Recommendations might involve tweaking a design, changing a feature, or overhauling a service. Whatever the case, it’s informed and purposeful change driven by a thorough understanding of your iterative research.

Atomic Research isn’t just a linear process; it’s a cycle. Each step informs the next, and with each cycle, you refine and sharpen your approach. It’s a living, breathing methodology that adapts and evolves with your project, ensuring that every step you take is backed by solid evidence and sharp insight

Iterative Research Case Study: Atomic Research in Action

You’ve got the pillars of Atomic Research down, so let’s see them flex their muscles in the real world. We’re looking at a scenario that’s all too common: a team trying to improve their digital product. They’re not just shooting in the dark; they’re using Atomic Research to light the way.

Here’s how it goes down:

Experiment Time

We ran a concept test on a Hulu landing page to understand how different versions of their hero CTA impact visitor’s behavior. Our goal was to identify a version that can perform better than the baseline in terms of user engagement and positive emotional reactions, and to achieve that we thought a more light-hearted CTA like ‘Join the Fun’ might improve user reactions.

We also thought that the ‘trial’ language in the baseline might deter some users, so we tested another version that simply offered free sign-up. With a screenshot of Hulu’s Originals landing page in hand, we modified the CTA to test 3 versions of the action’s label:

Baseline: ‘Start Your Trial for Free’
Variation 1: ‘Join the Fun’
Variation 2: ‘Sign Up for Free’

Click Test Baselines mark a starting point for atomic research.

To test the performance of each variation, we crafted a Helio survey to understand how an audience of Online Streaming Consumers in the US feels about and interacts with the page.

Just the Facts

Evaluating user interactions is a great way of objectively observing how visitors engage with a CTA. Our remote user survey platform Helio allows you to run tests that provide click directives to participants and understand how they interact with the page on first click. We ran the test, collected the clicks, and there it is – data that doesn’t play favorites.

After asking 100 participants to interact with each variation of the Hulu landing page, Helio provides a click map view of the data:

Click maps allow us to track how users are navigating your site.

For easy comparison across the different variations, we then placed the click test data into a spreadsheet framework that allows us to quickly analyze the reaction to each version of the design:

Click Test data showcases data for your atomic research.

Hulu’s current CTA outperforms the other 2 variations in terms of first click engagement, with 37% of participants choosing to take action their first, compared to as low as 16% for V1.

After interacting with the page, participants were asked to indicate their next steps out of a handful of preferred actions, such as starting their free trial or exploring more content:

First click impressions showcase a direction for your atomic research.

Highlighted in the image above, we saw that the ‘Join the Fun’ CTA outperformed the other two in this aspect, with more participants choosing to start their free trial.

However, after a closer look at the facts, participants are much quicker to start a trial on the current variation than the new versions.

Median time on page showcases how intuitive your pages are.

Based on the first click data, participants took 18.7 seconds to start a trial with the baseline CTA, compared to 31.2 seconds with the ‘Join the Fun’ variation.

To understand more about these interactions, we looked into the emotional reaction data to uncover new insights about participants’ reactions.

See the Helio Example

Insightful Moments

But why did it work better? Helio’s emotional reaction gauge can reveal deeper insights about an audience’s feelings towards these variations.

Out of 4 negative and 4 positive impressions, participants were asked to indicate how they felt about the free trial offer on the page. Once these results are collected, the sum of the positive impressions minus the sum of the negative produces a net positive alignment, a single data point to sum up the emotional reaction to an experience:

Impression testing gives positive and negative feedback that you can easily leverage.

An emotional reaction question like this aims to maintain each negative impression below 10%, and strive to improve the positive impressions across variations. 

Gaps of 10% or more in net positive alignment signal that one variation is being received very differently than another. Hulu’s baseline CTA showing at least a 17% increase over the other two versions shows its greater performance.

The baseline’s success is a product of establishing clear expectations with visitors immediately. Since this version produces more clicks on the free trial on the first interaction, it’s logical that there would also be more participants to explore more content after viewing the page since they have already decided on the trial.

Taking Action

Armed with this knowledge, we don’t have to stop after validating the hero CTA’s success.

Data points from the testing reveal that other places can use massaging, such as the top navigation ‘Start Your Free Trial’ CTA, which only receives 2% of participants’ clicks due to the popularity of the hero action.

Filtering allows you to target one click or action.

This is valuable real estate at the top of the site, and by learning that they don’t have much traction with the current CTA used there, we can test new versions of top navigation actions to determine how to provide value in that space best.

View the Helio Example

This isn’t a one-and-done deal. The beauty of iterative research is that it keeps pushing you to innovate and improve. It’s like conversing with your data, where each answer sparks a new question, leading to insights you didn’t even know you were looking for.

And the best part? Tools like Helio make it a breeze to run these experiments with the right audience, gather unbiased facts, and translate them into insights that can reshape your strategy. It’s all about making knowledge more actionable and impactful, not just for now but for the constant evolution of your product.

So there you have it, a sneak peek into Atomic Research at work. It’s practical, it’s continuous, and it keeps things interesting. Onward to the next discovery!

We’ve just walked through how Atomic Research takes the guesswork out of decision-making and turns it into a science. It’s hands-on, iterative, and geared toward getting you results that matter. Stay tuned as we dive even deeper into the Atomic Research toolkit in the next section​.

Iterative Research Techniques for Atomic Research

We’ve seen Atomic Research in action, and you’re probably itching to give it a go. But before you roll up your sleeves and dive in, let’s chat about the tools and techniques that can make your Atomic Research journey smooth.

Imagine you’ve got a toolbox. Now, fill that imaginary toolbox with gadgets and gizmos tailored for iterative research. These are not your average wrenches and screwdrivers; these are the digital equivalents designed to help you gather, analyze, and make sense of data.

Helio is fantastic for surfacing facts in your experiments. This isn’t just a shameless plug; it’s a shout-out to a tool we genuinely use. Need to run tests with a targeted audience? Helio’s your go-to. It’s about getting the right data from the right people – fast and without fuss.

Here’s Why

  • Analytics Platforms: Whether it’s Google Analytics, Mixpanel, or any other data analysis tool, you need somewhere to crunch those numbers. These platforms can help you track user behavior, spot trends, and predict future moves. They’re like crystal balls, but for data.
  • Surveying Questions: Want to know what people think? Just ask them. Our survey questions make it easy to gather user opinions. They’re like having a coffee chat with your customers, except you can talk to hundreds at once.
  • User Testing Questions: Get familiar with how users interact with your product. Helio allows you to understand how real people navigate your website or app. 
  • Click mapping: Ever wanted to know where people click on your site? Click mapping tools like Hotjar show you exactly that. It’s like giving your website an x-ray and seeing what parts are hot, hot, hot.

Using these tools is just half the battle. The real magic happens when you combine them with the Atomic Research methodology. It’s about taking those experiments, facts, insights, and recommendations and tying them together into a strategy backed by solid data.

And remember, it’s not about using every tool under the sun. It’s about choosing the right ones that fit your specific needs. Sometimes less is more, especially when it’s the right less.

You’re unstoppable, armed with these tools and the knowledge of how Atomic Research works. You’re ready to transform that raw data into golden insights that can propel your project or business forward.

So give these tools a whirl and watch your Atomic Research take off. And keep an eye out for the next section, where we’ll talk about keeping the momentum going and building a continuous learning and improvement culture.

The Continuous Cycle of Improvement

Here’s the thing about iterative research: it’s not a one-hit wonder. It’s more like your favorite playlist – you hit play, and it keeps improving with every loop. This methodology isn’t about taking a single snapshot; it’s about shooting a movie that documents your journey from “Hmm” to “Eureka” and beyond.

Improve Each Loop

  • Rinse and Repeat: Got your Experiments, Facts, Insights, and Recommendations all lined up? Great. Now, do it again. And again. Each cycle sharpens your focus and hone in on what works best. Like editing a photo to perfection, each iteration lets you adjust the contrast, brightness, and filters until everything pops.
  • Learn and Adapt: The beauty of this approach is in its flexibility. Each round of Atomic Research allows you to pivot, tweak, and turn. It’s like being a DJ, where you read the room (or data, in this case) and adjust the tracks (strategies) to keep the party (progress) going.
  • Evidence as Your Backbone: This isn’t guesswork; it’s evidence-based thinking. Just as a building needs a solid foundation, your decisions need multiple sources to stand strong. And when you’ve got tools like Helio to make gathering and testing data easy, you’re building on bedrock, not sand.
  • Make Knowledge Work for You: Here’s the kicker – Atomic Research makes knowledge actionable. It’s like having a personal assistant who doesn’t just list your tasks but helps you get them done. By breaking down knowledge into fundamental components, you’re turning information into action and theory into practice.

And as you keep this cycle turning, a culture of continuous learning and adaptation becomes part of your DNA. It’s not just about doing better; it’s about being better, thinking smarter, and acting faster. You’re not just passing the baton; you’re sprinting with it, relay-style, toward the finish line of innovation and impact.

So keep those experiments rolling, keep documenting those facts, pull out insights, and make those informed recommendations. That’s how you ensure your knowledge isn’t just powerful; it’s practical, progressive, and perpetually improving.

How to Get Started with an iterative research process

So you’re ready to jump on the Atomic Research train? Awesome. 

Atomic UX Research Best Practices talk @ User Research London 2022

Pull Up a Chair

  1. Embrace the Methodology: Wrap your head around the four pillars: Experiments, Facts, Insights, and Recommendations. It’s like learning the rules of the road before you start driving.
  2. Pick Your Tools: Tools are your best buddies here. Helio is a solid pick for testing ideas with a targeted audience. Remember, choosing the right tools is like picking the ingredients for your secret sauce – it can make all the difference.
  3. Plan Your Experiments: Decide what you want and how to learn it. It’s like setting up a science fair project – you need a hypothesis and a method to test it.
  4. Document Religiously: As you gather data, jot down everything. Think of yourself as a journalist reporting on the most important story – no detail is too small.
  5. Analyze for Insights: Look at your data and ask the tough questions. What’s it telling you? It’s like being a detective, piecing together clues to solve the mystery.
  6. Make Recommendations: Take your insights and decide on your next moves. It’s like chess–you must think a few moves ahead.
  7. Rinse and Repeat: Got through your first cycle? Great. Now tweak it, refine it, and go again. It’s about iteration. Every time you go through the cycle, you level up.

Remember, Atomic Research is about breaking knowledge into its fundamental components and making it super actionable. It’s not about doing it once; it’s about setting up a loop that keeps you learning and adapting.

And hey, if you ever feel stuck, just think of it as a continuous journey of discovery. There’s always more to learn, more to try, and more to improve. Keep at it, and before you know it, you’ll be an Atomic Research pro, turning insights into actions like a boss.

The Future of Iterative Research with Atomic Research

We’ve been on quite the journey, haven’t we? From the nitty-gritty of experiments to the high-flying view of continuous improvement, Atomic Research has shown us a new way to tackle the knowledge beast. So, what’s the takeaway for the future of research?

Wave goodbye to the clunky, cumbersome research of old. Atomic Research is revolutionizing how we approach data, smoothing the journey from collection to decision, making it as seamless as a well-oiled machine. This isn’t your typical research; it’s supercharged with efficiency.

But Atomic Research isn’t just about the process; it’s a lifestyle. It’s about embracing a culture where continuous learning is as natural as breathing. You’re not merely gathering data; you’re nurturing a rich garden of insights, cultivating an environment where the pursuit of knowledge is constant and encouraged at every level.

Then there’s the true game-changer: actionable knowledge. Atomic Research doesn’t just pile up facts; it propels you into action. Every piece of data, every insight gleaned, and every recommendation made is a deliberate stride towards achieving something greater, something impactful.

At the core of this approach is evidence-based decision-making. Drawing from diverse data sources ensures that decisions are built on a foundation as solid as bedrock. With Atomic Research, you’re not taking shots in the dark; you’re making informed choices with the confidence that comes from true understanding.

Finally, innovation transforms from a sporadic breakthrough into a habitual practice. The methodology behind Atomic Research spurs a cycle of constant refinement, iteration, and enhancement. Innovation is no longer an occasional spark; it’s a continuous flame, a drive that’s always part of how you work and think. It’s not just about being innovative; it’s about making innovation an integral part of your daily rhythm.

Atomic Research Resources

So there we have it – a glimpse into a future where research is more than a means to an end. It’s a dynamic, continuous cycle that keeps pushing boundaries, asking questions, and finding better answers.

Here are some useful resources:

Atomic Research isn’t just about making better decisions. It’s about building a better way to explore, understand, and interact with the world around us. It’s about leaping from knowledge to wisdom. Whether you’re a seasoned researcher or just getting your feet wet, Atomic Research is your ticket to a future where knowledge isn’t just power – it’s progress.

Iterative Research FAQs

What is Atomic Research?
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Atomic Research is a methodology for organizing and conducting research by breaking knowledge into its fundamental components. It aims to transform data into actionable decisions, making the research process more efficient and insightful.&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/span&amp;amp;amp;gt;&lt;/span></p>

How does Iterative research differ from traditional research methods?
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Unlike traditional research methods that can be cumbersome and inefficient, Atomic Research streamlines the process by focusing on small, iterative components. This approach allows for more targeted data collection and quicker insights.</span></span&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;</p&amp;gt;</span&gt;&lt;/p&gt;</span></p&gt;

What are the four pillars of Atomic Research?
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The four pillars are Experiments, Facts, Insights, and Recommendations. This structured approach starts with specific actions to gather data, unbiased documentation of outcomes, analysis to derive conclusions, and proposing actions based on these insights.&lt;/span>

Can Atomic Research improve decision-making?
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Atomic Research supports evidence-based decision-making by providing a structured process to collect, analyze, and act on data. This methodology ensures that robust and reliable insights inform decisions.

Is Atomic Research suitable for all types of research?
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Atomic Research is versatile and can be applied to various fields, including UX research, product design, and market research. Its adaptability makes it suitable for different research projects for innovation and improvement.

How can someone get started with Iterative research?
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To begin with, Atomic Research embraces its methodology, chooses the right tools (like Helio for targeted experiments), plans your experiments, documents outcomes rigorously, analyzes data for insights, makes informed recommendations, and iterates the process.&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/span&amp;gt;</span>&lt;/p></span></p>

What future implications does Atomic Research hold for research practices?
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Atomic Research is set to revolutionize research practices by promoting a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. Its focus on actionable knowledge and evidence-based decisions paves the way for a future where research is more efficient and impactful.&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/span&amp;gt;</span>

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