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A Guide to
User Research
For people who don’t like talking to
other people
I’m Stephanie.
I’m an introvert.
I’m also a Strategist in Brooklyn.
I used to be
an academic.
For me, research
used to look like this
Now it looks
like this
Here’s a toolkit for
folks like me... but
first let me explain.
You need more
than one tool.
These are just
some tools.
Specifically, they are methods
the team at FreeAssociation
and I used to get to know
Cornell University’s users.
Anyway, here are some research
methods available to everybody

1.

2.

3.

4.

Long interviews

Short interviews

Card sor...
Long 1:1
Interviews
The Point
Get face time
with your
audience.

Build empathy
with your users.

Figure out
which questions
to ask next.
The Process
Figure out
what you want
to know
& how.*

Figure out
who you’re
going to
interview.*

*And start recruiting if you’re resp...
Our sample*
2 High School Students

2 Professors

4 College Students

*This is not statistically significant. That is OK ri...
Figure out
what you want
to know
& how.*

Figure out
what you
want to know
& how.
Start by mapping
your user’s
journey, even if you
don’t know it yet.
Awareness
Browsing

Serious
Browsing

Application

Admission

Consideration

Attendance

They’re looking at
general inform...
You will need to ask
about it anyway,
because you’re
probably wrong.
Asks friends.

Fights parents.

Advice & Exploration,
Independent Online Browsing

They’re looking at
general information
...
Figure out
what you want
to know
& how.*

Write a script
and vet
it with
teammate(s).*

*Always good to have an extra pair...
Leverage insights
from analytics and
keyword research to
think of questions.
We Asked Questions Like...

What made you

How important was

choose Cornell?

financial aid to you?
What other
schools wer...
Set clear
goals and
expectations.*

*Include numbers where possible.
Leverage insights
from analytics and
keyword research
to set goals.
DISCLAIMER:
PEOPLE LIE.*
*Plan accordingly
I mean...
not everyone
is honest*
*Plan accordingly
DISCLAIMER:
YOU ARE LYING
TO YOURSELF.*
*Plan accordingly
I mean...
confirmation bias.
Interview, learn,
Figure out
what you want adjust, repeat.
to know
& how.*
Tips

Don’t Lead.*

Ask open-ended
questions.

*Vet your script for leading questions with a mentor or teammate.
Tips

Write clear
questions.

Partner up.
Tips

Embrace
awkward silence.

Actively listen.*

*More like “mhmm,” less like “YEAH, TOTALLY”
They are not
1:1 interrogations
Be yourself.
Unless
you suck
Short
Interviews
DISCLAIMER:
THIS ONE
IS SCARY.*
*I’m here for you.
Basically, you
find your target
Figure out
what you want audience in the
to know
wild...
& how.*
...and you talk to
Figure out
them.
what you want
to know
& how.*
The Point
Get insights
from real users
who aren’t in
focus groups.

Confirm pain
points.

Quickly validate
assumptions.
Pros

Quick access
to a large
sample size.

Instant validation.
Cons

It’s still
self-report data.

Gotta talk
to people.
Look, talking to strangers is scary.
It’s going to be awkward at first.
And you’re going to feel weird.
It Gets Better.
I Promise.
Tips

Start with the
bored-looking
people.

Clearly define
the questions
you are testing.*

*And quantify what success mean...
Because if it’s not working...
Some of our assumptions...
Cornell’s weather and location are a turn-off

Students care about school-sponsored traditions

...
Some of our assumptions...
Cornell’s weather and location are a turn-off

Nope!
Students care about school-sponsored tradit...
Reporting
Interview
Insights
Personas
Keith

Emily

Marcelo

Roberta
Everything Else
Behaviors
Audience Summary
Messages

User Stories
Other User
Research
Methods
Card
Sort
Offline

Online
Neat and
mostly free
17 Keiths and Emily’s Total*

*Nielsen recommends 15.
Tips

Start recruiting
early.

Offer incentives,
even for
remote tests.*

Stay in touch.

*But supervise participants on Sk...
Pro

Insight Into
Mental Models of
Target Users
Con

Data Is F*!#ing
Hard to Make
Sense of
Here’s
How We
Did It
Reporting the Data
Tallied Everything Up*

Made it Client-Friendly

*Includes counting on fingers, sobbing audibly, underes...
Next method!

Surveys
The Point
Get a lot of
perspective
without a lot of
resources.

Gut check
whether or not
we understand
learnings.
Tips

Cast a
wide net.

Take results
with many
grains of salt.
Neat and
mostly free
Cheat Sheet
Method

Purpose

Timing*

Long 1:1 interviews

Build empathy, understand the journey, identify
opportunities

...
Thanks. Stay in touch.
@stephbwills
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A Guide to User Research (for People Who Don't Like Talking to Other People)

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Here are some methods and tips for user research noobs, care of someone who made the jump from academic to digital strategy. Much thanks to @mattypilz.

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A Guide to User Research (for People Who Don't Like Talking to Other People)

  1. A Guide to User Research For people who don’t like talking to other people
  2. I’m Stephanie.
  3. I’m an introvert. I’m also a Strategist in Brooklyn.
  4. I used to be an academic.
  5. For me, research used to look like this
  6. Now it looks like this
  7. Here’s a toolkit for folks like me... but first let me explain.
  8. You need more than one tool.
  9. These are just some tools.
  10. Specifically, they are methods the team at FreeAssociation and I used to get to know Cornell University’s users.
  11. Anyway, here are some research methods available to everybody 1. 2. 3. 4. Long interviews Short interviews Card sorts Surveys Scheduled, broad 1:1 interviews with users Targeted 1:1 interviews with potential users, scheduled An exercise in organizing topics and themes. A way to gauge initial perception of the brand you’re working with
  12. Long 1:1 Interviews
  13. The Point Get face time with your audience. Build empathy with your users. Figure out which questions to ask next.
  14. The Process
  15. Figure out what you want to know & how.* Figure out who you’re going to interview.* *And start recruiting if you’re responsible for it
  16. Our sample* 2 High School Students 2 Professors 4 College Students *This is not statistically significant. That is OK right now.
  17. Figure out what you want to know & how.* Figure out what you want to know & how.
  18. Start by mapping your user’s journey, even if you don’t know it yet.
  19. Awareness Browsing Serious Browsing Application Admission Consideration Attendance They’re looking at general information about Cornell. They’re browsing majors to look for their interests. They apply through the common application. They’re accepted to Cornell. They weigh Cornell against other options. They decide to attend.
  20. You will need to ask about it anyway, because you’re probably wrong.
  21. Asks friends. Fights parents. Advice & Exploration, Independent Online Browsing They’re looking at general information about Cornell. They’re browsing majors to look for their interests. Counselor cornell.edu cornell.edu admissions.cornell.edu College prowler Guides & lists Maps & contact info $$$?! Has a magical summer. Application Admission Consideration They apply They’re accepted through the common to Cornell. application. Common application admissions.cornell.edu Worries. They weigh Cornell against other options. Digital acceptance communication from Cornell PROM?! cornell.edu Guides & lists studentaid.ed.gov collegeboard Attendance They decide to attend. Oh...oh... livin’ on a pra-yer
  22. Figure out what you want to know & how.* Write a script and vet it with teammate(s).* *Always good to have an extra pair of eyes
  23. Leverage insights from analytics and keyword research to think of questions.
  24. We Asked Questions Like... What made you How important was choose Cornell? financial aid to you? What other schools were you considering? What does “Ivy League” What digital tools mean to you? did you use to apply?
  25. Set clear goals and expectations.* *Include numbers where possible.
  26. Leverage insights from analytics and keyword research to set goals.
  27. DISCLAIMER: PEOPLE LIE.* *Plan accordingly
  28. I mean... not everyone is honest* *Plan accordingly
  29. DISCLAIMER: YOU ARE LYING TO YOURSELF.* *Plan accordingly
  30. I mean... confirmation bias.
  31. Interview, learn, Figure out what you want adjust, repeat. to know & how.*
  32. Tips Don’t Lead.* Ask open-ended questions. *Vet your script for leading questions with a mentor or teammate.
  33. Tips Write clear questions. Partner up.
  34. Tips Embrace awkward silence. Actively listen.* *More like “mhmm,” less like “YEAH, TOTALLY”
  35. They are not 1:1 interrogations
  36. Be yourself.
  37. Unless you suck
  38. Short Interviews
  39. DISCLAIMER: THIS ONE IS SCARY.* *I’m here for you.
  40. Basically, you find your target Figure out what you want audience in the to know wild... & how.*
  41. ...and you talk to Figure out them. what you want to know & how.*
  42. The Point Get insights from real users who aren’t in focus groups. Confirm pain points. Quickly validate assumptions.
  43. Pros Quick access to a large sample size. Instant validation.
  44. Cons It’s still self-report data. Gotta talk to people.
  45. Look, talking to strangers is scary.
  46. It’s going to be awkward at first.
  47. And you’re going to feel weird.
  48. It Gets Better.
  49. I Promise.
  50. Tips Start with the bored-looking people. Clearly define the questions you are testing.* *And quantify what success means. ...but don’t marry your script (or the bored people)
  51. Because if it’s not working...
  52. Some of our assumptions... Cornell’s weather and location are a turn-off Students care about school-sponsored traditions Prospective students use cornell.edu to research the university, but no one else really uses the site.
  53. Some of our assumptions... Cornell’s weather and location are a turn-off Nope! Students care about school-sponsored traditions Yup! (If their friends are there) Prospective students use cornell.edu to research the university, but no one else really uses the site. Yes.
  54. Reporting Interview Insights
  55. Personas Keith Emily Marcelo Roberta
  56. Everything Else Behaviors Audience Summary Messages User Stories
  57. Other User Research Methods
  58. Card Sort
  59. Offline Online
  60. Neat and mostly free
  61. 17 Keiths and Emily’s Total* *Nielsen recommends 15.
  62. Tips Start recruiting early. Offer incentives, even for remote tests.* Stay in touch. *But supervise participants on Skype or phone, even when remote.
  63. Pro Insight Into Mental Models of Target Users
  64. Con Data Is F*!#ing Hard to Make Sense of
  65. Here’s How We Did It
  66. Reporting the Data Tallied Everything Up* Made it Client-Friendly *Includes counting on fingers, sobbing audibly, underestimating how long this would take.
  67. Next method! Surveys
  68. The Point Get a lot of perspective without a lot of resources. Gut check whether or not we understand learnings.
  69. Tips Cast a wide net. Take results with many grains of salt.
  70. Neat and mostly free
  71. Cheat Sheet Method Purpose Timing* Long 1:1 interviews Build empathy, understand the journey, identify opportunities ~2 days - 3 weeks Short Interviews Test assumptions drawn from longer interviews ~1 day - 1 week Card Sort Inform IA and content relationships ~3-5 days to conduct and process Surveys Guide decision towards meeting high-level project objectives and gut check assumptions ~1 week Usability Test Evaluate efficiency, learnabilty, memorability, errors, and satisfaction ~1 week Google Analytics Learn about audience, traffic sources, traffic flow, top content, and conversions ~1-2 days *DOES NOT INCLUDE RECRUITING
  72. Thanks. Stay in touch. @stephbwills
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Here are some methods and tips for user research noobs, care of someone who made the jump from academic to digital strategy. Much thanks to @mattypilz.

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