Are you a designer who can do research? Good research and the insights you uncover inspire fresh ways of thinking and get your creative juices flowing. Good research brings clarity to a woolly brief. Audience insight helps sharpen your focus on what’s really important. Experimentation through research and design brings a sense of playfulness and curiosity to your work. Good research helps you do good design.
Emma maintains that becoming a better researcher will help you become a better designer. In her talk, she’ll discuss practical ways of bringing research into every stage of a project lifecycle.
A. ATTENTION! Good Morning! Hands up who likes Lego? Hands up who used to play with Lego when they were a child? Hands up who still plays with Lego? Well as you may have noticed, there is a little Lego present for you and I want everyone to open them if you haven’t done so already. OK, so who’s got Hot Dog Man? I will give you a tenner right now! My 3 year old is obsessed with Hot Dog Man right now and we don’t have him! I play Lego with my daughters quite a lot. Recently my 7 year old and I spent all afternoon building stuff together. It started on a rainy Saturday afternoon with "Mummy what shall I do?" To which I suggested we play Lego. We were trying to delicately rummage around the massive box of Lego to find the pieces we needed but it was a pain. I decided to do this (NEXT).
I should mention here that I am usually the one who is always telling Alys to pick up her toys or tidy her room so she was a bit shocked. I decided to make the pony stables Alys was given for her birthday. Alys decided to free style and make a charity shop and a cafe. I spent hours sat on the floor that afternoon and I really enjoyed the methodical pace of searching and piecing together the thing. It's something I've always liked doing - I like jigsaws too.
As we sat there making stuff, it struck me how much building Lego reminds me of research. Some people follow the instructions to build Lego, some people use Lego to tell a story. My kids play with Lego like they do with their other toys - they tell stories and invent scenarios. Some people think of research as a scientific discipline. They think it's about testing a hypothesis, uncovering the scientific truth or finding evidence. It can be all of those things but I believe that research is simply about seeking information and piecing it together in a coherent narrative It’s about telling a story. so that it provides insights and a clear path to take.
B. BENEFIT I believe that becoming a better researcher will help you become a better designer, developer, content creator, product manager or business owner. So if you'll give me the next half an hour of your time and attention, I'll talk you through some things to consider on your path to becoming a better researcher.
C: CREDS Why is my experience relevant? I’ve spent the best part of 15 years understanding audiences, customers and users, both as a client side researcher as well as agency side and I’m a member of the Market Research Society. I’ve been part of a large siloed research team, a small research team, a multidisciplinary team and a team of one. I’ve worked at large organisations, medium sized companies and run my own small business. I’ve done research for big global brands, publicly funded bodies, small charities and really got to know and understand my customers running an ECommerce business. Most recently my job at Monotype has been to understand what research best practice means and facilitate collaboration and communication of research across the business.
D. DIRECTION: What am I going to talk about? Drawing on my experience as a research practitioner, I’m going to talk through practical ways of bringing research into every stage of a project lifecycle First I’ll talk about the context: the people, and the environment for doing good research before covering the research landscape and some methods.
Here I’ll talk a little bit about what research is before covering who does it
The aim of the research process is to piece together a story. To join the dots, work out what’s going on and piece together the puzzle. During research you can uncover different kinds of pieces of the puzzle – descriptive information or insights. Think about Lego building again. The Lego pieces might be data from surveys or information from an interview with someone. Sometimes it’s a mixture of both! Involving your respondents Literally telling stories through research
Sometimes a piece of data or information (Lego) might just add colour to the story like a building brick.
Sometimes you get a flash of inspiration, an ‘aha’ moment. I think of insights like lightbulb moments. What’s the use of user insights if they are discovered by someone who isn’t making decisions about the design? By understanding the customer's needs and the context of how they come to use or buy a product yourself, you get the lightbulb moment and discover the insight.
The people making products for customers, creating content and building marketing campaigns to appeal to customers are closest to them. Research shouldn’t sit in a centralised silo A researcher should be part of a product team.
User research at GDS – headed up by Leisa Reichelt Cross functional teams Researcher in every team Agile Strict processes Brilliant blog/resources – userresearch.blog.uk Research monthly meet ups Brilliant blog Lots of resources Lots of sharing/collaboration
“So, you’re going to be a user researcher: top tips to get you going” blog post
WHO DOES RESEARCH? Generally in the web industry, research forms part of other disciplines and isn’t so much of a discipline in its own right. It’s very often thought of as part of UX or activities that make up a process such as IA or content strategy. I did a quick survey for an article I wrote for Net Magazine. 226 people responded. I asked ‘who is responsible for conducting audience/user research in your company?' 51% said designers, 42% said the UX team, 35% project or studio manager and 22% developers. Only 16% of the people who responded said that a researcher or the research team typically did the user/audience research in their company. This rises slightly to 19% for those people who said they worked in-house.
So having a research team or a dedicated researcher in your team sounds like a bit of a luxury. You should definitely be nice to us! This is certainly the case in Monotype. There are two dedicated researchers right now. Most research is done by product teams - roles such as Product Marketing, Product Managers and Designers.
There is a subtle difference between writing a research report and delivering it to a client, and them actually using it and applying the insights to their thought process. The people making products for customers and building campaigns are closest to the customer The people making the decisions should do the research
The job of understanding the user shouldn’t just fall to the ‘UX’ person Anyone can create a culture of audience insight What happens if you’re a freelancer or working in an agency where you’re not so close to the user you’re designing for? Even if you work in a small studio like I used to, you can still create a culture of audience insight. Even if you work on your own, you can still absorb yourself in as much audience data as you can throughout the project lifecycle.
What are the right conditions for doing good research? So as I talked about earlier, research is best done by the people making decisions. But often decisions aren’t just made by one person and may require a collective agreement or buy in from other stakeholders or colleagues.
One of the most soul destroying things to happen to a researcher is for their work to get put on a shelf and gather dust. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve spent weeks doing hands on research and putting together a report or presentation that once delivered wasn’t actioned and seemingly made no impact. The best kind of research is actionable and won’t gather dust. How? NEXT.
Just like in design/client relationships, there is a real danger with a 'big reveal' for research projects too. Buy in is the key thing. You need to involve people - ranging from senior stakeholders to direct colleagues. Whatever the culture, finding opportunities to involve people in the actual research or conversations about research are key to it actually being used. Being involved in the process is the research and will give you, the decision maker, the insights you need. Research conversations are the thing.
Nathan – has recently moved from being a designer to being a Product Manager Nick - designer Work on some of Monotype’s products such as Sky Fonts, Typecast, Gridset and Membership They work remotely. Nathan recently moved back from Cardiff to his home in Texas. Nick is based near Manchester. I asked them what the challenges are with doing research in distributed teams and what are the ways they work to counter this.
So, if people are involved that's enough right? You may have had the most fantastic collaborative session, 'lightbulbs' going on all over the place and you came up with some fantastic recommendations but this is no good unless you are transparent and share what you have learned. Your process and outcomes need to be captured and documented clearly for others to see. As Louis Rosenfeld said in his A List Apart article: “Forget Big Data—right now, our bigger problem is fragmented data that comes from siloed user research teams.”
In-house Agencies Everyone 24% yes always 30% 30% 40% yes sometimes 39% 39% 27% no never 22% 22%
Organisational culture plays a big part in how actionable or impactful research is. The client team you work with or the team you are part of clientside aren’t necessarily the only ones that will need to buy into the decisions you might make as a result of research. Therefore it’s important to consider the organisational culture at the outset of a project and factor this into your process. Changing a culture of an entire organisation is not something you can necessarily fix, particularly if you’re not part of the company and they are your client but there are things you can do to make research more impactful.
Change blog Sharing, involving the whole organisation CERN People app story Insight gathering phase. Was exploratory work, with no real hypotheses being tested. Easy to make assumptions about internal audiences for products/websites/services. Research was key. The focus was discovering who these potential users were, what kind of tasks they might want to use an app for and what the technological constraints might be. Diary pre task. This formed the basis on the conversation in the interview and helped the respondent to prepare. The CERN people recruited for this needed to be prepared to fill in a diary and be interviewed. Observation and interviews with internal staff members The purpose of this would be to find out who these CERN People are, what their working day is like, what work tasks they perform regularly and what devices are available to them. The output will be a collection of insights to take to the workshop. Outcome was an approach and an IA which the client had to sell in to his colleagues. Without being vested in the process, he might not have felt as strongly about the approach that was decided upon. Eventually after more work, we came up with a design and a prototype. The themes and insights produced by the initial stage would inform the user stories and features list.
When and how should research happen? Processes, tools Often research is the kind of thing that’s nice to have, or it can be cut from scope when doing the budget dance with a client. It often forms part of the discovery phase of a project and sometimes just becomes a tick-box exercise. Research can be used during the whole design process and must be a vital part of a team workflow on every project.
I would argue that research and experimentation is a way of working or an approach to how you design. Research should happen at every stage
This is everyone
Research should be designed to address a problem - either to solve it or to get closer to a solution. The funnel categories describe research as something that can and should happen at every stage of a product/project lifecycle. They describe how close you are to the problem or solution. At the top of the funnel you are furthest from the problem and at the bottom you are closest to the problem. It also describes how broad the data collection should be - how wide or deep to go.
Nansi's Lego building technique - yey Lego!) Explore, experiment Imagine you are blindfolded or placed into a room without light. You are not told if something is in the room, but you have a suspicion there is something in there. You shuffle out slowly into the room, exploring with the tips of your fingers until you find something.
Alys's Lego building technique. More deliberate. Idea in mind, not sure how to get there Remember that room you're blind in? Strategic research is the act of exploring the thing in the dark, creating a fuller picture of what you are looking at. It is not quite as tentative as exploratory, but you still are not 100% sure what you've found, although you're starting to get an idea. You begin to fill in what you know with what you find. Creating a fuller picture Defining a strategy
Surveys or quant can be really helpful for the what. Creating a framework for further exploration. Tracking also. Initially more exploratory. Now more strategic and deliberate.
My Lego building. The rules are in place. Follow the instructions where possible For making small, incremental changes Adding features
Recruitment: More than 1 or 2 Try using a screener for quality Incentives Rigour: Cognitive bias: Listening, observing not jump to solutions I call it a discussion guide not a script If priming might be an issue: build into discussion guide – vary the order or tasks or questions. Collaboration: Paired interviews (one note taker, one interviewer) Collaborative analysis
The building blocks Stuff. Data. Metrics. Dashboards Analytics need charting, tracking and interpreting to be useful. Gives us a lot of minute detail. We need to think about what this builds into - how we join the dots into a bigger picture.
Team of 11+ Running a lot of research Groundhog day research loop Use Evernote for sharing insights Creating connections in data
Good research and the insights you uncover inspire fresh ways of thinking and get your creative juices flowing. Good research brings clarity to a wooly brief. Audience insight helps sharpen your focus on what’s really important. Experimentation through research and design brings a sense of playfulness and curiosity to your work. Good research helps you to make good decisions.
User Research Is Everyone's Job
Industry Conf - April 2015
Research aids understanding
Ken Varnum flickr.com/photos/14296351@N00/7046614035
Insights can be acted upon
Research should be embedded
“In my experience of working in the
audiences team at the BBC, research was
most effective when the role was embedded
in the production team and insights were
used as part of the editorial process.”
“Our user researchers work with project
teams throughout a service lifecycle. They’re
not just testing usability, they’re researching
with users and feeding insights back to the
team all the time.”
Who does research in your
Source: Web industry survey - Feb 2014
Dedicated researchers are rare
Giovanni Orlando flickr.com/photos/jjjohn/1965026856
Be nice to us
Research is everyone’s job
“I would argue that research and
experimentation is a way of working or an
approach to how you design.”
The ‘U’ in UX = YOU
“Research can be used during the whole
design process and must be a vital part of a
designer’s workflow on every project.”
Harold Lloyd flickr.com/photos/safetylast/3852269256
The research grave yard
The danger of the big reveal
“The Research Debrief, PowerPoint strategy
or the 32 page report is not the research. It's
an artefact of a conversation, of a
collaboration. Discussing, sharing and jointly
deciding on outcomes is the important bit.”
Remote research conversations
The danger of silos
“Forget big data – right now, our bigger
problem is fragmented data that comes from
siloed user research teams.”
Are research learning shared?
Source: Web industry survey - Feb 2014
Understand the context
“Understanding the business landscape and
the context that you're working in -
researching the research - is the key to
making an impact with your research.”
“CERN is a really great place to debate things.
To explore, to discuss, to probe. It has a
unique, stimulating culture where you can put
up an idea and have it torn to shreds, or have it
made better, or have it generate a thousand
other ideas. It is a healthy, collegiate culture
that is good for the research that takes place
here. But sometimes it can be a really
challenging place to take simple decisions.”
“A way to pull together disparate data points,
qualitative and quantitative data, and long
histories of research into a central
clearinghouse that can be shared, searched,
and maintained by different teams.”
What did I talk about?
– The people making the decisions should do
– Stop working in silos!
– Be transparent and get stakeholder buy in
– Research can happen throughout a project