Not real as in real real But yes, I did a small research. Hiring managers want to know how you think strategically, or analytically. I did research twice, first in a Geek Girls Carrots workshops. We were working on a re-design of an app, or even the whole service that the app was just a part of. We talked to the stakeholders first, which would be difficult with a made-up product, or when creating re-design for a popular app. But you know, it’s all about drawing conclusions, so you can have a friend acting as, e.g., owner of an app/service and interview him. So once we talked to the owner, we knew what was his goal, what he was trying to achieve, and he even pointed out to the areas he knew were his weak points. We did empathy mapping (workshop with volunteers who were nice to sit through with us for an hour and talk), figured out what were the problems, or what people expected. I know this is not the right order of research, but this is what we did. And then we went on to interviewing potential users, as we were able to conclude the target audience during empathy mapping. (There are lots of research techniques that bring you closer to the right answer. I recommend book by Leah Buley “UX team of one” - it has abundance of research techniques). The pseudo IDIs (with our friends) told us what people expected, or did not want at all, and it gave us solid grounds for developing the service. Then we focused on the app itself, drew information architecture, user flows, user scenarios, etc. And then started on the visuals. When it comes to the second research I did, it was about a made-up service. I did an online questionnaire, IDIs with friends. Basically, what I found out was nobody needed the product, so I didn’t create any wireframes/mocups, anything. But it still was a good learning experience.
P.S. I forgot about creating proto-personas, personas - we did that too. When I’m talking about visuals, we started with wireframes and went on to prototypes (Axure). Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the usability testing but our project won in the contest of the workshops