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User Research: Big R meets little R (a Richmond Design Lightning Talk)


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These slides were presented as a lightning talk during the August 2018 Richmond Design Meetup. This piece was distilled from a blog post that I authored in April 2018. It can be found at

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User Research: Big R meets little R (a Richmond Design Lightning Talk)

  1. 1. “User Research” Coming Together Big R meets little r Ashley Cook August 2018 Photo Credit: User Research @ Periscope from gdsteam on Flickr
  2. 2. THE WORK big “R” researchers • “scientists” • GOAL: further understanding of how the human brain and body functions within systems of technology • broad generalizable knowledge • rigorous and responsible • performance tied to publication little “r” researchers • “designers” • GOAL: understand user needs to produce wildly innovative solutions to practical real-life problems • very specific context of application • responsive and relatable • performance tied to business KPIs How can we make this work more impactful? How might we make this more credible?
  3. 3. THE WORK “We need to know what our leadership expects of our research… They want metrics for progress and impact. They clearly want faster results. They want bolder goals… greater innovation…” David Atkins, M.D., M.P.H. Director of HSR&D Acting Deputy Chief Research and Development Officer Veterans Health Administration “I think it only a matter of time before organizations start only hiring certified UX designers.” Jared Spool @jmspool Maker of Awesomeness at @CenterCentre/@UIE
  4. 4. What can we little “r” researchers do to close the gap? • practice literature review & consultation when you design • partner with Big “R” researchers (find them & get involved) • cite your sources (when you design & blog) & make your work easily citable (include publication dates or a formatted citation) • thoughtfully select your user research methods • be responsible when you share “statistics” (any number!) • strategize for longer term & publishable results
  5. 5. thoughtfully select your user research methods
  6. 6. thoughtfully select your user research methods what people do what people say how many & how much why & how to fix Christian Rohrer © 2014: When to Use Which User-Experience Research Methods “Each dimension provides a way to distinguish among studies in terms of the questions they answer and the purposes they are most suited for.” Christian Rohrer, Ph.D. Vice President of Design, Research and Enterprise Services at Capital One
  7. 7. thoughtfully select your user research methods There are others… “Thank you everyone for fabulous input and references for the map!” Indi Young @indiyoung Co-founder of @AdaptivePath “User research can be done at any point in the design cycle. This list of methods and activities can help you decide which to use when.” Susan Farrell UX Research and Strategy Lead
  8. 8. strategize for longer term & publishable results Photo Credit: Photo Credit:
  9. 9. strategize for longer term & publishable results Iteration Zero Sprint 1 Sprint 2 Sprint 3 Development “Track” UX “Track” Plan & Gather Customer Data Design for Sprint 2 Research for Sprint 3 UT Sprint 1 Code Design for Sprint 3 Research for Sprint 4 UT Sprint 2 Code Design for Sprint 4 Research for Sprint 5 Implement high dev-cost low UI-cost features Implement Designs Implement Designs Data Data
  10. 10. strategize for longer term & publishable results big “R” research community benchmarking studies UX KPI tracking marketing & product requested studies publishable insights
  11. 11. Photo Credit: Highland Expeditions “You do not climb a mountain like Everest by trying to race ahead on your own, or by competing with your comrades. You do it slowly and carefully, by unselfish teamwork.” - Tenzing Norgay, Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer, one of the first two individuals known to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
  12. 12. more reading Cook, A. (2018, April 25). A Coming Together: Big “R” & little “r”. Retrieved from Rohrer, C. (2014, October 12). When to Use Which User-Experience Research Methods. Retrieved from Saleem, J. J., Militello, L. G., Russ, A. L., & Wilck, N. R. (2016). The need for better integration between applied research and operations to advance health information technology. Healthcare, 4(2), 80–83. Sanders, E. (2017). Design Research at the Crossroads of Education and Practice. She Ji, 3(1), 3–15. Tullis, T. & William, A. (n.d.). Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Usability Metrics. More information available at VCU Libraries Research Guide. (n.d.). Your First Literature Review. Retrieved from