Atomic Research Principles for Building a Sustainable Research Repository

In 2016, Brad Frost introduced atomic design: a new approach to designing systems in which all interfaces can be broken down into small, modular building blocks that can be reused and recombined. This concept has inspired a similar approach in the field of user experience (UX) research known as atomic research. At UIUX Studio, we leverage atomic research principles to build sustainable research repositories that enhance our design processes and outcomes.

What is Atomic Research?

Atomic research is an approach that breaks down research findings into small, modular units called “nuggets.” Each nugget is a labeled observation supported by evidence, such as a video snippet, screenshot, or interview excerpt. These nuggets are tagged with relevant keywords to make them easily searchable and combinable, forming complex insights over time.

How We Approach Atomic Research at UIUX Studio

Our team at UIUX Studio is dedicated to creating reliable and efficient research repositories. Here’s how we implement atomic research principles:

  1. Formulating the Team: We assemble a dedicated team of researchers and designers who immerse themselves in the latest articles and courses on AI tools, and extensively test various research tools within a given timeframe.
  2. Testing AI Tools: We rigorously test AI tools for UX research to evaluate their suitability for future integration and understand their limitations.
  3. Organizing Nuggets: Nuggets are the core element of our atomic research approach. Each nugget is an observation from user research, tagged with keywords that describe the type of observation, the context, and its significance.

Creating and Tagging Nuggets

Nuggets are the building blocks of our research repository. Here’s an example of how we create and tag nuggets:

Observation: The user didn’t quickly understand where to change the project name.

Evidence: A video snippet where the user mentions this (interview with the man – about 14:18, if we need to refer back to it).


  • “Usability testing” for the method of data collection.
  • “Usability issue” for the type of observation.
  • “Tester 1” to identify the research participant.
  • “Medium” to indicate the severity of the problem.
  • “Feature” to describe where the issue occurs in the app.

Tags are essential for organizing nuggets and making them easily searchable. They help in filtering relevant nuggets when addressing new questions or reviewing past findings.

Combining Nuggets to Form Insights

Just as atoms combine to form molecules, nuggets combine to create insights. Multiple nuggets can support a single finding, increasing confidence in the validity of that insight. For example, a usability issue identified in several user tests can be corroborated by multiple nuggets, each highlighting different aspects of the problem.

Benefits of Atomic Research

The atomic research approach offers several benefits:

  1. Modularity: Nuggets are small and modular, making them easy to manage and combine.
  2. Reusability: Nuggets can be reused across different projects and research questions.
  3. Scalability: The approach scales well as more nuggets are added to the repository, allowing for the continuous accumulation of insights.
  4. Flexibility: Nuggets can be tagged and re-tagged, making it easy to adapt to changing research needs.

Implementing Atomic Research in Your Organization

Implementing atomic research principles requires careful planning and organization. Here are steps to help you get started:

  1. Define Your Research Goals: Clearly define the goals of your research. What are you trying to achieve? What questions do you need to answer?
  2. Collect Data Methodically: Gather data from various sources such as user interviews, usability tests, and customer support calls. Ensure that your data collection methods are consistent and reliable.
  3. Create and Tag Nuggets: Break down your data into nuggets. Each nugget should be a single observation supported by evidence. Tag your nuggets with relevant keywords to make them searchable.
  4. Build Your Repository: Organize your nuggets in a research repository. Use a digital tool that allows you to store, tag, and search your nuggets efficiently. Tools like Notion, Airtable, or specialized research repositories can be very effective.
  5. Combine Nuggets to Form Insights: Regularly review your nuggets to identify patterns and form insights. Combine related nuggets to create comprehensive findings that can inform your design decisions.
  6. Share Insights with Stakeholders: Communicate your insights to stakeholders in a clear and actionable manner. Use visual storytelling and interactive presentations to make your findings engaging and easy to understand.

Case Study: Atomic Research at UIUX Studio

To illustrate the effectiveness of atomic research, let’s look at a case study from UIUX Studio:

Project: Redesign of a mobile banking app

Goal: Improve user experience and increase user engagement

Data Collection: We conducted user interviews, usability tests, and analyzed customer support calls.

Nuggets Created:

  • Observation: Users had difficulty finding the account balance feature.
    • Evidence: Video snippets from usability tests.
    • Tags: “Usability testing,” “Navigation issue,” “Tester 2,” “High severity,” “Feature”
  • Observation: Users appreciated the quick transfer feature but wanted more customization options.
    • Evidence: User interview excerpts.
    • Tags: “User interview,” “Positive feedback,” “Customization,” “Tester 3,” “Medium severity”

Insights Formed:

  • Finding: Navigation improvements are needed to make key features more accessible.
    • Supported by multiple nuggets indicating navigation issues in different parts of the app.
  • Finding: Customization options should be enhanced to meet user expectations.
    • Supported by nuggets highlighting user requests for more customization features.

By combining these nuggets, we were able to form clear, actionable insights that guided our redesign process. The result was a more user-friendly app that saw a significant increase in user engagement and satisfaction.


Understanding and implementing atomic research principles can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your research repository. By breaking down research into small, modular nuggets, tagging them effectively, and combining them to form insights, you can create a sustainable and scalable research system. At UIUX Studio, we are committed to leveraging these principles to improve our design processes and deliver exceptional user experiences.

If you’re looking to improve the design and performance of your digital product, message us to book a consultation. Our experts at UIUX Studio would be happy to assist with UX strategy, product and user research, and UX/UI design.